Missing the Point on Shirley Sherrod

The lesson of the Shirley Sherrod story would seem to be a simple one:A conservative blogger with a history of promoting inaccurate, racially chargedstories published another one, and people in the media (not to mention the White House) fell for it–again.

But New York Times reporter Matt Bai wrote a piece in the paper’s Week in Review section (7/25/10) that soughtto make things a lot more complicated. Under the headline, “Race: Still Too Hot to Touch,” Bai laments that the country is still not having a meaningful discussion about race:

In many ways, Ms. Sherrod’s ordeal followed a depressingly familiar pattern in American life, in which anyone who even tries to talk about race risks public outrage and humiliation.

We might have hoped that the election of a black president would somehow make the subject less sensitive and volatile, in the way that John F. Kennedy’s election seemed to allay the last, lingering tension between American Catholics and the countryâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s Protestant establishment. But as the week’s events made clear, Mr. Obama’s presence alone isn’t going to deliver us from a racial dialogue characterized by cable-TV conflagration–and it may even complicate the conversation.

It’s hard to square Bai’s story with reality.It seemed to me thattheconsensus view of her speech after Breitbart’s lie was exposed was that it was a thoughtful examination of some potentially uncomfortable ideas. Even people like Bob Schieffer and Andersen Cooper–hardly ones to court controversy or throw elbows–werecriticizingBreitbart’s stunt.

The reallesson to be drawn isabout agullible corporate media–not some grand lesson aboutthe problems in “American life.” Perhaps that’s why some writers try too hard to make it into something else.

Thankfully,Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionnedoes a good job today:

The traditional media are so petrified of being called “liberal” that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors.

AndDionne points to the manufactured “controversy” over the New Black Panther Party(which the Post‘s ombud believed deserved more media coverage): “It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.”

That’s the real story here–that right-wing outlets are eager to push these tall tales, and that centrist outlets often give them additional coverage for fear of being considered too left-wing.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.