>What we should all take away from the Shirley Sherrod affair

>Now that we’ve had a chance to dissect the Shirley Sherrod video “controversy” and the subsequent omelet-in-face fallout for Andrew Breitbart’s pseudo investigative journalism, it’s a great opportunity for everyone to take a step back and examine this news story from various angles. 

The story was compelling and was perfect for a few 10-second sound byte: a black woman, in the age of the so-called post-racial harmony, was flaunting how she used her position to racially discriminate against a rural, white south Georgia farmer who sought Ms. Sherrod’s help in the face of a near financial collapse. Worse, she made this admission in front of the NAACP, a standard bearer in civil rights organizations. It was an admission conservatives would die to have on tape. And Breitbart nabbed it.
Quick to live up to his previous standards of his perception of investigative journalism, the conservative, pro Tea Party activist released the tape, with much hoopla from the conservative propaganda machine Fox News. The story propelled to the level that forced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak to ask (or demand via the White House, depending on how you look at it) for Sherrod’s resignation. The conservative’s investigation into racism in the NAACP worked: see, black people (and the Obama White House) can be racist, too. 
Fox News had a field day with the breaking news. Newt Gingrich gave his analysis on Fox News on the matter: 

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

Bill O’Reilly addressed the matter on his bully pulpit:

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

The network and mainstream media outlets failed to initially ask questions, seizing on the opportunity to show its potentially moderate-to-conservative viewers/readers that they, too, are just as on top of this story as their Fair and Balanced counterparts are. 
The only journalist thatb sought to get both sides of the story was CNN’s Rick Sanchez, who interviewed the man and wife Sherrod was accused of treating unfairly. 
As the story progressed, the NAACP, which initially denounced Ms. Sherrod for her comments, retracted its denouncement and released the full tape. It added it was “snookered” by Fox News and Breitbart. 

“Having reviewed the full tape by Shirley Sherrod, who is the woman who was fired by the Department of Agriculture, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe that the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans,” the statement from NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said.

The release of the full video tape evaporated any credibility Brietbart–and Fox News–had with the public and with their peers. Vilsak and the White House was forced to issue a formal apology and subsequently offered Ms. Sherrod her job back. The change of events forced Bill O’Reilly to apologize to Sherrod for his smears against her, but some of its regular contributors tried to deflate the controversy on Fox and Breitbart’s end. 

Breitbart, the man responsible for this controversy, has all but disappeared from the news cycle. He’s failed to apologize and acknowledge his sloppy “journalism” and his vindictive nature of exposing racism of NAACP. He’s pointed fingers at others, refusing to take responsibility for contributing to all what’s wrong with our gotcha-obsesssed society. He’s even going so far to say he’s the victim in the matter. 

From Politico:

“I am public enemy No. 1 or 2 to the Democratic Party, the progressive movement and the Obama administration based upon the successes my journalism has had,”  Breitbart said in a telephone interview late Thursday morning as he headed to the airport for what he said was a long-planned, three-day vacation.


Breitbart asserted that liberal media outlets are shifting the focus to the misleading excerpting in the videos he posted — as well as his erroneous statement about the context of the footage — to divert attention from what he asserts is a double standard on racist behavior exposed by the video, which he released Monday to push back against a recently passed NAACP resolution expressing concern about “racist elements” in the tea party movement.

“The desire here is to make it about me and not the Democratic establishment and the NAACP vs. the tea party,” Breitbart said, defending the footage he posted as “a self-contained newsworthy video that established the media standard of pointing out that the NAACP countenanced racism in its own award dinner setting. That was the point. That was the point. And the video proves it.” He offered no apology to Sherrod but said that she has not been held accountable for the racial overtones of what she said. “If anybody reads the sainted, martyred Sherrod’s entire speech, this person has not gotten past black vs. white,” he said.

I’ll let that marinate for a bit…

There are some who argue that the railroading of Ms. Sherrod is a wake up call for black folk, particularly black women, to watch what they say in public. Any comment or speech we give can be misrepresented, they tell us. I can’t argue with that point. Minorities and women must be twice a sharp and work harder than the good ol’ boys and anything we do or say can very much be used against our advancement. 

But can’t any comment nowadays be misrepresented as something negative/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? All it takes is a tech savvy activist who has revenge in his heart to manipulate any person’s message for his personal gain. Just watching what we say in public won’t stop anyone from taking us down if they so desire.

But we must look at the larger picture concerning this story. The mere idea that a blogger, who has no journalistic integrity or experience, can manipulate any story to paint a person a certain way should be of concern to the public. Political discourse in this country largely depends upon communication, whether written or spoken. With the pressure new media writers places on traditional news outlets to get and report scoops first, misinterpretations of messages are bound to happen–and happen often. And these traditional news outlets, facing the inevitable decline of viewership and readership, often resort to using new media outlets as sources of their poorly vetted stories. 

Brietbart’s campaign to destroy Ms. Sherrod (or, as he claims, exposing racism in the NAACP) unmasks something conniving and desperate about conservative white men who worship the likes of Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, et. al. These men and their followers have become obsessed with painting the Obama White House as one being led by a socialist Muslim Kenyan who practices the teachings of so-called reverse racism. These men, along with their Tea Party activists, are convinced that Obama is on a covert mission to elevate the black race’s position above theirs in society, to take from whites and give to blacks. As we’ve asserted before, the Tea Party movement, in a nutshell, has become about this core group of people feeling like they are losing “their place” in America to the person of color by way of electing a black man as president. And what better way to expose reverse racism ideology in the Obama White House than to exploit a black female bureaucrat who is employed by the White House? 

Nevertheless, these men have asserted their power over the White House. Their fear mongering and rantings about Obama and race have the administration tucking their tails between their legs and skirting the issue of race altogether. Noticing any hint of a story that will have racial overtones, the Obama White House retreats and moves in the opposite direction to avoid another Henry Louis Gates moment. Any bit of discomfort that comes with discussing race has Obama shifting nervously on his feet and desperately looking for soothing comments to ease the concerns of skeptical whites he hopes to win over in November. 

It would be interesting to see if the Shirley Sherrod fiasco will change the way we think of bloggers and consider the accuracy of their “news.” My hunch tells me that this tide moving in their direction won’t change until the public’s news viewing habits reverts back to preferring traditional sources over online outlets. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon…

For the president and the White House, the Shirley Sherrod affair can and should be used as leverage in openly discussing race with the public. That’s if they can overcome the rising tide of angry white men.