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Andrew Breitbart Owes Shirley Sherrod an Apology

Ronald Radosh

The fiasco of the forced resignation of Shirley Sherrod has become one of the major stories of the day. It began when BigGovernment.com released a video given to Andrew Breitbart, which seemed to suggest, as Breitbart wrote, “video evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee and NAACP award recipient and in another clip from the same event a perfect rationalization for why the Tea Party needs to exist.”

What irked Breitbart — correctly — was that the Tea Party was being branded as racist by the NAACP and other liberal media outlets. As we have now learned, the original video handed to Breitbart included only part of the Sherrod speech. It was best explained by Roger Mackey in a New York Times blog:

Ms. Sherrod and her supporters said the edited clip was misleading because the excerpts were taken from a longer story she told about overcoming prejudice and learning, from working with this white farmer, that her job was to help poor people regardless of their race. After the N.A.A.C.P. reviewed a longer tape of the speech (embedded at the top of this post), the group said in a statement posted on its Web site, “we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart,” the conservative blogger who drew attention to the speech.

The NAACP then backed down, releasing a statement indicating that after reviewing her entire speech and listening to the testimony of white farmers whom Sherrod actually helped, “the fact is Ms. Sherrod did help the white farmers mentioned in her speech. They personally credit her with helping to save their family farm. Moreover, this incident and the lesson it prompted occurred more than 20 years before she went to work for U.S.D.A.”

Sherrod, in her full speech, made it clear that what she was trying to convey was a change in her perspective, from seeing things only through the prism of race, when it was a matter of poor people of all colors needing help that was being denied them. She learned when “it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those that have and not so much – it is about white and black but, it opened my eyes because I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hands and felt, O.K., I’ve done my job.” The white farmer then had his farm foreclosed.

The white lawyer Sherrod had sent him to did not help stop the foreclosure, but told the farmer to let the farm go. At that point, Sherrod sprung to his defense and went on to help him save his farm. From this experience she learned “it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t … And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people, those who don’t have access the way others have.”

After finally hearing her story, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised to review the decision asking for her resignation. But there is more. On CNN, Sherrod told [4] the story of how Undersecretary of Agriculture Cheryl Cook called her three times as she was driving to clients in Athens, Georgia, a three and a half hour car drive. “They asked me to resign, and in fact they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday,” she said. The last call “asked me to pull to the side of the road and do it [resign],” she said. The undersecretary told her that the White House wanted her to resign, because “you’re going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.”

The irony is that Glenn Beck did not show the video on his program at all that day. On the following day’s program, Beck came on the air — before the full video of Sherrod’s entire March speech had been made available by Breitbart and by the NAACP — and told his program’s viewers that Sherrod “shouldn’t have been fired.” Why, Beck asked, would they force a resignation based on a 24-year-old incident that might have been “taken entirely out of context”?

As for Breitbart, we have to ask: Who gave him the incomplete video? Why didn’t he ask whether the entire speech was in the clip? Not having done that, it was clearly irresponsible for him to run it. Perhaps it was a setup. At any rate, he should have asked for the complete speech before releasing it, since the subsequent rush to judgment — including the forced resignation of Sherrod — was the result. Breitbart appeared this morning on ABC’s Good Morning, America, where he said that:

The video shows racism and when the NAACP is going to charge the Tea Party with racism … I’m going to show you it happens on the other side. This is not about Shirley Sherrod. This is about the smears that have gone against the Tea Party. What this video clearly shows is a standard that the Tea Party has not been held to.

Indeed, Breitbart refused to back down from what he said was simply his intent to show the double standard applied to the Tea Party, and he refused to apologize for showing the incomplete video that cost Sherrod her job. “They were clapping racist behavior,” he said of the audience who heard her speech. Refusing to apologize, he said “the audience showed racism.”

The NAAP acknowledged that they were “snookered by Fox News and Andrew Breitbart,” and apologized for their condemnation of Sherrod and asking for her removal. Breitbart, having now seen the entire speech, should do the same. Sherrod herself blamed the NAACP for throwing her to the wolves, without calling her and even looking at the video, which they had.

As CNN’s Campbell Brown told NAACP chief Benjamin Jealous:

I don’t believe you were snookered. You allowed yourself to be snookered and you’re the ones to blame here because you had the tape in your possession and you could have easily watched it and known the full context of her remarks. You didn’t have to take your information solely from these conservative bloggers you now say snookered you.

As for Fox News, the Special Report with Bret Baier did not show the video, and on the panel, Charles Krauthammer said she should not have been dismissed and was owed an apology. Moreover, Shepard Smith, who anchors the 7 o’clock news show, called Andrew Breitbart’s website one that is “widely discredited” and posts “inaccurate” videos “edited to the point where the world was deceived.” So Fox News as a whole not only came off guilt-free, one of its anchors even blasted Andrew Breitbart. Yet Sherrod herself told Media Matters, the left-wing media-watch site, that “Fox News would like to take us [African-Americans] back to…where black people were looking down…not looking white people in the face, not being able to compete for a job, and not be a whole person.” Talking for the network, Baier said, “Mrs. Sherrod, that is just not true.”

Clearly Sherrod, although she herself had blamed the NAACP for not checking out the small edited video clip, now joined in the same spurious attack on Fox as the civil rights organization previously had done. Yet some on Fox News were guilty of a rush to judgement — particularly Fox News top rated pundit Bill O’Reilly, who showed the incomplete and misleading video and demanded on the air that Sherrod be fired. So did Sean Hannity, who called it “just the latest in a series of racial incidents.” Newt Gingrich then told him that firing here “for viciously racist attitudes was exactly the right thing to do.”

Both of them did not consider that the tape might have been incomplete. But even more guilty is the White House, whose pressure — which of course they deny having been made — resulted in the secretary of Agriculture’s demand that she be removed from the job. Why would the administration not phone Sherrod, ask for her side of the story, and first ask for the video of the complete speech before acting? Is it that because having branded the Tea Party as racist, they clearly could not afford to look like they were allowing someone who appeared to be a black racist to stay on the job, after she confessed in a speech how she did not help a white farmer?

As we learned tonight, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack blamed himself, said it was all his own fault, and exonerated the White House completely, although he previously noted that the demand she be fired came from the president. Now, he noted that the White House had asked him to apologize, and to quickly offer Mrs. Sherrod her job back.

The New York Times report noted: “Ms. Sherrod took to the airwaves on Tuesday, especially CNN, where she said that the N.A.A.C.P. was ‘the reason why this happened.’ ‘They got into a fight with the Tea Party, and all of this came out as a result of that,’ she said. Mr. Breitbart reached a similar conclusion, though from a different perspective. ‘They’re trying to make this about me and Shirley Sherrod. This is about the N.A.A.C.P.,’ he said by phone. He said that the civil rights group had ‘spent an inordinate amount of airtime trying to brand the Tea Party as racist’ while tolerating racism itself.”

Breitbart is partially correct. The NAAcP has shown its irrelevance many times, trying to act as if the U.S. is still in the segregated 40s and 50s, when it was a necessary and major civil rights organization with a mission to complete. It has a stake in charging racism where it no longer exists. But the organization’s head acknowledged he was disturbed about the audience reaction when Sherrod was accounting her first response of not wanting to help a white farmer, and pledged to look into it. Breitbart is also right that the group snookered itself, and it was not his fault. But this is not an excuse for his own failures. He too must apologize for putting out a video without checking whether or not it was complete, and considering what it might do to Sherrod.

It was not simply about the Tea Party. Thus, David Frum is correct when he writes: “There will be no apology or statement of regret for distributing a doctored tape to defame and destroy someone. There will be not even a flutter of interest among conservatives in discussing Breitbart’s role. By the morning of July 21, the “Fox & Friends” morning show could devote a segment to the Sherrod case without so much as a mention of Breitbart’s role. The central fact of the Sherrod story has been edited out of the conservative narrative, just as it was edited out of the tape itself.” So this conservative is not writing Breitbart out of the narrative. He too must apologize and admit his error. If he does not, and persists in saying it is just about the Tea Party, he only hurts his own credibility and reputation. Sometimes those with the best of intentions can become their own worst enemy.

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