An Associated Press report on the Breitbart-Sherrod controversy seems to have attracted the weighty criticism of a former editor with Editor and Publisher, who slammed the piece as “horrible” for its reliance on Andrew Breitbart as an expert.
Greg Mitchell, who now blogs for The Nation, also cited as “horrible” the sourcing of right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher, whose comments appear in the piece penned by Jesse Washington, AP’s race and ethnicity reporter and the former managing editor of Vibe.
Washington’s report essentially adopts Breitbart’s thesis about Shirley Sherrod, a USDA worker who was fired after he posted a small portion of a speech she’d given, casting her as a government-sponsored bigot. In reality, her remarks to a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were about events that had transpired decades ago, and were given in the context of how she overcame a racist impulse to not fully aid a white farmer in the years before she became a government worker.
After she was fired from the USDA, the white farmer in question went public and declared she’d helped save their land and had since become a life-long friend. Then President Obama personally called to apologize to Sherrod, and ask that she return to work.
Instead of directly relating that context, AP’s report goes right into the issue Breitbart’s media stunt hoped to raise: the fearful and supposedly rising tide of black racism.
Is black racism a real problem? Or is it pure politics?
Shirley Sherrod was dismissed from her Agriculture Department job because remarks she made about her dealings with a white farmer almost a quarter century ago were perceived as racist. She was offered her job back Wednesday because a full viewing of that speech showed it to be a tale of racial reconciliation.
But put aside the furor and confusion over the employment of the black woman who headed the USDA’s rural development office in Georgia. The Sherrod affair brings to the fore a simmering debate over whether black racism is cause for concern in America under its first black president.
The article goes on to quote Breitbart and Gallagher as if they are experts on black racism. Gallagher gets the most real-estate, with passages like:
Gallagher, the radio host, says the appearance of anti-white bias at the Agriculture or Justice Department “creates white racists.”
“White people sit around, and they get angry and they think this is the world they live in, and it’s not fair. I hear it in the frustration of my callers,” he said.
“White America understands by now, you’d better be very careful in the way you treat people of color. In this history of this country that’s great advice. That’s as it should be. We’ve had a shameful past,” he said. “Now the fear is that the pendulum has swung so far the other way, that white people mind their P’s and Q’s and don’t say anything that can be perceived as racist, but blacks can talk about hurting people.”
Meanwhile, Breitbart is treated seemingly without skepticism, save for a quote from Sherrod insisting he’d created a racially-charged situation in order to unite other racists.
The tale becomes especially weighty, and Breitbart’s deception especially fierce, when an additional consideration is added: Sherrod’s father, Hosie Miller, was murdered by a white farmer after a dispute over some cows.
Sherrod’s tale is one of struggle and redemption, a transformation that took many years, leading her to overcome shallow fears and prejudices to aid a fellow American in need.
“Mr. Washington, who is African American, completely swallows Breitbart’s framing of the story, and writes about black racism without quote marks as if there were any evidence of black racism in this story,” commented a clearly-peeved contributor to the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance forum. “The lens should be squarely focused on Mr. Breitbart, who despite being utterly discredited is still trying to smear Ms. Sherrod. Breitbart should pay for Jesse Washington’s story. This is not responsible journalism.”
Washington, for his part, quoted a Princeton professor at the end of his piece as noting that black minorities have about ten cents to every dollar held by a white person in America. Then he thanked Breitbart for dropping his name during a recent and controversial appearance on Good Morning America. Washington also offered a correction to a piece of misinformation given to GMA about members of the Congressional Black Caucus, claiming that he did in fact speak with Reps. Carson and Lewis, whom Breitbart had suggested avoided speaking to the AP.
Obama has since said that Sec. Tom Vilsack “jumped the gun” on firing Sherrod, and insisted that his administration learn from the mistake.
Both Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Washington were solicited for comments, but neither had replied at time of publication. An audio interview featuring Washington speaking about the Breitbart-Sherrod controversy was available online.