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The Sad Tale of Shirley Sherrod: Vilsack Is the Villain

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The sad tale of Shirley Sherrod exploded Tuesday. In two ways. First, the story of the local African-American U.S. Department of Agriculture official forced to resign after a conservative website posted a video of a speech she gave and accused her of racism was everywhere: on the Internet, on cable networks. Second, it turned out to be wrong. At an NAACP dinner in March, Sherrod, a rural development director for the USDA in Georgia, recalled how she had once been hesitant to assist a white farmer who had taken a condescending manner toward her and had referred him to a white lawyer. BigGovernment.com, the right-wing site that detonated this controversy, claimed that she had "withheld help from a white farmer seeking the [USDA's] help in saving his farm." Not so.

Tom VilsackAs CNN and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quickly sussed out -- by interviewing Sherrod and the farmer in question and his wife -- Sherrod was speaking about an incident that happened 24 years ago, when she worked for a nonprofit in Georgia that assisted farmers. Sherrod was referring to her own journey in moving beyond depending on skin color to assess interactions -- to realizing that the poor/wealthy divide was more significant than the black/white split. The farmer's wife, Eloise Spooner, has said that Sherrod ended up working fiercely to help her and her husband hold on to their farm.

Sherrod had not denied USDA assistance to a white farmer due to her own anti-white racism. Her story was one of racial reconciliation -- that is, the opposite of what BigGovernment and conservative bloviators (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and others) said.

More Shirley Sherrod Coverage:

- Vilsack Apologizes to Sherrod, Offers Promotion
- Rising Clamor: Obama Should Reinstate Shirley Sherrod
- Transcript of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' Remarks on Shirley Sherrod
- Shirley Sherrod Gets a White House Apology, Deserves a Book Contract
- Vilsack to Review Dismissal of USDA Official in 'Reverse Racism' Case
- RedState, NAACP Agree: Shirley Sherrod Got a Raw Deal

The right is always looking for examples of Obama administration reverse racism. Why is that? Can you possibly conceive of a reason why conservatives might suspect this administration is engaging in such a practice and why they would go hog wild when they discover what they assume is undeniable evidence? This is tough to figure out, right?

So this woman -- declared a hero by the people she supposedly discriminated against -- is out of a job. As this to-do was building steam, the Ag Department forced her to quit. And that is the real tragedy. At this point, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and under-secretary Cheryl Cook are the villains in this piece -- though the former announced this morning that he will review the dismissal.

You can't expect right-wing agitators to act honorably. That's not how they make a living. They don't report; they exploit. Their lack of concern for the facts of this case and for this woman's life is not shocking. It is in their nature. (See the fable about the scorpion and the frog.) The louses are the folks who bum-rushed Sherrod to the guillotine. On Monday, as Sherrod was driving across Georgia, she says, she received a series of calls from Cook. The department, Cook told her, wanted her to resign immediately because the dust-up was "going to be on Glenn Beck tonight," according to Sherrod. No conversation. No investigation. No discussion. You're falsely accused. You're gone.

Note to Vilsack: This is not how you treat people. Worse, on Tuesday, Vilsack said that the controversy, regardless of the context of Sherrod's comments, "compromises the director's ability to do her job." He added:
This isn't a situation where we are necessarily judgmental about the content of the statement, that's not the issue here. I don't believe this woman is a racist at all. She's a political appointee, and her job is basically to focus on job growth in Georgia, and I have deep concern about her ability to do her job without her judgments being second-guessed.
In other words, the truth doesn't matter. If right-wing demagogues make a stink, we'll crucify the victim. This was a shameful statement.

Let's go back to Cook's remark to Sherrod about Glenn Beck, and flip the script. If a left-wing website had set up a Bush administration official during the Bush-Cheney years, can you see an overheated department functionary saying, "We have to get this person out before it's on Maddow"? (Rachel, excuse the comparison.) Of course not. The Bush-Cheney folks would have battled back. You don't allow ideological enemies -- who want you to fail -- to define the terms. That Beck figured into Vilsack's and Cook's calculations for a nanosecond is a tremendous defeat for the administration -- and an undeserved victory for Beck and his Tea Party followers. It ought to make supporters of the Obama administration sick. The White House, as could be expected, ran from this mess. On Tuesday, a White House official told CNN that it was not involved in forcing Sherrod out.

The NAACP, which at first supported the decision to bounce Sherrod, reversed course on Tuesday, saying, "We have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart," who runs BigGovernment.com. Snookering can be undone -- and it should not be tolerated. The only decent course for Vilsack was to review the case and, if there are no new incriminating facts, offer Sherrod an apology and her job back. If the administration -- in the face of a relentless attack from the right -- doesn't fight for its own, how can voters count on it to fight for them? This is not about Beck-bashing. It's about taking charge and doing the right thing. All that is necessary for the triumph of blogging demagogues is that good people do nothing. Didn't a conservative once say that?

Click play below to watch the full video, released by the NAACP on Tuesday, of the Sherrod speech that started the controversy:

UPDATE
: On Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs apologized to Sherrod on behalf of the administration and said that Vilsack was trying to reach her to apologize and that Vilsack would be reviewing her dismissal. A little over an hour later, Vilsack held a press conference and publicly apologized to Sherrod. He said that he was talking with Sherrod about reinstating her at the USDA in a different position. For his part, Breitbart earlier in the day siad that he was "sorry" that Sherrod had become the issue. But he did not admit any wrongdoing and did not apologize for falsely branding her a power-abusing racist.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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112 Comments

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jorgebill

THE RIGHT WING COMMENTATORS FROM FOX HAVE AN AGENDA AGAINST THE TRUTH, FILLED WITH LIES ON THEIR COMMENTS, NOT REPORTING, THEY, ARE NOT NEWSCASTERS, BUT HATE MONGERS, AND RACISTS, ONLY TO MAKE THE PRESIDENT LOOK BAD WE SHALL SEE WHO PREVAILS IN THE END.

July 22 2010 at 10:38 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Terry

It seems to me that, even more than Vilsak, whose main sin is being unwilling to admit he jumped the gun and was wrong, is whoever posted this old video clip out of context, that is by posting it in a way that allowed people to believe it was recent and without showing the part of her speech where she explained the experience caused her to grow as a person. Why haven't we heard who did this, and why is that person not now the target of excoriation?

July 22 2010 at 7:53 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Jody

From article above>>> "On Monday, as Sherrod was driving across Georgia, she says, she received a series of calls from Cook. The department, Cook told her, wanted her to resign immediately because the dust-up was "going to be on Glenn Beck".......this is not accurate, Mr. Corn. Sherrod said Cook said the Whitehouse wanted her to resign. Vilsack is just taking the hit. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Shirley does not have such a really sad tale, though, she sued the agency and won a $13 million dollar settlement - and a job - in 2009. Now they want to give her an even higher job handling those very same claims. Google her and the "black farmer" lawsuits. Even now on TV interviews Sherrod talks about filing lawsuits.

July 22 2010 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Jody

There are still troubling comments like "one of his own" - and others. Plus, she is not suppose to make political commentary when she is representing the agency. More troubling is the fact that she was part of the "black farmer" lawsuits and had sued the agency she now works for and got $13 million. Now, the job she is being offered is handling the claims from the same lawsuit she participated in. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! Go check out vdare.com for info on the "black farmer" lawsuits - or hidden reparations - and all of the false claims.

July 22 2010 at 4:44 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
drummlaw

This lady was treated unfairly. I went on the NAACP website to see the whole 43 minute speech, and it was nowhere close to what the little snippets represented.

I take issue with you, however, for jumping all over Fox News for running with the story. By Monday night, the story was apparently all over the internet, AND the USDA had forced this woman to resign. By that time, the story WAS news, whether the original "carefully edited" pieces were true of not.

Reverse racism: If those New Black Panther Party members who menacingly stood in front of the entrance to the poling place, making menacing comments, had been dressed in full Aryan Brotherhood or KKK regalia, doing the same thing, does anybody really believe that the U.S. Department of Justice wouldn't have nailed them to the wall? Really? That's really not reverse racism? Then I don't understand what is.

July 22 2010 at 1:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mkt4redsox

Get your facts straight David Corn, everyone on Fox news that said something apologized the following day, but you aren't telling the American people that. Her getting fired is not Fox news' fault, it is purely the Agriculture Secretary's fault. Do not blame Fox news for her firing, shame on you. Even the NAACP made a mistake but you aren't criticizing them, your blaming Fox news for their mistake, too!? Let me get this straight, 3 main groups made a mistake: the Ag. Department, NCAAP, and Fox News but the only one your criticizing is Fox News, who like the other 2 groups apologized. Get your facts straight, give both sides of the story and stop posting your one sided liberal views. The conservative who posted this was wrong and should be criticized along with the Ag. Secretary, but don’t go blaming every republican because of what one man did.

July 22 2010 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
hornchrls

I find it interesting, that the comments about the conservative news media, are all finding fault, and accusing them of hate. These comments are full of hatred for conservatives. Fox news, didn't air the tape first. Certainly Glen Beck didn't.
AOL, while trying to make it look like they are placing the blame on Vilsack, are twisting it around to blame the Tea Party, which had nothing at all to do with it.
This is still America, we still have the right to free speech, and two or more view points. Why can't we disagree, and respect the oppisite view without name calling, sly digs, and putting others down for their views.

July 22 2010 at 9:26 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hornchrls's comment
Jody

jjohnblack53 You should look at the time line and realize that she had been fired hours before Fox showed any tape. I think someone pointed it out to the Whitehouse from the Biggovernment.com website and they jumped the gun.

July 22 2010 at 9:54 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
chenpm

I completely disagree with your analysis. The main culprit in this debacle is the conservative new media who used heavily edited remarks to attack Shirley Sherrod and, through her, a trap for both Secretay Vilsack and the Obama Administration. This episode underscores the lack of credibility of any conservative propaganda organization posing as news media.

We don't have to go far back in history to see how other propagandists used the news cycle to trick the public and officials to think that wahat was being portrayed was real news. When will this country recognize these "news" sources for what they really are?

July 22 2010 at 5:50 AM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply
buzzhisbrother

Why can't a government employee just do his or her job and not be prejudist by whether the person being dealt with is white or black, rich or poor, male or female? Ms Sherrod has come a long way in working through her prejudice toward white people, and she is to be commended. She ought not have been asked to resign, and should not have lost her job. She is obviously a good person, the kind we need in government to deal with the needs of the American people. Having said so, she still has a ways to go in her prejudice against rich people. So what? I can't imagine a rich person wading through the bureaucratic red tape to try to get a handout from the government. No. They go to their rich friends in congress to get an earmark.

If you will go back and watch the whole comment of Ms Sherrod, a comment made before a meeting of the NAACP, you'll find that the group of hearers cheered when they thought that one of theirs used her position to stick it to one of them--white people. I don't believe that was the response Ms Serrod was looking for because she goes on to tell how she went to bat for this poor, white farmer, helping him to keep his farm.

That cheer is the real rub to me. It reveals the attitude that it is okay to stick it to someone if we think that someone is different than we are. Isn't that what prejudice is? And that is what the writer of the artical I am commenting on is guilty of also. Because he is doing the very same thing to conservative commentators that he is accusing them of. But then, they are differt than he is, so that gives him the right to stick it to them.

July 22 2010 at 12:42 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to buzzhisbrother's comment
sraxhayes

It is logical that Ms. Sherrod doesn't project hatred and anger towards all white people because her father was killed by an individual white man who was never found guilty for his murder. It is logical that she does not hold hatred in her heart for all white people because of the harassment and terrorist acts committed against her newly widowed mother, baby brother and sisters by a group of cross burning, self loathing, jealous whites. It is absolutely logical because Ms Sherrod is educated, intelligent and aware that an entire group should not be blamed, criticized, mistreated or marginalized because of their hue or for the ignorant, ruthless and unconscionable acts committed by a few. Prejudice is an illogical reaction by an individual or a group of uneducated, ignorant and closed minded people who cannot see the forest for the trees. And...what about those who know it's illogical, but go along with it anyway? Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Of course, if you don’t love yourself, your neighbor is in a whole heap of trouble! "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." JFK

July 22 2010 at 10:16 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
jsa3875003

If Shirley Sherrods had not spoken much about old racism she would still have job and Tom Vilsack would never had fired her. Now Tom Vilsack has offered another position.
Shirley Sherrods please take the job and do your work and do not talk about race.

July 21 2010 at 11:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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