It certainly looks as though the White House is having second thoughts about pushing Shirley Sherrod out of the USDA after Andrew Breitbart’s video clip of her speech at an NAACP banquet last year. Multiple media outlets are reporting that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is “reconsidering” her resignation after the full video showed a different context for her remarks:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that he will reconsider the abrupt firing of Shirley Sherrod, a Georgia-based Agriculture Department official who was the victim of a media frenzy over comments that turned out to have been distorted by video editing.
“I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner,” Vilsack said in a statement e-mailed by USDA at 2:07 a.m.
A White House official said: “Not sure what the ultimate result will be, but it’s clear that with new information through the full speech, a longer look needed to be taken. The White House contacted the Department last night about the case and agreed, based on new evidence, that it should be reviewed.”
Not that Sherrod is anxious to return:
The woman at the center of a racially tinged firestorm involving the Obama administration and the NAACP said Wednesday she doesn’t know if she’d return to her job at the Agriculture Department, even if asked.
“I am just not sure how I would be treated there,” Shirley Sherrod said in a nationally broadcast interview. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he would reconsider the department’s decision to oust Sherrod over her comments that she didn’t give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago.
She said later in a broadcast interview that she might consider returning if she had the chance, saying she’s received encouraging calls, including one from the NAACP.
Sherrod increasingly looks like the person caught in the middle as everyone, well, acted stupidly. The NAACP started this rockfight by loudly proclaiming its intent to declare the Tea Party movement racist on the basis of fringe elements that have been repeatedly and loudly repudiated by Tea Party activists. They eventually retreated somewhat from that position, but set into motion the natural rebuttals that flow from such inflammatory accusations.
Andrew Breitbart then posted the entirety of two clips he had acquired from Sherrod’s speech, not so much to note Sherrod’s claims of having initially discriminated against a farmer on the basis of his race, but to point to the positive reaction this generated at the NAACP dinner at which she appeared. Breitbart told me on the Hugh Hewitt show that he had posted everything he had and wanted to get the entire speech video, but wasn’t sure it existed. Even Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, acknowledged Breitbart’s argument as reasonable in his initial statement:
We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.
Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.
The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing. We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action.
Interestingly, the audience apparently included Jealous himself, who later claimed to have been “snookered” by Breitbart. Sherrod acknowledges the presence of “the president” in the beginning of the speech. It seems that Jealous, in his haste to distance himself from a situation his organization created in the first place, either didn’t recall the speech or didn’t bother to check for himself whether the NAACP had the full speech in its archives. That pressure to act quickly wouldn’t have existed, either, had the NAACP refrained from attacking the Tea Party’s motivations rather than its arguments.
The White House, in its haste to get out of a rapidly-expanding rockfight over racism, did the politically expedient thing: it demanded Sherrod’s resignation. Conservatives looking to play hardball with the NAACP leapt into the fight and made Sherrod the target — and I include myself in that group — without waiting for further context (with some notable exceptions, including my coblogger). As it turns out, the context shows that Sherrod got treated unfairly by just about everyone involved, as her anecdote actually did have a message of redemption from focus on racial identity … ironically enough.
I owe Shirley Sherrod an apology, and I do apologize for leaping to my conclusion from the edited clip. I believe that Sherrod should at least be offered her job back, and not because I support her politics (I don’t) or think she should have been appointed to the position in the first place (that’s the prerogative of the White House). She lost her job because of a controversy in which she had no role to begin with and didn’t participate in, and regardless of any other considerations, that’s just not right.
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