Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted an edited video of her making racially tinged remarks last week.
The edited video posted by Andrew Breitbart led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ask Sherrod to resign, a decision he reconsidered after seeing the entire video of her March speech to a local NAACP group. In the full speech, Sherrod spoke of racial reconciliation and lessons she learned after initially hesitating to help a white farmer save his home.
She said she doesn’t want an apology from Breitbart for posting the video that took her comments out of context, but told a crowd at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention that she would “definitely sue.”
Sue Breitbart for what, though? Defamation? Sherrod is a public official, which makes that kind of lawsuit darned near impossible. Breitbart used the clip to criticize the NAACP, not Sherrod directly, although she certainly came into the line of fire. People are allowed to criticize public officials in harsh and even unfair terms, especially when they make public remarks.
A court is not likely to look favorably on this for another reason — Sherrod’s public statements about Breitbart. She accused him of being pro-slavery, which is a ridiculous and demagogic attack. Even if a court somehow found that Breitbart acted with malice specifically towards Sherrod to a level that overcomes the right to criticize public officials and that he lied about Sherrod specifically in doing so, under those same terms Breitbart would have a countercase against Sherrod. Otherwise, Breitbart has become enough of a public figure that Sherrod’s statements about him would probably not be actionable, either.
This lawsuit will make a big splash and keep the story alive for a while, but its value is strictly limited to PR. I somehow doubt that the Obama administration will see that as beneficial to its own objectives, either, as they seem as anxious to bury the story as anyone involved.