Friday, July 23, 2010

Shirley Sherrod (Conclusion)

It’s pretty much impossible for even someone who defends the President night and day (that’s the mission of this blog, you know) to defend the Administration’s handling of the Shirley Sherrod affair. In the end, I’m willing to let things slide only because the Administration (at the very end of the day) stepped up, apologized profusely and tried to make things right. We’re still waiting to see if Mrs. Sherrod takes up that job offer.

Still, the notion of Rahmbo walking “the Sherrod situation” into the Oval Office, with the President clicking on the T.V., seeing the stories and saying: “My God, this is going to be on Glenn Beck. Get that Sherrod woman on the phone right now, and fire her” is laughable. This was handled by a few Administration Officials who thought they were serving the President well (they actually made things worse) by trying to get the jump on a story before it ballooned into something cancerous. It’s the Obama modus operandi. It’s been that way since the Campaign, and this time they got burned for it.

I watched Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment on the affair with a measure of trepidation because he spent a majority of the Comment going after the President for that good ol' Liberal meme of not being tough enough, while conveniently skipping one of the major villains of this affair. (We'll get to that in a minute).

Of course, Andrew Breitbart is a villian. He's a sociopath and a racist, and as I said before maintaining the ethics of a garter snake. This goes without saying.

The same goes for Fox News and the rest of the right wing media bullhorn, Sheppard Smith and apparently Eric Erickson excluded.

The USDA Official who fired Shirley also needs heaps of scorn, particularly in light of the racist history of that organization.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is also on my @#$% list, though he gave as good an apology as you can expect in these matters.

Still, I’m going to be watching Secretary Vilsack from now own (and not with a sympathetic eye), because in the middle of all this he doubled down on the firing.

But one of my big villains (and a villain in the eyes of the Administration, it turns out) is the Mainstream Media.

It's not that you fell for just for this, its that you keep falling for this crap time and time again.

Now, Keith did go after even his own network for propagating this nonsense, but he didn’t exactly linger on the concept. Huffington Post got its knickers in a twist over it, but they’re just as guilty, so I can give a rat’s @#$% what they think (which is the norm)

Meanwhile, a couple of people really nailed it.

Greg Sargent:

Less than two months ago, Andrew Breitbart was seen as such an important media figure that he merited a huge profile in The New Yorker magazine. He has been widely quoted by major news organizations on a whole host of topics and has received a great deal of press attention for his various pet crusades.

So here's my question: Has any news org done a stand-alone story on the damage the Shirley Sherrod mess has done -- or should do -- to his credibility?

Have any high profile traditional media figures come right out and said that Breitbart -- who admitted flat out that he received the Sherrod video unedited and posted it without tracking down the original -- has dealt himself a severe blow here?

These are sincere questions. How much of this have you all seen? Maybe I'm missing something, but I haven't seem much of it at all. Why not? News orgs love "winners and losers" stories. Reporters and editors love to talk about other media figures. It seems like a no-brainer that this would be the next angle on this story.

So why aren't we seeing more along these lines?

We’re not. And Politico just made him one of their stars to watch, this being after the Sherrod case.

Josh Marshall (who like Keith chimed in from vacation):

Still, you just have to back up from that and realize that as disappointing as Tom Vilsack's first crack at this was, the idea that he or Obama is the bad guy in this story is not only preposterous but verging on obscene. It's like the NYPD as the bad guy in the Son of Sam saga because they didn't catch David Berkowitz fast enough. Or perhaps that the real moral of the story is that the woman with the stalker should have been more focused on personal data security. Not for some time has something so captured the essential corruption of a big chunk of what passes as 'right wing media' (not all, by any means, but a sizable chunk along the Breitbart/Fox/Hannity continuum) and the corruption of the mainstream media itself as this episode.

Let's review what happened here. And for the sake of conversation, let's assume that Breitbart and his crew didn't edit this thing and hadn't seen any of the rest of the highly exculpatory video. (I'm willing to assume that for the sake of the conversation. And I think it may even be true as a matter of fact.) That's by far the most innocent explanation. And that means that Breitbart got a piece of video he knew nothing about and published it with a central claim (that it was about Sherrod's tenure at the USDA) that he either made up or made no attempt to verify. No vetting, no calls, no due diligence, not the slightest concern to confirm anything or find out what was true. Even setting aside the fact that, as Josh Green ably notes, most of Breitbart's scoops center on race and/or race-baiting, for anyone else practicing anything even vaguely resembling journalism, demonstrated recklessness and/or dishonesty on that scale would be a shattering if not necessarily fatal blow to reputation and credibility.

Yet most of the coverage has been along the lines of Breitbart sparks debate about racism or White House pratfall on prematurely canning Shirley Sherrod. Indeed, ABC tonight is sending out an exclusive on Breitbart, which is ... a puff piece about how he got his start in new media.

Oh, ABC News did a puff piece also? Thanks for reminding me, Josh.

Andrew Sullivan (I think his Journolist stuff is bull#$%, but still…):

I have not been immune to feeling frustrated and depressed by the sheer power and energy of the Fox News/Drudge/Breitbart media onslaught against anything to do with Obama. As in the campaign, I've longed in my gut for the administration to lash back with as much vehemence as Fox lashes forward. I've also winced when the Obamaites have appeared totally craven in responding to the context-free narrative many on the denialist, angry right have been pushing. (But at least Vilsack apologized which makes him much more of a man than Breitbart.)

But I've learned over time to respect the canniness of this president's restraint. His gift is patience and perseverance and allowing his enemies to destroy themselves. And I suspect this Breitbart racial smear may be a moment when, once again, you see how Obama outsmarts his opponents. I mean: when you examine it, you see that a woman who actually exemplifies honesty about race and overcomes prejudice was cynically and recklessly used to create a false notion that this administration is racist toward whites, an old and disgusting canard devised by the Becks and Hannitys and Limbaughs in the tradition of Wallace and Atwater and McCarthy.

But - and here's the thing - to the credit of many on the right (and, of course, good old Shep Smith of Fox News), this episode has led to the first real rift in the lock-step of the right-wing noise machine. I know this was so egregious a smear it was indefensible. And I know, as David Frum has noted, that many conservatives tried to deflect blame onto Obama, and the media - led by the cynic Lloyd Grove - has joined the pack. But nonetheless, many on the right took Breitbart on, from NRO outward. This great injustice has, to anyone with a fair mind, deeply damaged Fox News, deeply discredited the Breitbart noise machine, and will render every new soundbite and video issued by FNC more suspect.

It was, in other words, an over-reach from hubris. And I suspect that this over-reach is not just in the rightwing media but in what's left of conservative political activism.

Randi Rhodes:

Well, falsely vilified Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod has a new job offer. If the Department of Agriculture can just falsely accuse another 15 million Americans and offer them new jobs as compensation, we will have solved the unemployment problem. Of course, we’re going to have a lot of people on the Department of Agriculture payroll. On the upside, we should be doing pretty good in terms of agriculture. Heck, for every struggling family farmer out there, we’ll have a few thousand USDA employees keeping tabs on each of them. All we have to do is get Andrew Breitbart and Fox News to manufacture fake videos to falsely incriminate 15 million Americans. I’m confident they can do it. Hell, do that and then there’s a few hundred thousand jobs for videotape editors too. This just keeps getting better for the economy.

Shirley Sherrod has received apologies from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the NAACP, and President Obama even called her personally today. She’s received apologies from everybody who fell for this scam, and nobody who perpetrated this scam (timeline). Both Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly aggressively pushed this story. Now they’re just as aggressively pushing this story away from themselves. Why hasn’t Fox News issued an apology for pushing the story? Because they’re too busy criticizing the White House for believing the story they were pushing. “How dare you believe what we were saying! Didn’t you stop to consider the source?”

Randi Rhodes said yesterday that she felt the Shirley Sherrod affair is a moment that should change everything for the media. She's right when she later said, she's afraid it's going to change nothing.