The Obama administration just caved in to the right-wing smear machine, firing a Black USDA official after she was smeared by far-right blogger Andrew Breitbart and his friends at Fox News Channel.
Shirley Sherrod’s dismissal was based on a selectively edited video that made it appear she was confessing to discriminating against a white farming couple. In reality she was telling the story of how working with that family to save their farm helped her to lose her racial preconceptions.
It took less than 24 hours for the lies to be debunked. But by that time, it was too late — Sherrod was forced to quit. And even now that the truth is known, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is refusing to reinstate her. Worse, Vilsack has President Obama’s support. This kind of political cowardice is beyond shameful.
That’s why I’ve joined the people at ColorOfChange.org in calling on the White House to immediately give Shirley Sherrod her job back, and to stop bowing to the will of right-wing propaganda artists. Will you join me? Click this link to sign an online petition for Shirley.
On Monday, Andrew Breitbart (a blogger who works closely with FOX News and has a long history of launching deceptive, racially charged smear campaigns) posted a deceptively edited video of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod speaking at an NAACP function. The video shows Sherrod telling a story about how she once was asked for help from a White farmer, and how she didn’t “give him the full force of what I could do” to help him, because of his race.
Breitbart used the video as evidence that the NAACP and the Obama administration tolerated racial discrimination against White people, saying that it showed Sherrod’s “federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.” Breitbart’s doctored video and false storyline moved quickly to FOX News, where on-air personalities called for Sherrod’s firing.
The truth is that Sherrod was telling a 24-year old story about her work for a non-profit organization whose mission was to help Black farmers. Discrimination against Black farmers was rampant, and she described how she was first reluctant when approached by a White farmer named Roger Spooner for help (Sherrod also says that her father was killed by a White farmer 45 years ago). But after seeing that no one wanted to help Spooner she worked to save his farm, and eventually became good friends with his family.
Yesterday, Roger Spooner said that Sherrod saved their farm and kept them out of bankruptcy. He told CNN, “I don’t know what brought up the racist mess. They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me in my opinion.”
A disturbing pattern
Sadly, the truth didn’t matter at all. Soon after Breitbart’s fake video surfaced, Sherrod was pressured by the White House to resign. Sherrod was never given a chance to tell her side of the story, and says that the Obama administration was “not interested in hearing the truth.”
Once the truth became known, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement saying that whether or not the smear campaign against Sherrod was based in lies, it was necessary to fire her because the “controversy” would make it hard for her to do her job. The Obama administration is essentially saying that they will always back down in the face of dishonest, race-baiting smear campaigns launched by right-wing propagandists. They’ve ended the career of someone who did nothing wrong, and by handing a victory to the people who launched this deception, the administration is encouraging them to launch even more smears. All to avoid “controversy.” It’s pathetic, it’s shameful, and it has to stop.
It’s not the first time this has happened. Several members of the Obama administration have lost their jobs or been demoted, and nominees to cabinet positions have either stepped down or withdrawn their nominations after becoming the target of smear campaigns launched by FOX News and Breitbart.
It’s bad enough that we have to fight the constant smear campaigns and appeals to racial paranoia from FOX and the right-wing media. But it’s completely shameful and outrageous for the Obama administration to throw innocent public servants under the bus just to avoid having to fight back against the lies. It’s not the first time it’s happened — but if enough of us call out the White House and tell them to stop running scared from FOX News, it might be the last.
Please join me and others in the ColorOfChange.org community in standing up for Shirley Sherrod, and demanding that the White House do the right thing now.
“Fox smears Sherrod as racist, Sherrod cancels Fox interview,” Media Matters for America, 7-20-2010
“NAACP ‘snookered’ over video of former USDA employee,” CNN, 7-20-2010
“Official: No WH pressure on Sherrod,” Politico, 7-20-2010
“Obama briefed after Sherrod incident,” CNN Politics, 7-20-2010