Enough Is Enough

The Sherrod Case Should Bring the End of the Fox News Era

The smearing of Shirley Sherrod ought to be a turning point in American politics. This is not, as the now trivialized phrase has it, a "teachable moment." It is a time for action.

The mainstream media and the Obama administration alike must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its own propaganda to be accepted as news by persuading traditional journalists that "fairness" requires treating extremist rants as "one side of the story."

And there can be no more shilly-shallying about the fact that racial backlash politics is becoming an important component of the campaign against President Obama, and against progressives in this year's election.

The administration's response to the doctored video pushed by right-wing hit man Andrew Breitbart was shameful. The obsession with "protecting" the president turned out to be the least protective approach of all.

The first reaction of the Obama team was not to question, let alone challenge, the video. Instead, it assumed that whatever narrative Fox News might create mattered more than anything else, including the possible innocence of a human being outside the president's inner circle. She could be sacrificed without a thought.

Obama complained on ABC's Good Morning America that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles." But it's his own apparatus that turned "this media culture" into a false god.

Yet the Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that "balance" demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters.

This goes way back. Al Gore never actually said he "invented the Internet," but you could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media kept reporting he had.

There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that last August, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates.

The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.

Thus did Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post's ombudsman, ask why the paper had been slow to report on, as he put it, "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party."

Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: persuade Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.

And never mind that, to her great credit, Abigail Thernstrom, a conservative George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, dismissed the case and those pushing it. "This doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers," she told Politico's Ben Smith. "This has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the (Obama) administration."

Instead, the media are supposed to take seriously the charges of J. Christian Adams, who served in the Bush Justice Department. He's a Republican activist going back to the Bill Clinton era. His party services included time as a Bush poll watcher in Florida in 2004, when on one occasion he was involved in a controversy over whether a black couple could cast a regular ballot.

Now, Adams is accusing the Obama Justice Department of being "motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law."

This is racially inflammatory, politically motivated nonsense--and it's nonsense even if Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk about it a thousand times a day. When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand issue, the liars win.

The Sherrod case should be the end of the line. If Obama hates the current media climate, he should stop overreacting to it. And the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting upon the difference between news and propaganda. 

(c) 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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What action do you propose?

A government truth commission?

E.J. - I know you don't grasp this, but the mainstream media is overwhelmingly liberal and has been for years.  I have had personal experience with a major news outlet outright fabricating a story because of this bias, so much so that the "event" that they reported on is now treated as a fact even though it never occurred. The difference in that case was it was before the "blogosphere" so their lies went unchecked.  So long as reports fit the progressive narrative, no one ever checked them.  Recall the "homeless crisis" - they all seemed to find a place to live once Clinton was elected.

The only difference between FOX and CBS and NBC is that FOX is at least somewhat honest about their bias while the MSM still claim the mantel of objectivity with the help of people like you. 

And talk about creating a false impression - FOX had nothing to do with Sherrod's firing.  There seems to be some selective editing on your part as well.

Get used to it EJ - the Philistines are here to stay.

"When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-issue, the liars win."

Certainly the charge that Shirley Sharrod discriminated against the poor farmer in the video would be considered outlandish, on-the-other-hand, it is an outlandish charge to accuse those who did not support The Health Care Bill of being racist (see video at 24th minute) when we all know that a heathcare bill is not and can never be a race to begin with. At the end of the Day, a teachable moment that does not become a teachable moment is no longer a teachable moment.



Unfortunately, there is bias in all network news coverage and commentary programs.  The mainstream media such as CBS, NBC and ABC is as liberal as you can get.  Fox is conservative, but they admit it and try to be balanced. They are biased as well.  MSNBC and the like are not only far left but sarcastic and use smear tactics.  They should be taken off the air.  Fox trys to debate the facts but they are not perfect, nor are they the righteous standard.  The Shirley Sharrod firing was a disaster.  Fox did not fire her.  The NAACP and the Obama administration made a rush to judgement.  They are responsible, end of story.  At the end of the day, a president or secretary of agriculiture must rely on their judgments and hope they have heard all the facts and viewpoints fairly.  Despite the new media and politics, the buck stops with those that made the decision.  Obama promised to change Washington.   Unfortunately, Washington has gotten worse.  I think Obama can be a great president but he needs to start governing from the center and truely practice bi-partisanship.  I have no answer for the current state of network news and commentary programs.  You just hope and pray that it gets better.  Demonizing one party over another, or one news organization over another is not the answer.  God help us.

  Fox tries to be balanced?  You should write for Comedy Central.

E.J.Dionne, I am wondering if you think Shirley Sherrod's accusation at minute 24 on the video where she accuses those who did not support The Health Care Bill of being mean-spirited and racist even though we all know a healthcare bill is not and can never be a race to begin with, is part of the problem or part of the solution? Do you believe this false accusation by Shirley Sherrod should be addressed?

Nancy Danielson, Mr. Dionne can certainly speak for himself.  I would just like to raise the importance of proportionality.

Andrew Breitbart (a man whose self-described mission is to "destroy the institutional left") circulated a video to Fox News (among others) that defamed Mrs. Sherrod, was edited to make Mrs. Sherrod appear to be saying the opposite of what she was in fact saying, and led to her being forced out of her job.  (E.J. is right; the Obama administration should be ashamed of its reactions in this case---they responded exactly as Mr. Breitbart wanted). 

Mrs. Sherrod on the other hand, in a speech to an organization she has known and worked with for at least her entire adult life, mentioned as an aside that, in effect, racism was a reason behind some of the opposition to the health care bill. This was not the main point of her speech.

The main point of her speech was the importance of working through and getting beyond racial stereotypes so that we can engage each other around our common values and interests.

Mr. Dionne lead with a lie in referring to the tape played by Mr. Breitbart as a "doctored video"  as it was an exact word-for-word  excerpt from a longer video. The rest of the rant against conservatives and in praise of Shirly Sherrod is rebutted by Larry Elder in his column " Shirley Sherrod, Quit While You're Ahead" found at Townhall which includes the following excerpt."But what about the rest of Shirley Sherrod's NAACP speech?She made this observation about those who opposed ObamaCare: "I haven't seen such mean-spirited people as I've seen lately over this issue of health care. Some of the racism we thought was buried. Didn't it surface? (Audience responds approvingly.) Now, we endured eight years of the Bushes, and we didn't do the stuff these Republicans are doing because you have a black president. So the self-proclaimed colorblind woman attributes legitimate opposition to the government takeover of health care ... to racism."  Let's see Mr. Dionne try to turn Mr. Elder into a raving racist with his journalistic word-smithing legerdemain. 

@E.Patrick Mosman, Andrew Breitbart has a well-documented history of doctoring videos and using them to destroy his political rivals.  His video excerpt of Mrs. Sherrod's speech was doctored in that it conveyed the precise opposite of what Mrs. Sherrod was saying.  (I assume by your statement you have watched the unedited video or read a transcript of the speech.)

Did racism surface in the debate over healthcare reform?  Yes, it did.  So did mean-spiritedness.  So did lots of other things did too---including opposition to an expanded government role in health care.  Mrs. Sherrod did not call everyone who opposed the Affordable Care Act a racist.  I understood her to say that racism and mean-spiritedness surfaced in the debate over healthcare reform.

I have yet to see Mrs. Sherrod proclaim herself as "colorblind".  In fact, she was very honest about the fact that she saw color when Roger Spooner first approached her for help.  At the time  (24 years ago) she was working for an non-governmental organization whose mission was to help black farmers.  She was also honest about the fact she did not like what she perceived to be Spooner's attitude, which reminded her of how whites in Baker County had traditionally treated their black neighbors (including shooting them in the back, as her father was when he was killed). 

Despite that history and her feelings, she connected him with a (white) lawyer who could help him.  When the lawyer failed to help, and Mr. Spooner called her again for help, she helped him save his farm and they have been friends ever since.  As Larry Elder wrote in the column you cited:  "Sherrod actually shared her story of personal redemption, that life's struggle is not that of black vs. white but, in her opinion, about overcoming economic disadvantage."



Mr. Hill,

Suggest you review the definition of 'doctor' i.e., tr) to make different in order to deceive, tamper with, falsify, or adulterate. Unlike Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carrol's " Through the Looking Glass" you don't have the right or privilege to argue " (a word) means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Th=re was no doctoring of the video to make it different or falsify or adulterate it as anyone who has viewd the entire video or read the entire transcript well knows. While Mrs Sharrod announced later that from this experience she had an awakening to her latent racism, she returned to her roots with the quotation presented earlier. That is probably why Mr. Elder entitled his column "Shirley Sherrod, Quit While You're Ahead"





@E.Patrick Mosman, I'm happy to concede your point on the definition of "doctoring", if only because it seems to be getting in the way of what, to me, seems a larger and more important issue, namely how we understand and treat Mrs. Sherrod.

Baker County, as of the 2000 census, has a little over 4,000 residents.  Mrs. Sherrod grew up at a time when the population was smaller, when state-enforced segregation was the law, and when---within a generation---two members of her family were killed by white men who suffered no legal consequence.

After her father's death, Sherrod chose to follow Booker T. Washington's advice, stay in the South and work on the land. 

Her husband, Rev. Charles Sherrod, was a legendary civil rights organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  When, under Stokely Carmichael, SNCC expelled its white staff, Sherrod left SNCC. 

Together, they helped create the largest black-owned farm in the country---until they lost it in bankruptcy, after the US Dept. of Agriculture refused to provide loan guarantees, a refusal based on their race the USDA later admitted.

The racist behavior---throughout Mrs. Sherrod's lifetime and in the current instance---is not Shirley Sherrod's; it is on the part of those who have repeatedly sought to destroy her and her family.  Andrew Breitbart is only the most recent example.

(Just my opinion....though I have thought about this quite a bit.)

Mr Hill and for those who have not read Mr. Elder's column, he summed up as follows:

"And what motivated Breitbart to post the out-of-context excerpt? Was Breitbart erroneously, but in good faith, using it to hold the NAACP to the same standard the organization asks of the Tea Party? Not according to Sherrod. She told CNN: "I know I've gotten past black vs. white. He's probably the person who's never gotten past it and never attempted to get past it. ... I think he would like to get us stuck back in the times of slavery. That's where I think he'd like to see all black people end up again. ... I think that's why he's so vicious against a black president, you know. He would go after me. I don't think it was even the NAACP he was totally after. I think he was after a black president."This from someone who's "gotten past black vs. white"?"

And since Mr. Hill brought up the Reverend Sfharod here is Mr. Elder's thoughts on him:

"Her husband, the Rev. Sherrod, spoke this year at the University of Virginia School of Law. In the half-hour excerpt posted on YouTube, he talks about the evolution of the black struggle for freedom and equality and about his personal experiences with prejudice and brutality. He said he found inspiration from the Rev. Martin Luther King's vision of a society that judges people by the content of their character. But the Rev. Sherrod later said: "Finally, we must stop the white man and his Uncle Toms from stealing our elections. We must not be afraid to vote black, and we must not be afraid to turn a black out who votes against our interests." He provided no example, explanation or elaboration. Breitbart erred in not viewing the entire NAACP speech. But neither this nor the past racist experiences of Shirley and Charles Sherrod justify giving them a pass for their own racist comments."


Mr. Mosman, thanks for being my "debate partner" in this thread.  I'll let the following be my last words in this thread, but would appreciate your continued reflections, as well as anyone else who'd like to join the conversation.

The more I reflect on the "Sherrod controversy", the more I am dissatisfied with the prooftexting nature of it:  snippets of Shirley and Charles Sherrod's speeches used to "prove" they are racist, my own selective use of Larry Elder's words when the main thrust of Mr. Elder's column was strongly critical of Mrs. Sherrod, etc.

I wish we all could meditate more deeply on the life of Shirley Sherrod.  As Derrick Jackson, a Boston Globe columnist sympathetic to Mrs. Sherrod summarized in a column earlier this week:  "Her father was murdered in 1965 by white men who were never indicted. Her younger sisters endured cross burnings for integrating schools. Her husband was a courageous civil rights worker who was beaten by an ax-handle-wielding white mob. The family home was shot into and the Sherrods lost their own farm to discriminatory loan practices."

So, she has lived a life deeply shaped by what we Catholics call "the sin of racism".  In addition, she has devoted much of her life to overcoming the sin of racism---both within herself and in the world around her, particularly in southwest Georgia where she has lived her whole life.

I, for one, am grateful for the ways in which Mrs. Sherrod has been a witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and pray that the Lord will continue to protect and strengthen her.

Mr. Hill,I also appreciate your participation in furthering a discussion on what is a very serious matter in which the Sherrods are simply the tip of the iceberg of an administration's racial policies, not post racial as promised.   I am also a true believer in the message of Jesus Christ but fail to see how it applies to Mr. and Mrs Sherrord in this case as only the application of a double standard can excuse the recent words and sentiments expressed individually by each. Excusing their recent racist utterances because of being subjected in the past to some new found 'sin of racism', which as a life long Catholic have never heard uttered in a Catholic setting, is hardly the message of 'forgiveness' taught by our Lord. Had they heeded His message of 'forgiveness' there would not be Sherrod issue now.  There is much to the Sherrods' life beside Mr.Jackson's article which I had read before but it doesn't excuse their recent slurs on individuals, whites and Uncle Tom's.Perhaps meditation on the Mrs.Sherrod's life story should include passages from the following: CNN Anchor Says He Was Wrong to Let Shirley Sherrod Smear of Andrew Breitbart Go Unchallenged http://newsbusters.org/blogs/rich-noyes/2010/07/30/mea-culpa-360-cnn-anc...Real Sherrod Story Still Untoldhttp://www.americanthinker.com/2010/07/real_sherrod_story_still_untol.htmlSpeaking of double standard is a white person who calls a black person a mongrel a racist?How would the press react?Is a black person who calls a white person a mongrel a racist?How would the press react?Is a mixed race person, a mulatto by definition, who called both black and white people mongrels a racist as President Obama did on the View?How did the press react? They ignored it.

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