Former USDA employee sues Breitbart over media prank

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, February 14, 2011 12:37 EDT
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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.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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  • Anonymous

    This is a RAW story writer? And you would characterize what Brietbart did as a “prank.” Really?

    PRANK: n. a trick played on someone in order to make them look foolish and to amuse others. A practical joke.

    You really think Brietbart did this as amusement???!!

    What Brietbart did was a calculated attempt to further racial divisions in an attempt to gain political advantage. he purposely and maliciously altered video in a malevolent attempt to deceive and mislead the public. it was a heinous and despicable act.

    That is NOT a prank!!!!

  • Anonymous

    This was a deliberate smear, not a prank.

  • P Matthews

    McLean, Virginia — Shirley Shirrod fully deserves everything the court can award her. I hope and pray she receives millions. Breitbart is a liar and a cheat.

  • Anonymous

    People like Brietbart publish stuff and morans believe them….
    (including our esteemed administration)

    I’m rooting for her….

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2NPRPRYZC3RF424Y4G4NKPY3FM Anya O

    I am behind this woman 100%. How dare her employer and the US government throw her out based on a video posted on a website from an overtly biased source. I can bet the defamation charge will be countered with the fact that she declined taking her job back. I don’t think that should even play into it. Who would want to go back to an employer who so callously ended your career based on evidence that was not even investigated?

  • Anonymous

    Where can I contribute to her legal fund?

  • Anonymous

    I am wondering if punitive damages would apply due to the deliberate intent to defame and smear …Puniticve damages in the millions would protect the public against Breitbart doing this again. Planned parenthood has been recently smeared by a Breitbart disciple..

  • Anonymous

    Kick his racist butt.

  • Anonymous

    Why do you call it a “prank,” RS? It was actionable defamation, with malice and intent. That does not constitute a “prank.” “Pranks” are more like what schoolkids to – TPing houses and cars, making silly phone calls. They might annoy but they don’t cause legally actionable damages.

  • Anonymous

    Well, in law, a person is required to mitigate their damages (otherwise everyone who was subjected to such outrageous behaviour could just sit at home and let the damages pile up). So, yes, Not-so-brightBart will probably argue (or his lawyers will, rather) that in refusing to return to her old job, Sherrod failed to mitigate her damages. But NotsobrightBart cannot allege that as a *defense* to Sherrod’s charges, only as a mitigation of damages. In other words, such an argument might reduce any damages paid to Sherrod, but it does not influence whether a jury of his peers finds him guilty of defamation and liable for damages.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. If Shirley Sherrod were a public figure, NotsobrightBart might argue that a higher standard of intent was required (see NYT v. Sullivan). However, she was not a public figure until NotsobrightBart made her one. In which case the publishing of statements known to be false will result in a finding of malice, and yes, he’s looking at a nice chunk of change disappearing out of his wealthy adoptive father’s estate.

  • Anonymous

    Nonsense Shirley,
    …………. The Brietbart’s tape may have been the initial catalyst that led to your ouster,but it was the words of your husband that sealed your fate;

    It was less damaging for the Obama administration to release Sister Shirley and allow Conservative talk radio bring this evidence to light than it would’ve been if a USDA internal investigation would’ve revealed it.

    It’s all smoke and mirrors and Sister Shirley is guilty as charged.

  • Anonymous

    You go, USDA woman! That Bart is not so Breit.

  • http://twitter.com/btmfdrsheaven rebecca meritt

    This is an honest person and knows herself well enough to understand how her actions effect others.I agree with her stance on not taking her job back,who would want to work for someone who threw you under a bus because some repugg told them to do it? It’s not a matter of them not trusting her but her not trusting them.

  • Anonymous

    Bullshit. Listen to her speech. Listen to the interviews with the farmers she supposedly discriminated against. These are convincing factors. Her husband’s speech has nothing to do with the case.

  • enorceht

    i don’t really know legal from smegal but i would bypass any dollar amount and instead ask for breitbart to be shut down as a news agency and whatever else it thinks it is. i also hope it doesn’t sit around in the courts for years before being heard or appealed until it goes to scotus

    but i do hope shirley get satisfaction tripled

  • RichWa

    No wonder the right doesn’t like gov’t employees that aren’t their political hacks. Someone that can’t be bribed, is very bright, independent, a woman, and Black. Hmmm… Sherrod to challenge Obama in 2012?

  • Anonymous

    Suing that f@#%wad is way past due.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J2BKVG44GLNRGIAYKD7UO4O27E Arthur Young

    For actively participating in this episode Breitbart should be penalized on 2 fronts, he should have to clean trash from the side of a highway and pay Sherrod’s salary for the span of time between her being fired and the clearing up of this defamation !! The civil service is for the trash these fascists spew like Niagra Falls and the money for smearing somebody’s reputation as well as the enjoyment you and others of your ilk seem to submerge yourselves in on a daily basis.

  • Anonymous

    Freeper… how much you get paid 50¢ a post a $1.00?

  • Anonymous

    Yay for Ms. Sherrod! I fully support her efforts to gain justice. I hope she will be able to shut Breitbart’s site down and gain some money for her ruined reputation, though no money in the world can buy it back. Right wing propagandists have got to start learning that when they smear, distort and omit facts, they are being un-American.

  • Anonymous

    Heavily edited video, loads of slander……..she’s a got a solid case. All you’ve got is a steaming load of crap.
    Piss off moron.

  • Anonymous

    Smear propaganda isn’t a prank, I agree.

    When he gets deposed he’ll be hating life. He’ll hate it more when a ruling goes in her favor.

  • Anonymous

    Youre being played as a chump by people that are counting on you being stupid. You were served bologna and you gobbled it up like it was filet mignon. Bravo

  • Anonymous

    Im sure that old drama queen Breitbart will cry that this suite is violating his First Amendment rights. Typical of Regressives, they think the law protects them when they lie, slander and liable.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXTnYCg8v8o Bamboo_Harvester

    Bravo ! Bravo ! Bravo !

    andrew breitbart should be in PRISON picking Big Bubba’s pubes outta his teeth !

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXTnYCg8v8o Bamboo_Harvester

    Where did my comment go ?

  • Anonymous

    More like he/she/it ate paint chips for years in their childhood.

  • http://www.rawstory.com/ Mark (MarkusGarvey) Estrada

    This one?.

  • nycplayboy78


  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OQFBZ26C3VQ5ONGZGDBDY4BUU Mark A

    Sure, shut him down, but he could just change the name of the blog or whatever and start right up again within a few minutes.

    No, you have to get cash, and make sure he is labeled as a slanderer the rest of his life.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OQFBZ26C3VQ5ONGZGDBDY4BUU Mark A

    Yes, I still don’t know why ACORN isn’t getting a multi-million dollar settlement. It is a clear cut case of slander and libel.

  • Anonymous

    I hope Ms Sherrod and her progeny get every dime that Breitbart is capable of earning for the next 50 years!

  • Anonymous

    Add “pollution of the mental environment” to the charges.

  • Anonymous

    Weird she won’t sue the employer who ACTUALLY FIRED HER.

    Mrs Sherrod you have lost all credibility with me

  • Anonymous

    You go Shirley! Take him for every penny he has and every penny his kids will have too! Maybe that will send a message to all the moral majority!

  • camille01

    worldtreker: Maybe they’ll be next.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Something permanent ought to be done about Andrew Breitbart.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    God knows what kind of demented Nazi of a republican judge may get the case. Those bastards aren’t human.

  • Anonymous

    And by that I’m sure you mean through legal, non-violent, democratic means, otherwise you are a terrorist and as bad as them….

  • Anonymous

    Because her employer reasonably believed that the video was genuine. If she was professing to be racist they were justified in firing her. Which is exactly why she is suing because Brietbart’s manipulation of the video portrayed her in a light that lead to her dismissal. Brietbart acted in a malicious way in purposely targeting and knowingly falsifying video, her employer on the other hand had reason to believe she was not fit to do her job.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Your hypocritical moralism merely conceals your seething passive-aggressive rage.

    You’re ridiculous. Crawl back under your rock.

  • Anonymous

    It would be nice to see a criminal case come out of this. Set a precedent, “emotional distress” as an “assault.” That is what it is after all. Im sorry this happened to such a fine woman. I hope shr includes FOX News in her suit for conspiracy. And it would be a dream come true if she ended up owning them!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Try using the English language. Your post doesn’t make sense.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    The whoremonger’s name is spelled Breitbart.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    With the courts we have in this country, the ruling could very well go in his favor.

    There is no law in the United States.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/GCPX7DXZGK2H2CPNYRR5IS5A64 Turnip Mcgee

    It’ll be a bright day when this terrrist is put out of the hit-job business.

    It’ll be a rare day, when the system as it finds itself today, will allow any Justice to be done for flesh-type people.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/GCPX7DXZGK2H2CPNYRR5IS5A64 Turnip Mcgee

    Try joining the human race. Your ideology doesn’t make sense.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/GCPX7DXZGK2H2CPNYRR5IS5A64 Turnip Mcgee

    A rigid and closed mind is often a coping mechanism for those with marginal cognitive capabilities.

  • Wombat Weatheraxe

    Good for her! The misuse of the media to distort and divide us has gotten completely out of hand. One recalls that during the McCarthy era, it was not until one person stood up to the bullying and refused to knuckle under that the witch hunts and reign or terror came to an end. She is a courageous woman and I wish her well.

  • Anonymous

    She could have taken the low road and become a lobbyist but, unlike most former groveling govt. officials, chose to maintain her self respect and dignity. Good on her!

  • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

    James E. O’Keefe III
    Andrew J. Breitbart
    Tea Party Express

    Neocon Nest

  • Anonymous

    I hope Ms. Sherrod get MORE THAN Breitbart is capable of earning

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/QCOLME2YGHQK2YATXQFQ677Q34 Frances T

    If Shirley Sherrod has a legal fund, I’m contributing to it. Somebody needs to take him on, and she is the one to do it. Breibart will have thousands to spend with the help of right-wing benefactors fighting this case, which he will likely lose.

  • Wyrdless

    Original footage:

    Minute 17 is when the part breitbart used begins and it goes to minute 22. There is an edit at about minute 21. this was put out by the NAACP.

    The story is that Sherrod referred the poor white farmer to a white lawyer who strung out a poor guy for 6 months of legal bills and never really helped him. Then the farmer came back to Sherrod 7 days before he’d be screwed, she busted her but to help him, and didn’t get paid for it. She said, that was when she realized it wasn’t black vs white, it is rich vs poor.

    If you listen to the first 17 minutes, she goes through her background, she had a real tough life, her father was killed by a white man who wasn’t convicted, and she openly says she has gone a long way since then

    She is a really classy lady.

  • http://www.rawstory.com/ Mark (MarkusGarvey) Estrada

    Thanks for the feedback. :=/

  • Guest

    Good for you, Sherrod, take him for all he is worth.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    That’s true–but why are you talking about yourself?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Gotta git them terrists. Yee ha.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Your little buddy’s post is garbled to the point of being unintelligible. Nothing “ideological” about pointing that out. When you use words, you ought to say something, even if you’re attacking a “freeper.”

    Your problem is that you’re so insanely contorted with anger that all you can do is hurl insults. You’re boiling over with self-centered rage.

    Look up “passive aggression.” That’s what makes you not only a fool but a hypocrite. All your kind are like that: immature psyches dug in behind a wall of infantile defenses, blaming the other guy for the ugliness you see when you look into the mirror.

    Read the history of the American labor movement. Compared with the actions of the armed heroes who have fought and died for you, your gnat-like gyrations are as insignificant as your fraudulent morality.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Why is “old drama queen” considered acceptable? If you said “old nigger” you’d be in deep trouble.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Comment withdrawn

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Since when is “old queen” acceptable language in a progressive forum? What hypocrisy. And how embarrassing to Ms. Sherrod.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    With all due respect to Ms. Sherrod, I hope that Breitbart loses everything he has now and never earns another penny.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/GCPX7DXZGK2H2CPNYRR5IS5A64 Turnip Mcgee

    Your Kung-Fu sucks.

  • Anonymous

    FREEPER n. A member of the Free Enterprise website or similar Right Wing forums and bulletin boards that use PACs to pay Freepers to call into Progressive radio shows and troll progressive message boards and forums for about a $1 a call to radio or less for each post on a forum.

    Is that easier for you to understand now….

  • Anonymous

    OK maybe someone should do something PERMANENT about YOU!

    Here’s my email:
    Let me know where you live so we can work this out!

  • Anonymous

    Do you get paid to be as a proofreader and a freeper?