Most of the media had never heard of Shirley Sherrod a few weeks ago. Strangely, they acted as if they’d never heard of Andrew Breitbart either.
A video on Breitbart’s website showed Sherrod, Georgia’s State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture, talking about her hesitation to help out a white farmer. Breitbart said the video was important to show, in the wake of accusations of racism in the Tea Party.
She came under fire because her story sounded like conduct unbecoming of a USDA official. She was axed by the Obama administration (Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack claims it was his call, but there are suspicions the decision was made higher up the chain).
CNN went ahead and did what other outlets didn’t. They contacted Sherrod. They got the unedited tape, and they found the reported video was selectively edited. The full video showed Sherrod telling a story from 24 years ago, when she was still getting over the memories of a white man murdering her father, and how she learned to see people as powerless before seeing their skin color. And they got the farmer in question, who said Sherrod saved his farm and he still considers her as a friend.
There have been plenty of reports, about if the Obama administration overreacted (it did), how the administration offered her a new job (as it should have) and whether she’d take it (she shouldn’t, and we can’t print how she should say no).
But I’m waiting for one more report: A news organization apologizing for trusting Andrew Breitbart again.
It’s not the first time he’s been at the center of attacking something connected to President Obama. You might remember last year, when news outlets reported the sting operation on ACORN, the community group connected to Obama that helped register voters and build houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Videos posted on Breitbart’s website showed a man dressed as a pimp, with ACORN employees helping him avoid paying taxes on his prostitution business.
Republicans saw it as a chance to take action, and worked on legislation to defund ACORN before any investigation was done. Democrats saw it as a chance to prove they have no spines, and 222 of them joined in the overwhelming Senate and House votes.
The damage was done to ACORN, which disbanded. But the matter still went to the police and prosecutors. No charges were ever filed, because they did the job the media should have. They got the unedited tape (note the pattern). They found plenty of footage that exonerated ACORN employees and classified the video as a selectively edited hit job. California Attorney General Jerry Brown did report that the ordeal proved ACORN was, “disorganized and its operations were far from transparent.” Too bad that logic doesn’t let us defund Congress.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens the next time Breitbart has a big story on his site. Will there be a little bit of fact-checking by Breitbart? Will other news outlets wait until all of the information is in to inform viewers? Or will it be breathlessly reported within the hour, because they’re so scared of being called the liberal media that a twice-discredited right-wing activist with a stated agenda is the only source worth quoting?
What’s shameful is that I have to even ask.