Three Stories We Could Obsess Over Instead of Shirley Sherrod’s Ordeal

Since everybody wants to talk about racism, here are a few ideas.

By Kai Wright Jul 21, 2010

The question isn’t whether Shirley Sherrod will get her job back at the Agriculture Department–or whether she should take it if offered, for that matter. The question is when are we going to stop paying attention to Andrew Breitbart? Better yet, at what point do the news outlets that gleefully report on the fake controversies he generates–thereby creating the stories they claim to be simply following–become equally responsible for his lies? If there is anything positive to say about the whole sorry Sherrod episode, it’s that perhaps we’re finally to that point.

David Gergen articulated it well on CNN’s "AC 360" (of all places): "An ideologue injects poison into the internet, other people rush to judgment on camera, and an administration gets stampeded and commits this travesty of justice." That about sums it up, but it’s hardly the first time this has happened. See under: ACORN, pimps and hos.

If you’ve somehow missed it, the story’s not complicated: Breitbart, who successfully promoted his network of websites through the fake gotcha sting on ACORN, posted on Monday a heavily edited video of Sherrod speaking at a Georgia NAACP event. Breitbart chopped the 40 minute speech down to a segment in which Sherrod admitted complicated emotions about helping white farmers. [Update: He maintains he didn’t edit the video himself.] He omitted the bulk of the story, in which Sherrod discusses moving past those emotions and uses the incident to talk about healing old racial wounds. Fox News picked it up. The NAACP–frothed up in the heat of a silly debate about the Tea Party’s racism–freaked out and denounced Sherrod. The Agriculture Department freaked out and fired her. And we were off and running on the latest controversial race story.

Of course, after a bit of actual reporting, the Breitbart hit job has been unveiled as just that. The NAACP belatedly posted the entire video last night, and the Obama administration is now figuring out how to handle the PR debacle. No word yet on timing for the beer summit.

The incident certainly betrays, again, the White House’s remarkable timidity in the face of any rightwing attack, no matter how ludicrous. It also reveals, again, how eager everybody from political operatives to corporate news producers are to have simple-minded conversations about race. But, hey, since everybody is primed for talking about racism, let’s do that. Here are three race stories from the past three days that we could have obsessed over instead of Breitbart’s latest publicity stunt:

Race shapes the recession. It’s remarkable how little we hear about how much more intense of a recession black and Latino communities are enduring, even as Republican lawmakers have droned on for four months about unemployment insurance making people lazy. Perhaps that’ll lead Good Morning America tomorrow? Prolly not.

Poverty literally kills people–especially black people. The CDC reported on Monday that high-poverty neighborhoods in 23 U.S. cities have AIDS epidemics of similar intensity as those in developing world countries. Not coincidentally, black people are way overrepresented both in those poor neighborhoods and in the ranks of Americans getting infected with HIV. What coverage the CDC study got went out of its way to get the story wrong. One headline: New U.S. HIV Study Finds Poverty More Of A Factor In Infections Than Race.

Obama betrays women on reproductive health. The health care overhaul’s ban on rejecting patients for pre-existing conditions won’t kick in until 2014. So the feds are creating temporary high-risk pools to bridge the gap. But the Obama administration has decided to embrace Stupak-like language in the rules governing those pools. Guess who’s most likely to lose out? Women of color. You’ll search long and hard for mainstream news coverage of it. Good luck turning on the TV and not hearing about Sherrod’s personal ordeal.