On Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, the impresario of the ACORN scandal and a growing investigative force in the conservative media, held a press conference at the Conservative Political Action Conference. At that press conference, he laid out evidence of a concerted effort by government officials, race-baiting lawyers and certain black non-farmers to defraud the federal government of millions of dollars by exploiting a legal settlement called Pigford. On Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, Shirley Sherrod, the single largest recipient of cash from the Pigford settlement, filed a lawsuit against Breitbart for defamation.
Sherrod, you may remember, was a ranking Department of Agriculture official in Georgia. Breitbart released a video of Sherrod speaking to the NAACP, where she told a story about discriminating against a white farmer before realizing that such discrimination was wrong. The purpose of releasing the video, as Breitbart clearly stated, was to demonstrate that the same NAACP that labeled the tea party racist tolerated racism within its own ranks. The video accomplished that purpose -- members of the NAACP cheer and laugh as Sherrod describes her past racism in the video.
After the video broke, due to pressure from the Obama administration, Sherrod resigned; the NAACP also condemned her. Shortly thereafter, the NAACP released the full tape, which showed that Sherrod had in fact helped the white farmer at issue. In full attack mode, the leftist media went after Breitbart, accusing him of selectively editing the tape in order to target Sherrod. This despite the fact that Breitbart himself said he cared nothing about Sherrod and that his actual target was the NAACP; this despite the fact that Sherrod herself said the real problem was the Obama administration.
No matter what you think of the original Sherrod incident, Breitbart's commentary falls squarely within the protections of the First Amendment. Freedom of political speech lies at the core of the Constitution; we attack our political officials all the time without fear of reprisal. Sherrod was an outspoken public figure, one that unapologetically stated that she saw the world through the framework of Marxism.
Sherrod had indeed made racist statements in the past. In June 2009, for example, she explained to a group of college students that school integration was one of the "worst things that happened to black people" because integration undermined black self-sufficiency. She was quoted in 1996 as explaining that the federal government's role was "to be a force for keeping blacks on the land." Even in the NAACP speech at issue, she explained, "it is about black and white, but it's not."
Whether Breitbart is wrong isn't the issue here. It's whether Shirley Sherrod and her group of well-funded thug lawyers should be able to silence political opposition. Let's be frank: Sherrod's lawsuit is probably being backed by someone larger than Sherrod. Her lawyers are the famed law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. They wrote a 40-page complaint to lead things off. If Kirkland & Ellis charge Sherrod their usual rates, such a complaint probably would cost a minimum of $40,000 to produce. A full-scale lawsuit would cost Sherrod hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if she were paying.
In all likelihood, she isn't. Kirkland & Ellis just happens to be the second largest donor, through its employees, to President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign committee and leadership political action committee. Its lawyers are committed liberals, and as a Chicago-based firm, it is heavily tied in to the Democratic Party. As Andrew Breitbart drew the left's spotlight in 2009 and 2010 by defending the tea party, intensely pursuing Obama administration corruption and exposing liberal allies from unions to Hollywood, the left took notice. And they went to their favorite firm, Kirkland & Ellis, to deliver the knockout punch.
Unfortunately for the left, the Constitution stands in the way of such efforts. Sherrod's lawsuit is frivolous in the extreme. She can demonstrate no malice, because no malice existed; she can demonstrate no libel, because Breitbart's writings were fair comment on matters of public interest. Further, Sherrod has no damages -- she has been offered a promotion and made a cottage industry out of playing the victim.
The incredible cynicism of this lawsuit is obvious. The real culprits here are the members of the Obama administration who forced Sherrod's resignation -- and Sherrod even acknowledges that inconvenient fact in her lawsuit. Yet nobody in the Obama administration is a named defendant.
Andrew Breitbart has vowed that he will not be silenced. Thank God for the Constitution, which will allow him to continue his work, despite the legal bills he will have to incur. And shame on Shirley Sherrod for allowing herself to be used as a pawn in a chess match designed to shut down conservative criticism of the Obama administration once and for all.