The saga of ousted USDA official Shirley Sherrod that began on conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart’s web site ended today on CNN with Sherrod, wired with a mic, on the cable news network’s set, listening to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs apologize to her.
Sherrod sat unmoved and staring into the camera as Gibbs, at the daily White House briefing, was peppered with questions about the administration’s role in her firing by Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack. When ABC News’ Jake Tapper informed Gibbs that Sherrod was watching and asked if there was anything he might like to say to her, Sherrod, shown on CNN on a split screen, smirked.
It was a bit of cable-news theater during a particularly embarrassing episode for government officials who failed to apply the slightest bit of skepticism to an obviously partisan gambit to embarrass an opponent.
The video of Sherrod posted on Breitbart’s Big Government site purported to show “video evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee and NAACP award recipient,” which in the words of Breitbart, constituted “a perfect rationalization for why the Tea Party needs to exist.”
The video clip in question was taken from an NAACP awards ceremony last March during which Sherrod, who is African American, gave a speech recalling “the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm.”
The episode in question happened in 1986 when Sherrod was working at a non-governmental, non-profit. In the end, she helped Georgia farmers Roger and Eloise Spooner keep their farm. In media reports this week, Eloise Spooner described Sherrod as a “friend for life.”
Sherrod’s larger point was that her interaction with the Spooners helped her see beyond race. “It was revealed to me that it’s about the poor versus those who have,” she said in the speech.
Both Sherrod and Breitbart have made the media rounds this week. Breitbart defended his use of the video on ABC’s Good Morning America, saying the episode was “not about Shirley Sherrod. This was about the smears that have gone on against the Tea Party.”
“What this video clearly shows is a standard that the Tea Party has not been held to, is that the NAACP shows people in the audience there applauding her when she discriminates against a white farmer. That was the point I was trying to make,” Breitbart said.
The Tea Party and the NAACP have been embroiled in a war of words since the NAACP last week passed a resolution condemning what it characterized as the Tea Party’s racist elements.
The dustup has been covered breathlessly on blogs, Twitter and, of course, cable news.
Agricultural Secretary Vilsack took full responsibility for Sherrod’s sacking, saying it was based on an “incomplete set of facts,” and he offered Sherrod another position in the USDA.
But Sherrod is weighing her options.
“I don’t know how I will be treated,” she said on Good Morning America on Tuesday.