Sherrod, Breitbart, and Vilsack

By Clive Crook

It's difficult to say who has behaved more discreditably in the Shirley Sherrod affair, Andrew Breitbart or Tom Vilsack.

Breitbart's blog started the scandal by showing a clip of Sherrod's speech, in which she confessed to letting racial prejudice once guide her decisions as an official 20-odd years ago. Video of the whole speech shows how misleading the clip was. She was renouncing her earlier view, and explaining how she came to see her error. She was talking about overcoming racism, not surrendering to it. (And it turns out that the white farmer who had sought her assistance came to regard her as a friend.) If Breitbart had seen the full video and knowingly twisted this story inside out, it was disgraceful.

With the clip circulating, Tom Vilsack, Sherrod's boss and Agriculture Secretary, summarily sacked her. Before long, with the issue dominating the news and the whole story coming out, the firing was under review. Shame the decision was reviewed after it was executed not before. It seems Sherrod was given no chance to explain herself. Apparently Vilsack has now apologized and offered to hire her back.

The whole thing is depressing. Part of the country is not just sensitive to the charge of racism, as it should be, but hyper-sensitive, even to the point of intellectual paralysis. That is how I see Vilsack's initial reaction on behalf of the administration. On the other hand, hurling the charge around--knowing how offensive and enraging the accusation is--is something that many political combatants of both left and right are only too happy to do. How's that for a toxic combination? 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/07/sherrod-breitbart-and-vilsack/60202/