No question, the maddening spectacle of Andrew Breitbart managing to tar an innocent woman with demonstrable lies is an indictment of corporate news media. Competition for eyeballs and misguided “objectivity” conspire to give proven dissemblers like Breitbart opportunities to be heard when they ought to be ignored. That said, let’s keep one fact about Sherrod’s ordeal clear: Neither Breitbart nor the news media that credulously reported his antics fired Shirley Sherrod; Barack Obama’s administration did. And that’s what makes the president’s remarks on Good Morning America today so frustrating.
George Stephanopoulos blogged last night on the relevant excerpts from this morning’s Obama interview (which is primarily on the Wall Street reform bill). Of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s actions, Obama said, “He jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles.” Except in this case, of course, the “everybody” is your administration, Mr. President.
Sherrod has said plainly that she understood the White House, not Vilsack to have asked for her head. But even if we accept that this was all a matter of Vilsack wilding out and overreacting, he did so in the context of an administration that is plainly spooked by the far right’s effort to link it with anything that looks race conscious, or even truly progressive. Vilsack’s actions were in keeping with his boss’s political temperament: Avoid fights with the right and take no prisoners on the left.
But Obama nonetheless dressed it up as yet another teachable moment:
“If there’s a lesson to be drawn from this episode, it’s that rather than us jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers at each other, we should all look inward and try to examine what’s in our own hearts and, as a consequence, I think we will continue to make progress,” he said.