Another race-tinged "scandal" pushed by Andrew Breitbart fell apart Tuesday, as the context for remarks made a quarter of a century ago, in the private sector, by ousted USDA official Shirley Sherrod —captured on a highly edited tape—emerge. But the truth did not come out until after many in the media, the White House, the Department of Agriculture and the NAACP all apparently jumped the gun in slamming Sherrod.
Sherrod now says she was asked to quit in three calls from the USDA yesteday, allegedly under orders from White House. She felt she was "forced" to resign, from the highway, via Blackberry. The White House says it was Department of Agriculture chief Tom Vilsack’s call, and he has stepped forward to confirm that –and defend his move, even after the full story started to emerge.
The company that made video says it is sending full tape to NAACP, which initially also called on Sherrod to resign but has now backtracked. Tonight NAACP announced that it had been "snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart." It said "we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans." Full video now posted here.
[[WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Vilsack now says he is studying the case and may re-consider the firing. Sherrod told ABC this morning she’s not sure she would accept old job back after all of this. Mike Allen at Politico reports today his chat with White House official about the Sherrod affair: “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.” He also indicated that Vilsack probably won’t lose his job over this.]]
After Breitbart posted a portion of a recent speech by Sherrod on his site Big Government yesterday Fox and other rightwing outlets gave it full play, and Bill O’Reilly called for her resignation. Naturally, it turns out that Breitbart didn’t even have the full tape. Yet numerous news outlets played it and cited it, without bothering to wonder: Is this a fair sample? And what is Breitbart’s track record, anyway?
Later Tuesday night, Chuck Todd of NBC tweeted: "Every time you think the ‘media’ has hit an all-time low, the bottom falls out."
The biggest shock, however, was the cave-in by the administration.
This afternoon, Sherrod on CNN told Rick Sanchez the USDA official who asked her to quit cited an upcoming segment on Glenn Beck’s show as a reason. She blamed the current uproar as fallout from the current battle between the Tea Party and NAACP.
Also, the white farmer at the center of story — allegedly the victim of Sherrod’s "racism" long ago — on CNN said Sherrod actually helped him tremendously and "saved our farm" and can’t imagine why people are claiming she is racist. These people are just "looking for trouble," he testified.
CNN also revealed that Sherrod’s father was killed by a "white farmer" who was never prosecuted. An attorney from Alabama who has long known Sherrod referred to the killer as "KKK" but Sherrod did not make that claim. She did say that on the night of her father’s death she vowed to stay in the South and work for social change, and has done so nonstop since.
Tonight on his show, Glenn Beck slammed Obama for cutting Sherrod loose–while ignoring his own network’s role in that dismissal and sloppy coverage from the beginning. But even Erick Erickson now feels Sherrod was wronged and should get her job back.
Breitbart, in a bizarre performance on John King’s CNN show, twice deflected criticism by asking King if CNN had ever confirmed the farmer’s wife was really his wife. He claimed the "last thing" he wants to do is talk about race and said that the really issue was the media claiming the Tea Party is racist–and that racial epithets were hurled at black congressman. He also confirmed he is only now being sent the full tape.
Paul Begala followed on CNN by calling on Vilsack to re-hire Sherrod, unless other details emerge that hurt her. Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post denounced the "travesty" of attacks on Sherrod, but on its new pages the paper covered the controversy very poorly in a piece co-authored by Karen Tumulty. The main AP piece handled it much better, putting essential facts up front.