Not always the biggest fan of the Post’s Richard Cohen, but I think he is spot-on in his take on the ridiculous fiasco regarding Shirley Sherrod:

Vilsack yesterday explained that he had asked for Sherrod’s resignation because “the controversy surrounding her comments would create a situation where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her bring jobs to Georgia.” These are appalling words. “Rightly or wrongly?” The two are not the same. One you punish, the other you defend. This is what our system is about. Look it up.

And, even if rightly, you do not dismiss an employee, wreck a career, without doing due diligence. What’s her side of the story? Where did the video come from? Is Breitbart a trustworthy source? The term “rightly or wrongly” suggests that the truth does not matter — only perception, the politics of the situation. That, in turns, brings us back to the beginning. This entire episode is only partially about race or tawdry journalism. It’s fundamentally about cowardice — about not doing the right thing until pressured and not adhering to fundamental principles of fairness.

I expect people like Andrew Breitbart to use out-of-context mis-leading video clips to scare white people about Black racism.  I expect FOX news to play them up with no attempts at due diligence to see if there’s more to the story.  What I don’t expect is the White House to simply give into this hook, line, and sinker.  Have they been hiding under a rock.  This is how these things work.  Better to sacrifice an honest and good public servant to save one extra day of a beating on Fox news, where they are beating you every day any way?  Very disappointing.


According to some of Ben Smith’s administration sources, Jim Messina, White House deputy chief of staff, was impressed by the speed with which Tom Vilsack canned Shirley Sherrod. “We could have waited all day,” he reportedly said. “We could have had a media circus. But we took decisive action and it’s a good example of how to respond in this atmosphere.”

If that’s correct — and some of Smith’s White House sources are sort of disputing it — it’s exactly the wrong lesson. In this atmosphere, where news travels fast but a lot of important information travels slowly, you can’t put yourself on the schedule of the media circus. You have to put yourself on the schedule of good decisions. Enduring a day of bad press while you figure out the right thing to do is better than enduring days of bad press as you overreact and then have to defend or reverse your decision, which in turn leaves you without needed personnel.

The whole thing is pretty shameful.  Here’s hoping the White House learns from this (it’s not like I expect Fox news to).


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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