Update: White House apologizes; “Obama supports reconsidering USDA worker’s ouster,” AP reports:
A White House official says President Barack Obama supports the Agriculture Department’s decision to reconsider the ouster of a black employee for her remarks about race.
The official says Obama hasn’t spoken with the employee, Shirley Sherrod, about the controversy. But the president is being kept informed of the developments in her case. The White House official was not authorized to talk publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Obama administration formally apologized on Wednesday to Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official abruptly fired earlier this week for comments taken out of context by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
“On behalf of our administration, I offer an apology,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during Wednesday’s daily briefing, acknowledging that the administration had not seen a full tape of Sherrod’s comments prior to Tuesday evening. “Look, a disservice was done, an apology is owed. That’s what we’ve done.”
Original story follows:
It appears a video of a USDA official who was forced to resign after being accused of racism was taken grossly out of context.
Video of Shirley Sherrod speaking at a NAACP event surfaced on Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com on Monday.
The video consisted of Sherrod telling an apparently racist story about her refusal to help a white couple.
“The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me,” Sherrod told an NAACP banquet on March 27.
“I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn’t know — while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me — was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him,” she said.
“I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do,” Sherrod admitted.
“I did enough so that when he — I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me. Either that or the Georgia Department of Agriculture and he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him. So, I took him to a white lawyer that had attended some of the training we had provided because Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farm. So, I figured if I take him to one of them that his own kind would take care of them,” she told the crowd.
“That’s when it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those who have,” she said.
Further remarks by Sherrod were edited out of the video posted at BigGovernment.com.
Fox News aired the edited footage and conservatives were quick to condemn Sherrod for her racist remarks.
“You know you can’t be a black racist any more than you can be a white racist,” said Newt Gingrich on Fox New’s Sean Hannity Show. “And I just think it’d be good for those of us who are often critical of the administration to recognize that here’s a case where Secretary Vilsack did exactly the right thing, moved very promptly, and fired somebody who frankly shouldn’t be serving the American people because they clearly had a set of attitudes inappropriate for a federal official.”
After the release of the video, the NAACP censured Sherrod. But it now appears that Sherrod’s remarks may have been taken out of context.
The white couple in Sherrod’s story were Eloise Spooner and Roger Spooner, a white couple living in Iron City, Georgia.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains, far from feeling that they had been discriminated against, the Spooners praised Sherrod’s efforts, claiming that she saved them from bankruptcy.
The Spooners said that they consider Sherrod a “friend for life” and that she “worked tirelessly to help” them save their farmland.
In her own defense of the story, Sherrod claims that her speech has been taken out of context by BigGovernment.com.
“I was speaking to that group, like I’ve done many groups, and I tell them about a time when I thought the issue was race and race only,” she told CNN’s American Morning Tuesday.
“I was telling the story of how working with him helped me to see the issue is not about race. It’s about those who have versus those who do not have,” she said.
The NAACP has since retracted their criticism of Sherrod and is now urging the Obama administration to consider re-hiring her.
As MSNBC reports, the NAACP believes that the video was edited to make it appear that Sherrod was racist.
“NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement that the group was “snookered” into believing that USDA employee Shirley Sherrod expressed racist sentiments at a local NAACP meeting in Georgia earlier this year. Jealous said conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, whose website posted video of Sherrod’s remarks, deceived millions of people by releasing only partial clips. He said the full video makes clear that Sherrod was telling a story of racial unity.”
Vilsack willing to reconsider
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is willing to consider new facts in the case and possibly offer Sherrod her job back. In a statement, Vilsack said:
I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner.
This video was uploaded to YouTube and posted on BigGovernment.com July 19, 2010.
The full, unedited video has been released by the NAACP.
This video is from CNN, broadcast July 20, 2010, as snipped by ThinkProgress.
Eric Dolan contributed to this report.