GUEST COLUMN: Snookerees and snookerers
July 29, 2010
On July 20, the NAACP issued a statement condemning Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official forced to resign for allegedly making racist remarks in a speech last March.
“We are appalled by her actions,” it said. “Her actions were shameful.”
Soon came a second statement: “We were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias,” it read.
While the NAACP may have been a snookeree, the swirl of accusations, defenses, apologies and excuses that have spun around this two-week-and-counting story says much about the pathetic standards that seem to define today’s political and journalistic discourse. Other snookerees caught in this sea of egregious errors about fact vs. fiction represent a broad spectrum ranging from some in the mainstream media to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to even the White House.
This continuing story was precipitated by that March address that Sherrod gave to the NAACP, recounting how 24 years earlier she, a black adviser, had overcome some latent racial bias and helped a white couple save their family farm from foreclosure. Captured on video, the heartwarming speech was a statement of personal growth. She first described the preliminary bias which she overcame and which led to her commitment to provide uncompromising support to the couple. That brief moment, extracted from its 43-minute context, offered thugs on the political right another chance to engage in their sickening practice of making false racism charges against people committed to promoting colorblind fairness.
Breitbart, the irascible far-right blogger who appears frequently in conservative media, obliged. As lead snookerer, he procured and displayed that excerpt without context, letting stand the false impression of racial prejudice. Worse, he added this insidious lie:
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“(Sherrod) lays out in stark detail that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions (and) how she racially discriminates against a white farmer.”
Sherrod announced Thursday that she has decided “definitely” to sue Breitbart.
Enter this narrative’s most visible snookerer: Fox News Channel. Constantly pushing Breitbart’s misleading video for two days, this excuse for a news network again demonstrated its contradiction: it doesn’t do news. It’s a media foxymoron. On July 19, before Sherrod terminated, FoxNews.com headlined “Video Shows USDA Official Saying She Didn’t Give ‘Full Force’ of Help to White Farmer.” It neither indicated that it contacted Sherrod nor suggested that the video was taken out of context. A FoxNation telecast heading screamed “Caught on Tape: Obama Official Discriminates Against White Farmer!”
That evening, this foxy corporation’s nightly pontificators spewed unceasing condemnation of Sherrod, no fact-checking, skepticism or curiosity in sight. Bill O’Reilly called her comments “unacceptable … (she) must resign immediately.” Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich tripped over each other maligning Sherrod. Said Hannity, “Just the latest in a series of racial incidents.” Said Gingrich, Sherrod displayed a “viciously racist attitude.” Dana Perino insisted Sherrod had been “caught making racially charged comments to an NAACP audience.”
On July 20 Fox and Friends co-hosts Alisyn Camerota and Steve Doocy agreed: “(Sherrod’s comments are) Exhibit A … of what racism looks like.” Referring to the Breitbart video, Camerota claimed Sherrod “was so proud of her (racially biased) actions.” Doocy quipped “Sure sounded racist!”
Scarcely 24 hours later when the unedited video was released, Fox’s hypocrisy was in full bloom. O’Reilly used an apology to attack her as a “long time liberal activist (who shouldn’t) be doing the people’s business.” Doocy blasted the administration for improperly firing her!
On July 21 and 22 loosey-with-the-newsy Doocy insisted incredibly that Fox did not cover the Sherrod story until after she had resigned, ignoring his company’s reports which began on the 19th before the resignation.
People who seek unbiased reporting won’t get it from these self-indulgent bums on FNC where there’s no penchant for accuracy. Fox’s openly acknowledged mission is to push an agenda.
Television commentator Keith Olbermann summarized it well last week: “What you see on Fox News … is the utter and complete perversion of journalism. It can have no place in a civilized society. It is words crashed together, never to inform, only to inflame. It is a political guillotine. It is the manipulation of reality to make the racist seem benevolent, and to convict the benevolent as racist, even if her words must be edited, filleted, stripped of all context, rearranged, fabricated and falsified to do so.”
The rash NAACP condemnation of Sherrod, Secretary Vilsack’s canning of her, and others’ initial failures to challenge the hatchet-wielders on the right represent an unfortunate stain on their own pursuit of justice and fair play.
Appeasing these modern McCarthyites only invites more demagoguery from them as sure as Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of a foreign dictator invited aggression in the last century.
– Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities, Inc.