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Obama Lauds The Racial ‘Progress’ In This Country By Citing His Phone Call With Shirley Sherrod

By Amanda Terkel  

"Obama Lauds The Racial ‘Progress’ In This Country By Citing His Phone Call With Shirley Sherrod"

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Today, President Obama appeared on ABC’s The View, where co-host Sherri Shepherd asked him about the Shirley Sherrod controversy and whether “America is still racist.” Obama drew lessons from the Sherrod incident — including the fact that she was eventually able to talk on the phone to the President of the United States — as evidence of this country’s racial progress:

OBAMA: Look, I think that we have made so much progress. I had a conversation with Shirley Sherrod, wonderful woman. She’s the first one to acknowledge how much progress we’ve made. Think about her history and what she went through. Her father being murdered and her growing up in the Jim Crow South. Now she’s on the phone talking to the President of the United States. And she had been on the South Lawn for a celebration of federal employees just a couple weeks earlier. And that’s a testament to the progress that we’ve made.

What I do think happened in that situation is that a 24/7 media cycle that’s always looking for controversy and oftentimes doesn’t get to the facts first generated a phony controversy. A lot of people overreacted, including people in my administration. And part of the lesson that I want everybody to draw is let’s not assume the worst of other people, but let’s assume the best. Let’s make sure we get the facts straight before we act. And when it comes to race, let’s acknowledge that, of course, there’s still tensions out there. There’s still inequalities out there. There’s still discrimination out there.

Watch it:

Of course, the reason that Sherrod talked on the phone with the President is actually evidence of how far our country still has to go. Obama talked to her to apologize for the fact that his administration took the word of a race-baiting, right-wing flame-thrower to inappropriately expel a dedicated civil servant — without first investigating the facts and getting her side of the story. From the official readout of the call between Obama and Sherrod:

The President expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret about the events of the last several days. He emphasized that Secretary Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in his work to rid USDA of discrimination.

The President told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so.

Obama often hits the media for being irresponsible and running with inaccurate stories, but in this case, much of the media actually did the responsible thing — something his administration didn’t do. While Fox News and other right-wing outlets picked up Breitbart’s smear, both CNN and MSNBC didn’t rush to report the story and instead waited until until the Obama administration made it a story by forcing Sherrod to resign.

In fact, it was the media — particularly CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — who helped right the wrong that had been done to Sherrod by getting the true story out. Online, much of the blogosphere — familiar with Breitbart’s antics — was working to find the full video for the context of Sherrod’s remarks before coming to any conclusion. So in this case, much of the “24/7 media cycle” was doing its job, and it’s unfortunate that a woman whose story exemplifies racial progress in this country had to go through such a frustrating incident in order to talk to the President.

Transcript:

HASSELBECK: Are you frustrated that this country still feels so divided, and you have not been able yet to bring that unity?

OBAMA: I am. I think that right after the election, there was a sense of hopefulness and unity. I think at the time, people didn’t understand how bad the economic crisis was going to be. And as a consequence, I think that the politics of the economic recovery, the steps we had to take to make sure the banking system didn’t collapse, what we had to do for the auto industry so that it didn’t collapse — a lot of those became controversial.

Unfortunately, we live at a time when a lot of times people are thinking about the next election instead of the next generation. My hope is that I’ve tried to set a tone in the debate that says, look, we can disagree without being disagreeable. But the fact of the matter is that the media culture right now loves conflict. And if there is a story about cooperation between the two parties, that story doesn’t make the news. What makes the news is somebody who says something as outlandish or outrageous as possible. That’s what gets focused on. I think, frankly, the American people would rather hear a civil debate. But that’s not what they’re getting a lot of times.

SHEPHERD: Mr. President, we have Shirley Sherrod, who was a USDA official who was fired offer this racially charged clip that was taken out of contest and posted on a blog. When you took office, I think a lot of people thought that we were going to get beyond race. But it seems like every single day it’s something racially charged. Do you think that we are still — that America is racist?

OBAMA: Look, I think that we have made so much progress. I had a conversation with Shirley Sherrod, wonderful woman. She’s the first one to acknowledge how much progress we’ve made. Think about her history and what she went through. Her father being murdered and her growing up in the Jim Crow South. Now she’s on the phone talking to the President of the United States. And she had been on the South Lawn for a celebration of federal employees just a couple weeks earlier. And that’s a testament to the progress that we’ve made.

What I do think happened in that situation is that a 24/7 media cycle that’s always looking for controversy and oftentimes doesn’t get to the facts first generated a phony controversy. A lot of people overreacted, including people in my administration. And part of the lesson that I want everybody to draw is let’s not assume the worst of other people, but let’s assume the best. Let’s make sure we get the facts straight before we act. And when it comes to race, let’s acknowledge that, of course, there’s still tensions out there. There’s still inequalities out there. There’s still discrimination out there.

But we’ve made progress, and if each of us take it upon ourselves to treat people with fairness and be able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes and relate to where they’re coming from, that we can make more progress. And when you look at the next generation — interesting when I talk to Malia and Sasha’s friends, they have healthier attitudes around these issues than our generation does. And we have healthier attitudes than previous generations do. That’s the progress we want to keep making.

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