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The Real Shirley Sherrod Story

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Last week, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website released a heavily edited video of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Georgia State Director of Rural Development Shirley Sherrod speaking to the NAACP. That video appeared to show Sherrod talking about how she had, in the past, discriminated against a white farmer seeking help to save his land. The clip ignored Sherrod's further statement that working with the white farmer "made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't, you know. And they could be black, and they could be white; they could be Hispanic."

Based on the edited clip, the Obama administration quickly fired Sherrod from her position. When the rest of the tape was released by the NAACP, however, the administration blamed Breitbart and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for the screw-up, and then offered her a new job position.

The media's narrative immediately crystallized: right-wing blogger releases out-of-context quotes as a purposeful smear; Shirley Sherrod is a martyred saint; President Obama is not black enough because he fired Sherrod.

There's only one problem with that narrative: It's wrong on every single count.

First, the quote from Sherrod was out of context. But the context the media found was also out of context. The speech makes clear that Sherrod is a Marxist rather than a racist, but that she has racial tendencies nonetheless. In that NAACP speech, Sherrod encouraged black people to find jobs at the USDA because "Have you heard of anybody in the federal government losing their job?" She claimed that white elites created racism out of whole cloth in order to maintain their class status. Then she went even further, characterizing resistance to President Obama's health care overhaul as racist. As Sherrod herself put it, "it is about white and black, but it's not."

Second, Sherrod is no saint. Yes, she suffered an extraordinarily horrific childhood -- her father was murdered by racist whites, she watched a cross being burned on her lawn. But she has spent her life acting as a racial separatist and quasi-shakedown artist.

Shirley has stated that she believes school integration is one of the "worst things that happened to black people," since integration supposedly undermined black self-sufficiency. She has also stated that she believes that "the government is supposed to be a force for keeping blacks on the land, but it hasn't at all."

She has acted on that latter statement in a dramatic way. Along with her racist husband Charles Sherrod ("We must stop the white man and his Uncle Tom from stealing our elections"), Shirley founded New Communities, Inc. in 1969 with money from the Office of Economic Opportunity. New Communities was essentially a commune-style black farm that failed to turn any sort of profit. The USDA didn't give it further loans. So, the Sherrods sued as part of the Pigford v. Glickman class action suit, an enormous lawsuit against the USDA by black farmers. The government settled the case for billions of dollars, awarding New Communities $13 million, including $150,000 each for Charles and Shirley for "pain and suffering." It was the single largest payout in the settlement.

Pigford itself is, at least in large part, a scam. According to Rep. Steve King, who I interviewed on my radio show, the vast majority of payouts under Pigford are fraudulent. In excess of 80,000 "black farmers" have taken advantage of the Pigford settlement, despite the fact that during the period the lawsuit covers, there were only 16,000 black farmers in the entire country.

Only days after Sherrod and her husband were awarded cash by the USDA, Obama asked her to join it. This despite the fact that she believes the USDA should be a lender of first resort for black farmers, particularly "poor" black farmers. Shirley Sherrod's lending philosophy is the racially-motivated subprime mortgage philosophy that has destroyed the U.S. economy.

And Obama wanted her in charge of USDA lending. That puts the lie to the media's hilariously disprovable "Obama is too white" meme, a meme most recently articulated by the ever-idiotic Maureen Dowd, who suggested that Sherrod's firing meant that Obama needed more truly black advisers. The fact that Obama hired Sherrod in the first place demonstrates that Obama isn't "too white." The fact that the Obama administration's new job offer to Sherrod includes oversight of ending the USDA's discriminatory practices with regard to Pigford -- the case from which she just received a bucketload of cash -- shows that Obama is just as racially motivated as all of his mentors and friends, from Frank Marshall Davis to Jeremiah Wright to Van Jones.

Overall, the story of Shirley Sherrod is a story of media malfeasance. They didn't check Breitbart's original story, and they certainly didn't check Sherrod's background. It is the media, not Americans at large, who are the cowards on race.

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