< Taken Out of Context and Fired


Friday, July 23, 2010

BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. On Monday, Georgia USDA official Shirley Sherrod was depicted on a conservative blog as a racist in an out-of-context video clip of a speech she delivered to the NAACP. She was describing how 24 years ago she considered withholding her help from a white farmer because so many black farmers had suffered without it. That’s where the tape essentially ended. That day, the Department of Agriculture fired her. That night, the NAACP condemned her. But the unedited tape showed her explaining how she had looked into her heart and saw that the poor of all races deserved her help. The white farmer in question stepped forward to defend her, declaring she had saved his farm. Tuesday, NAACP Chief Ben Jealous apologized.

BEN JEALOUS: Sometimes we make a mistake, and we made one here.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wednesday, the government apologized and tried to rehire her. Here’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

ROBERT GIBBS: Without a doubt, Ms. Sherrod is owed an apology. I would do so certainly on behalf of this administration.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Initially, of course, FOX played up the story. A wide array of FOX News talking heads, including Laura Ingraham, condemned her - and everyone else.

LAURA INGRAHAM: Where was the NAACP? And, frankly, where was the media on this story? Was anyone covering this?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And then FOX News Special Report host Bret Baier, while not apologizing, disavowed any knowledge of FOX’s actions.

BRET BAIER: FOX News didn't even do this story. We didn't do it on Special Report.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andrew Breitbart, whose blog was the source of the incriminating tape, says he never condemned Sherrod, only the NAACP. They forced him to do it.

ANDREW BREITBART: I'm invested in getting the NAACP and the Democratic Party and the Congressional Black Caucus to stop constantly calling the Tea Party racist. That’s my job. I could care less about Shirley Sherrod.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, maybe we haven't yet developed the reflexes to cope with this new era of unbounded media. This is, after all, an era where everyone can publish with no regard for 20th century rules of journalism, as when, in the earliest days of our republic, The Connecticut Courant could accuse Thomas Jefferson of robbing widows. Back then, citizens gorged themselves on newspapers of all stripes, and they gave them the respect they deserved, which is to say, not much. They would have hooted when NAACP’s Ben Jealous said:

BEN JEALOUS: You know, we're forced in this line of work to make quick judgments about video evidence and video testimony all the time. You know, we made a mistake here.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nobody is forcing him - or the White House, or any one of us - to do anything. How many teachable moments in modern media are required before we learn to sniff before we swallow? Eighteenth-century American news consumers would have had two words for us, “caveat emptor,” or make those three words, “consider the source.” Consider, for example, Andrew Breitbart. When Politico reported that Tea Party protesters hurled racial slurs at black legislators after the passage of the Health Care Bill, Breitbart refused to believe it. He countered with a joke posted to his Twitter account. Quote: “Oh, my God, the Dems are screaming the N-word outside my house, I swear. No, really. Trust me.” Is he forcing you to trust him? Come on. Not even Breitbart expects you to trust him.