Yesterday, right-wing media tycoon Andrew Breitbart posted a video of Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, who is African-American, telling an NAACP gathering that she withheld help from a white farmer, in part because of his race. “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism,” Breitbart declared on his BigGovernment.com website. “[H]er federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions,” Breitbart wrote, just days after the NAACP condemned “racist elements” within the tea party movement, of which Breitbart is a key supporter. Right-wing blogs and Fox News quickly picked up the video and demanded blood.
Within less than a day, Sherrod resigned from her USDA post under heavy pressure from the White House, saying she received “at least three” frantic phone calls from superiors demanding her resignation. At first glance, the forced resignation seemed fair — even the NAACP endorsed it, calling her comments “shameful.”
However, new evidence suggests that BigGovernment selectively edited the video to grossly distort what actually happened. “Context is everything,” Breitbart wrote in his hit piece, but he failed mention this key context:
Sherrod [told the Atlanta Journal Constitution] that 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 the farmer and his wife. [...]
“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.“
Indeed, the wife of the white farmer in question, 82-year-old Eloise Spooner, confirmed the story and called Sherrod a “friend for life.” She told CNN that Sherrod “treated us really good and got us all we could.” “She’s the one I give credit to with helping us save our farm”:
Sherrod also noted that there were several white people in the audience, in addition to the town’s mayor. “Why would I do something racist if they were there?”
None of this context is included in the clip that Breitbart used to smear Sherrod. The production company that shot the video confirmed to TPM that “the entire video matches what Sherrod is saying,” but that they cannot release it at the moment for legal reasons. The AJC is working to have it made public.
BigGovernment has the entire video, but it seems the site chose to exclude the parts that wouldn’t serve their right-wing agenda. Breitbart is “trying to spur racial animosity, [by] taking the remarks of an African-American American official to the NAACP, and removing the context, all in the hopes of generating white resentment,” Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen wrote. Of course, if Sherrod’s story is true, this wouldn’t be the first time Breitbart used deceptively edited videos to bring down his rivals. “They edited the tape to meet their agenda,” a law enforcement source told the New York Daily News of Breitbart’s ACORN investigations, after the Brooklyn DA cleared the group of all wrongdoing.
While Sherrod’s comments did seem worthy of rebuke at first, perhaps the White House should have waited to see the full video before acting so aggressively to get rid of her. Sherrod told CNN that a USDA undersecretary told her the White House was worried the controversy was “going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.”
The White House denies that it pressured Secretary Vilsack to fire her. Sherrod insists that USDA deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook called her to say the White House wanted her to resign. Vilsack stands by his decision to fire her.
,Breitbart tells TPM that he doesn’t have the full context of the video, but he’s seen enough. “I think the video speaks for itself,” he said. “The way she’s talking about white people … is conveying a present tense racism in my opinion. But racism is in the eye of the beholder.”