In the latest in a series of racially-charged summer shark-week stories, USDA official Shirley Sherrod has resigned over a Breitbart-promoted YouTube clip that shows a portion of her March 27 speech at an NAACP banquet. In the clip, Sherrod talks about resenting a white farmer’s condescending attitude, and as a result, not giving him “the full force of what I could do.”
The NAACP and the Secretary of Agriculture have weighed in, but there may be more to this story than meets YouTube’s 2-minute eye.
Here’s the clip that Breitbart posted:
And here’s an example of how this clip is being shown by cable newsers. This one’s from Morning Joe, this morning:
As it’s being presented, the clip is utterly indefensible, and the NAACP was quick to denounce Sherrod:
We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.
Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.
The clip that’s being promoted is obviously cut from a larger context, and while this is often the dishonest refuge of radio shock jocks, in this case, it makes a real difference. Here’s what Sherrod told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
But Tuesday morning, Sherrod said what online viewers weren’t told in reports posted throughout the day Monday was that the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago — before she got the USDA job — when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.
Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with him and his wife.
“And I went on to work with many more white farmers,” she said. “The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race.”
Sherrod said the farmer, Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga., has since died.
It doesn’t seem that Ben Jealous or Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are aware that Sherrod wasn’t working at USDA when this occurred, or that she did, in fact, help the farmer in question. That changes everything about this story, including the reaction of the crowd. The entire point of the story is that her actions were indefensible.
If what Sherrod says is true, this is not a story about grudgingly admitting that even white folks need help, but rather, a powerful, redemptive cautionary tale against discrimination of any kind. Both the AJC and Mediaite are working to locate a full video or transcript of the event.
This incident is being posed as the right’s answer to the NAACP resolution against “racist elements” in the Tea Party. This story also comes at a time when the New Black Panther Party has been thrust into the spotlight by Fox News (with predictable results), and debate rages over an Arizona immigration law that many say encourages racial profiling.
This is precisely the danger of ideologically-driven “journalism.” It is one thing to have a point of view that informs your analysis of facts, but quite abother when that point of view causes you to alter them.
Update: Sherrod was interviewed by CNN this morning. In it, she says that she explained herself to the USDA, to no avail. Here’s video of that interview, followed by a transcript:
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Department of Agriculture accepts the resignation of an employee after a video surfaced showing her telling an audience that she withheld assistance to a white farmer because of his race. Let’s listen to what she told the NAACP.
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA WORKER: I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Does that video tell the whole story? Joining us now on the phone from Albany, Georgia is Shirley Sherrod, herself. Thanks for being with us this morning, Shirley.
SHERROD: Thank you.
CHETRY: You say that this was part of the story and that it was part that was spliced enough to show you in a bad light, that this isn’t the whole story. Will you finish for us how this ended?
SHERROD: OK. I was speaking to that group like I’ve done many groups, and I tell them about a time when I thought the issue was race and race only. And I tell them the story of how I’ve worked with a white farmer back in 1986. I was not working for the Department of Agriculture. I was working with a non-profit organization assisting farmers throughout South Georgia and the Southeast. And this farmer came to me for help. I was telling the story about how working with him helped me to see that the issue is not about race, it’s about those who have versus those who do not have.
And I tell how I took him to a lawyer who I thought would help him. In the end, that lawyer didn’t. In the end, I had to frantically look for a lawyer because when USDA lifted — I’m sorry. When the court lifted the injunction against USDA in May of 1987, this white farmer was one of 13 that was foreclosed on by the state of Georgia. I had to frantically find a lawyer who would file a chapter 11 to stop the foreclosure. He couldn’t — at that time, we had up to 12.
CHETRY: Yes. But let me just get back really quickly, you said you didn’t give them the full force of what you could do. You said you did enough, and then you referred to the race (ph) of the lawyer as well saying that perhaps because the lawyer was white, that he would help him. So, what did you mean by that?
SHERROD: What I meant was, I didn’t know anyone else, but it thought taking — I didn’t know another lawyer at that time who was local, who knew something about chapter 12. But I thought if I took him to a white lawyer, he would definitely do all that he could to help save his farm.
ROBERTS: Miss Sherrod, let’s make it clear though, that this happened 24 years ago. You eventually worked with this white farmer. You eventually became friends, you say, with the farmer and his wife.
ROBERTS: So, the question I have is, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture came to you and said you have to step down, why didn’t you just say, wait a minute, you don’t know the full story. Here’s the full story, why should I step down?
SHERROD: I did say that, but they, for some reason, the stuff that Fox and the Tea Party does is scaring the administration. I told them get the whole tape and look at the whole tape and look at how I tell people we have to get beyond race and start working together.
ROBERTS: Many people at home might be thinking if you’re recounting an old story, why did you succumb to pressure to step down, why didn’t you fight this?
SHERROD: If I tried to fight it and didn’t have any support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, what would I do?
CHETRY: Let me ask you this. Did you talk to the NAACP about it because I just want to read from our audience what Ben Jealous, the president said. He said referring to you and this surfacing of the tape, “her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story, she ultimately realized her mistake as well as the common predicament of working people of all races. She gave no indication she’d attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man. And the reaction from many in the audience is disturbing.”
This is from Ben Jealous. Did you try to clarify with the NAACP your story?
SHERROD: No, I haven’t had had a chance to talk to anyone. All of this was happening so fast. And it’s unfortunate that the NAACP would make a statement without even checking to see what happened. This was 24 years ago, and I’m telling a story to try to unite people with that now.
ROBERTS: Certainly, you’re coming out and telling your story now takes it to a different level, and obviously, we’re going to keep following this. It’s good to get your side of it.
Sherri Sherrod, former Agriculture Department official. Thanks for joining us this morning. And perhaps, we can get you back on again, get your face on TV as well and talk to you more about this as the story continues to develop.
SHERROD: I don’t mind.
ROBERTS: All right. Thanks so much.
CHETRY: Thanks a lot.
But (Eloise) Spooner, who considers Sherrod a “friend for life,” said the federal official worked tirelessly to help the Iron City couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy back in 1986.
“Her husband told her, ‘You’re spending more time with the Spooners than you are with me,’ ” Spooner told the AJC. “She took probably two or three trips with us to Albany just to help us out.”
Spooner called Sherrod Tuesday morning.
“She’s very sad about it,” Spooner said. “She told me she was so glad we talked. I just can’t believe this is happening to her.”
The Department of Agriculture has not returned calls for comment. According to a staffer, NAACP President Ben Jealous is in meetings now, hammering out an official statement on these revelations.
Update 3: The NAACP says it is investigating “facts that were not what we were given last night.” A spokesperson told me “We’re doing a full investigation, instead of facts that are trickling in, we’re going to speak with Ms. Sherrod, look at the full tape, speak with the farmer(‘s wife), and once we’re done with that investigation, we will release a statement.”
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