The Shirley Sherrod episode is a painful reminder that most of us are too quick to allow prejudices to trump judgment. Sherrod's saga began when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart decided to post a clip to his website from a speech Sherrod gave in March to an NAACP conference. In the clip, it appeared that Sherrod had refused to directly help a white farmer save his farm because she was only interested in helping blacks.
As it turns out, the clip Breitbart used was only the beginning of the story that Sherrod was sharing with her audience, a story of how she overcame prejudice and learned that skin color shouldn't matter when someone needed help.
But Breitbart's clip and the Obama administration's quick rush to judgment in anticipation of a media firestorm led to Sherrod's dismissal from her Agriculture Department job. And now, with Sherrod's full story out, everyone from Breitbart to the Obama administration to the media looks bad. There may be different levels of culpability -- Breitbart bears the brunt of the blame in my opinion for publicizing an edited and misleading clip -- but few people came off well in this story.
But instead of admitting their errors, many of the players have simply pointed fingers. Breitbart blames the NAACP for implying that the tea party is a hot-bed of racial animus, which he claims motivated his airing of a clip that he thought proved the NAACP tolerated racism of its own. Liberal bloggers and news organizations blame Fox News Channel for railroading Sherrod out of her job. And the White House claims no one there was involved in the decision to force Sherrod to resign, blaming Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for the call.
One of the few people who has shown some class in this sorry episode is FNC's Bill O'Reilly. He was the first one on the network to call on Sherrod to resign Monday night because of what he called her "unacceptable" remarks, but his show actually aired after she had already done so. And Wednesday, he issued an apology and accepted blame "for not doing my homework ... and not putting her remarks into proper context."
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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