Andrew Breitbart Owes Shirley Sherrod and Us an Apology

The fiasco of the forced resignation of Shirley Sherrod has become one of the major stories of the day. It began when released a video given to Andrew Breitbart, which seemed to suggest, as Breitbart wrote, “video evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee and NAACP award recipient and in another clip from the same event a perfect rationalization for why the Tea Party needs to exist.”

What irked Breitbart -- correctly -- was that the Tea Party was being branded as racist by the NAACP and other liberal media outlets. As we have now learned, the original video handed to Breitbart included only part of the Sherrod speech. It was best explained by Roger Mackey in a New York Times blog:

Ms. Sherrod and her supporters said the edited clip was misleading because the excerpts were taken from a longer story she told about overcoming prejudice and learning, from working with this white farmer, that her job was to help poor people regardless of their race. After the N.A.A.C.P. reviewed a longer tape of the speech (embedded at the top of this post), the group said in a statement posted on its Web site, “we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart,” the conservative blogger who drew attention to the speech.

The NAACP then backed down, releasing a statement indicating that after reviewing her entire speech and listening to the testimony of white farmers whom Sherrod actually helped, "the fact is Ms. Sherrod did help the white farmers mentioned in her speech. They personally credit her with helping to save their family farm. Moreover, this incident and the lesson it prompted occurred more than 20 years before she went to work for U.S.D.A.”

Sherrod, in her full speech, made it clear that what she was trying to convey was a change in her perspective, from seeing things only through the prism of race, when it was a matter of poor people of all colors needing help that was being denied them. She learned when “it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those that have and not so much –  it is about white and black but, it opened my eyes because I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hands and felt, O.K., I’ve done my job.” The white farmer then had his farm foreclosed.

The white lawyer Sherrod had sent him to did not help stop the foreclosure, but told the farmer to let the farm go. At that point, Sherrod sprung to his defense and went on to help him save his farm. From this experience she learned “it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t … And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people, those who don’t have access the way others have.”

After finally hearing her story, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised to review the decision asking for her resignation. But there is more.  On CNN, Sherrod told the story of how Undersecretary of Agriculture Cheryl Cook called her three times as she was driving to clients in Athens, Georgia, a three and a half hour car drive. "They asked me to resign, and in fact they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday," she said. The last call "asked me to pull to the side of the road and do it [resign]," she said. The undersecretary told her that the White House wanted her to resign, because  “you’re going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.”

The irony is  that Glenn Beck did not show the video on his program at all that day. On the following day’s program, Beck came on the air -- before the full video of Sherrod’s entire March speech had been made available by Breitbart and by the NAACP -- and told his program’s viewers that Sherrod “shouldn’t have been fired.” Why, Beck asked, would they force a resignation based on a 24-year-old incident that might have been “taken entirely out of context”?