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Why We Shouldn’t Negotiate with Terrorists

[I’m reprinting this letter from Fred Wickham (the blogger at Bullseye Rooster). Despite my headline, I am NOT calling Andrew Breitbart or Fox News terrorists, but reading this reminded me of why most governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists — it just encourages them. In this case, by firing Sherrod, the government is encouraging Breitbart and Fox News to stir up more false controversy — like they did with ACORN, like they did with “ClimateGate”, and on and on. We need to stand up to these liars and expose them for what they are, not cave in. If the government is (as they claim) actually worried that Sherrod can’t do her job because of the controversy, instead of firing her they should sue Breitbart and Fox News for defaming her. That will put a stop to the (false) controversy, now and in the future. -iron]

Friends —
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.

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 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?

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 community in standing up for Shirley Sherrod, and demanding that the White House do the right thing now.


Key Links:

“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

Thanks for looking into this.

Fred Wickham

[Here’s a followup from Wickham’s blog. -iron]

Today I did something I’ve never done before. I sent along a mass emailing. It pertains to the firing of a black woman by the Obama administration. Her name is Shirley Sherrod, a USDA official. She was smeared by one of the most repulsive (and effective) bloggers on the far right — Andrew Breitbart.

My point in writing this blog post is to call attention to the effectiveness of blogs and emails in moving the world in the direction you think it should be taken. You, like me, have no doubt received important emails about issues you agree with. And like me, you’ve probably thought I should help, but I’m too busy. Some of these issues must loom large enough in you sense of outrage that you would like to act upon them. That was the case with me today — and this particular instance of racism.

It took me five or ten minutes to send the message along to my lists. Time I could have spent brewing another cup of coffee. But look at it like voting. You know voting’s important, so you read up on the candidates and issues, and you simply do it.

This is the same. It’s voting. And it’s voting at the time the issue needs to be considered.

Just do it.

UPDATE: Sherrod has received official apologies from both the White House and from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. And she is reportedly being offered a new job with the department.

Mistakes were made and judgements were rushed to, but hopefully this will become a “teachable moment”. For everyone, including Andrew Breitbart, whose sloppy and misleading reporting started this whole mess. Unfortunately, when he was confronted with all the evidence that his story was crap, he went into full attack mode:

You tell me as a reporter how CNN put on a person today who purported to be the farmer’s wife? What did you do to find out whether or not that was the actual farmer’s wife? I mean, if you’re going to accuse me of a falsehood, tell me where you’ve confirmed that had this incident happened 24 years ago. …

You’re going off of her word that the farmer’s wife is the farmer’s wife?

In case you were wondering, several independent news organizations had already confirmed Eloise and Roger Spooner’s story. We’re still waiting for any evidence that Breitbart has even a single contrite bone in his body.

UPDATE 2: Joan Walsh has a good summary of the whole mess at Salon. See also Keith Olbermann’s take on this, posted as a separate story.



  1. Brandon wrote:

    This story is a little out of date. Vilsack gave Sherrod a new position in the department, and it looks like a promotion.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    The point is to sue for defamation. I do wish she would.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  3. Sammy wrote:

    After the previous two or three Breitbart smears were thoroughly debunked as bogus, it’s amazing to me how the mainstream media and the White House fell for it again.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink