Former USDA employee sues Breitbart over media prank
Former US Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod has made good on her word: she’s suing conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
Last year, he published a video of her describing to an NAACP conference how she long ago overcame her own racist attitudes. However, a video from that speech was deceptively edited to make it appear that she was describing how she used the power of the government against a white farmer.
She was fired from her post within hours of the clip hitting Breitbart’s website.
In truth, Sherrod’s story was about how she conquered her prejudice and used her power to help a family in need, and how that couple remained her friends even so many years later.
Instead, for the first day, the world believed Sherrod was a racist who abused her power to harm a white farmer.
Once it was all over, the government offered her the job back, but she declined. Even after a formal apology from the White House and an offer to talk to the president, Sherrod still refused.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took it a step further and offered her a position dealing with civil rights and discrimination issues at the USDA, but Sherrod had other plans.
“I would not like to be the one person that this country is looking at to solve all of the problems of discrimination within the Department of Agriculture,” she told CBS’s Erica Hill last July.
“They have been going on for years. … There are many, many, many layers of issues there, and I don’t know that the department is ready to deal with them.”
She instead promised to sue Breitbart over his media prank. That lawsuit was filed Friday, in Washington, DC. It accuses Breitbart of “defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress.”
“This lawsuit is not about politics or race,” Sherrod said in a media advisory on her lawsuit. “It is not about Right versus Left, the NAACP, or the Tea Party. It is about how quickly, in today’s internet media environment, a person’s good name can become ‘collateral damage’ in an overheated political debate. I strongly believe in a free press and a full discussion of public issues, but not in deliberate distortions of the truth. Mr. Breitbart has never apologized for what he did to me and continues — to this day — to make the same slurs about my character.
“I am issuing this statement because I know there may be intense media interest in this case. But I do not intend at this time to discuss the lawsuit further, and I hope members of the media will respect that decision.”
Documents were served to the blogger during the 2011 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference.
Appearing on CNN last July, Sherrod said she would be happy if someone were to shut Breitbart down. Now, she may get the chance to do it herself.
“That would be a great thing,” she said. “I don’t see how that [site] helps us at a time when we … should be looking at how we can make space for all of us in this country so that we could all live and work together.”
“He’s doing more to divide us,” she concluded.
Updated from a prior version.