There are lessons to be learned for everyone involved in the events that led to Shirley Sherrod’s forced resignation from her USDA position as director of rural development for Georgia. So far, though, only one party to those events has shown any sign of learning those lessons. While the man who fired Sherrod — USDA director Tom Vilsack — and Pres. Obama, and Robert Gibbs, have all apologized to Sherrod and have taken responsibility for being too quick to react to Andrew Breitbart’s maliciously edited video and not conscientious enough in gathering all the facts first; and while Vilsack has offered Sherrod a new, equally or more responsible position in the USDA and Obama has personally encouraged her to accept it, when we turn to Andrew Breitbart, to Fox News and the other news outlets that initially ran with the distorted story, and to the rest of the major media whose job it is to identify important issues and write about them honestly, responsibly, and as completely as possible, we see almost nothing but self-congratulation, posturing, preening, misdirection, and shameless puffery.
Although I have not changed my mind about the administration’s reckless response to the Breitbart video, and I certainly don’t believe they are absolved of their share of responsibility, I think it’s past time to turn our attention to where the lion’s share of the responsibility lies — especially since the traditional and conservative media does not seem to be doing so.
Josh Marshall is already there:
Forty-eight hours ago the story was another bad apple found on Obama’s cart. By yesterday morning it was another black eye for Obama and Tom Vilsack for rushing to dump a blameless woman on no good evidence and cravenly or cowardly or pusillanimously running for cover because Breitbart, Roger Ailes and whatever other gods of The Crazy said boo! For progressives mad at their president, at some level, that’s understandable. They have no relationship with and expect only the worst from the Breitbarts and Fox Newses of the world. But with Obama they expect more. And it’s personal.
Still, you just have to back up from that and realize that as disappointing as Tom Vilsack’s first crack at this was, the idea that he or Obama is the bad guy in this story is not only preposterous but verging on obscene. It’s like the NYPD as the bad guy in the Son of Sam saga because they didn’t catch David Berkowitz fast enough. Or perhaps that the real moral of the story is that the woman with the stalker should have been more focused on personal data security. Not for some time has something so captured the essential corruption of a big chunk of what passes as ‘right wing media’ (not all, by any means, but a sizable chunk along the Breitbart/Fox/Hannity continuum) and the corruption of the mainstream media itself as this episode.
Steve Benen adds that what matters most after you make a serious mistake is what you do about it:
I’m not going to defend the administration’s handling of this matter. On Monday, faced with a race-related story that the media was likely to obsess over, officials panicked and made a rash decision without getting all the facts. At the time, it probably seemed like a smart political move — react quickly and move on — but it backfired. The desire to quickly put out a fire before it spread led to an embarrassing overreaction.
I am, however, inclined to defend what the administration did next. Less than a day after forcing Sherrod’s ouster, everyone from Vilsack to the president’s press secretary had admitted publicly that the administration made a mistake. Sherrod deserved an apology, and she got one. Within 36 hours of the forced resignation, Sherrod was on the phone with the president directly.
Ideally, an administration avoids making dumb mistakes, but it matters how an administration corrects those missteps once they happen. In this case, there’s something to be said for the president’s team doing the right thing — acknowledging the mistake quickly, sincerely apologizing, and swiftly trying to put things right.
We had an administration for eight years that never admitted an error, and always found someone else to blame, no matter what. This administration is taking a more mature, responsible approach, and it’s a sign of progress.
Too bad we can’t say the same for Breitbart, Fox, most conservative bloggers, and the major media outlets in general. More on that later.