Shirley Sherrod: Anatomy of a smear campaign

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(NNPA)—It began with an Internet posting at 11:18 a.m. on Monday, July 19. Right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart uploaded a heavily-edited video of a speech Shirley Sherrod gave to an NAACP dinner in Douglas, Ga. It was posted under the headline “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism” on BigGovernment.com, one of Breitbart’s sites.

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The slanted editing made it appear as though Sherrod was boasting about discriminating against a White farmer when, in fact, her point was that people of all races should move beyond their personal biases.

A blow-by-blow reconstruction of events was developed by examining news accounts, doing some original reporting and reading a detailed report by Media Matters, the news monitoring group.

At 12:13 p.m., conservative blogger Jim Holt posted Breitbart’s 2-minute video on his site. He said, “The former civil rights group known as the NAACP does not just invite anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and radical America-hating Marxist Jeremiah Wright to speak at their events… They also invite government officials who hate Whitey, too.”

Slightly more than two hours after the original posting (at approximately 1:40 p.m.), the Fox Nation website posted the heavily-edited Sherrod tape with the title, “Caught on Tape: Obama Official Discriminates Against a White Farmer.”

Around 4:28 p.m., the Drudge Report linked to New York City’s CBS affiliate’s story based on the Breitbart tape under the headline, “SHOCK: Video Suggests Racism at NAACP Event.”

At 8:50 p.m. Fox host Bill O’Reilly declared, “That is simply unacceptable. And Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately.” A few minutes later, at (9:04 p.m)., Sean Hannity told his Fox viewers that Sherrod had resigned.

“Secretary Vilsack did exactly the right thing,” Hannity said. “I mean I often disagree with the administration. But firing her after that kind of viciously racist attitude was exactly the right thing to do.”

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, unaware that Sherrod had already resigned, tweeted at 9:10 p.m., “Racism is about abuse of power. Sherrod had it at USDA. She abused a White farmer because of his race…” The Twitter post has since been deleted.

Jealous’ tweet was similar to an NAACP press release sent out by Chris Fleming, one of his publicists, at 11:55 p.m.

In the statement, Jealous said: “Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a White farmer in need of assistance because of his race. We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers. Her actions were shameful…”

That statement was later removed from the NAACP’s site.

CNN also did Sherrod a disservice. At 10:39 p.m., Joe Johns, an African-American, reported that Sherrod had “ resigned after a YouTube video surfaced showing her describing to an NAACP audience how she withheld help to a White farmer.”

The Sherrod controversy continued to rage the following day.

BigGovernment.com, the site that carried the controversial video, reposted Ben Jealous’ NAACP statement on its site. The hosts of “Fox and Friends” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were highly critical of Sherrod. Stretching his already outstretched imagination, Joe Scarborough said, “…I think its relevance relates back to the New Black Panthers’ tapes that have been out there.”

The story line turned as Sherrod began telling her own story. In a CNN interview that began at 6:53 a.m., Sherrod told John Roberts, co-host of “American Morning,” that her comments had been distorted. “…For some reason, the stuff that Fox and the Tea Party does is scaring the administration,” she said. “I told them to get the whole tape and look at how I tell people we have to get beyond race and start working together.”

Glenn Beck wasn’t moving beyond race. At 9:52 a.m., he said on his radio show, “Excuse me, have we transformed into 1956, only the other way around?”

At 11:06 a.m., in an interview on CNN Newsroom, Sherrod told of being called a couple of times by Cheryl Cook, the deputy secretary of Agriculture, while she was driving from Albany, Ga., her home town, to Athens. “She said, ‘Well, Shirley, they want you to pull over to the side of the road and do it [resign] because you’re going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.’”

At 11:20 a.m., Eloise Spooner, the White farmer mentioned in the Sherrod video, told CNN that Sherrod was a “friend” who “helped us save our farm.”

At 12:10 p.m., Rush Limbaugh praise Breitbart for doing what he called great work. He said the NAACP “is as racist an organization as there has been and is in this country.”

During a hour-long discussion on “Rick’s List,” the Spooners told host Rick Sanchez that those trying to smear Sherrod, “Don’t know what they’re talking about.”

At 6:10 p.m., the NAACP issued a new statement saying it had been “snookered” by Fox News and Andrew Breitbart. At 7:45 pm, the civil rights group released the full video of the speech, which had been given 24 years earlier, long before Sherrod was employed by the Department of Agriculture. When the tape proved that Sherrod’s speech was as she had described it, the Department of Agriculture offered to re-hire her.

Some conservatives remain unrepentant.

Breitbart asked CNN’s John King, “You’re going off of [Sherrod’s] word that the farmer’s wife is the farmer’s wife. What type of extra reporting have you done on this?” He also tried to spin his action by saying the tape was about the NAACP’s purported racism, not Shirley Sherrod.

Glenn Beck stated—incorrectly—that Fox did not report on the controversy until after Sherrod had resigned. He questioned whether the incident was part of a White House conspiracy to discredit “Fox News.”

Limbaugh parroted Beck, saying, “The White House is afraid of ‘Fox News.’ For all I know, the White House orchestrated this whole thing.”

Even when caught in an orchestrated lie, some conservatives fail to acknowledge the truth.

(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service.He can be reached at http://www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)

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