The lesson of Shirley Sherrod’s disgraceful treatment by right-wing and not-so-right-wing media (followed by her equally squalid dismissal by an administration that took that media at face value) boils down to a single question: When will journalists see Andrew Breitbart as the serial promoter of journalistic frauds that he is, rather than as a legitimate source for story ideas?
FAIR readers will remember Breitbart’s dissemination of videos that purported to show ACORN employees advising a “prostitute” and her “pimp” — conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe–on how to avoid paying taxes. The videos have since been heavily debunked. As FAIR has noted before (Action Alert, 3/11/10), O’Keefe didn’t “pose” as a pimp–he didn’t wear his ridiculous “pimp” outfit inside ACORN offices, and in almost every case pretended to be a concerned boyfriend trying to get his girlfriend away from an abusive pimp. He also did not receive advice on how to “cheat” on his taxes. Additionally, ACORN has been cleared of wrongdoing by three separate independent investigations.
Breitbart’s latest fraud–posting a selectively edited video in which Sherrod appears to make some overtly racist statements to a local NAACP chapter–led to the forced resignation of the USDA employee.
That video went viral in the right-wing media and beyond, as accusations of Sherrod’s racism were tossed about, along with the larger implication that the Obama administration harbored racists. As Sherrod tells it, she soon received three separate calls telling her the White House was asking for her resignation, with one official telling her she would be on Glenn Beck that night.
The Sherrod story didn’t actually make it on Beck that night, but it was all over Fox News. Bill O’Reilly (7/19/10) called Sherrod’s comments “unacceptable” and called for her to “resign immediately.” Sean Hannity (7/19/10) called the comments “racist” and praised Breitbart for exposing them.
The next day, as details of Sherrod’s entire speech emerged, it became clear she was describing her experience of struggling with and surmounting bias. Her point was an anti-racist one. Even the white farmer who was allegedly wronged by Sherrod appeared on CNN (7/20/10), along with his wife, to defend her.
Predictably, many right-wing media personalities stood by Breitbart even as the truth was being revealed. Rush Limbaugh (7/20/10) said Breitbart did “great work getting this video of Ms. Sherrod at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her supposed racism.” Hannity (7/20/10) invited Breitbart on his show to defend himself. Meanwhile, O’Reilly (7/20/10) stood by his demand for Sherrod’s resignation, and even chastised the rest of the media for not reporting on Breitbart’s heavily edited video–adding it to a long list of invented right-wing controversies he believes have been ignored by the mainstream media, including the aforementioned ACORN hoax, as well as the New Black Panther voter intimidation “scandal” and the Van Jones resignation–both of which were wildly overblown (Counterspin, 7/16/10; Extra!, 11/09), but were, contrary to O’Reilly’s protestations, picked up by more centrist media after amplification in the right-wing echo chamber.
The same is true of the Sherrod resignation, which some outlets continued to frame as a he said/she said controversy even after the truth began to emerge–outlets such as AP (7/20/10), which also took the opportunity to laud Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com as the site that “gained fame after releasing video of workers for the community organizing group ACORN counseling actors posing as a pimp and prostitute.”
In the Washington Post (7/21/10), Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson were still lending credence to Breitbart’s video even after the entire speech was released, reporting on the episode as a controversy between Sherrod and “her critics” as well as one that reinforces the right-wing narrative “that the administration of the first African-American to occupy the White House practices its own brand of racism.”
It isn’t surprising that right-wing media continue to exalt Breitbart, but when will the rest of the corporate media learn that he can’t be trusted?