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Fox host denies network covered Sherrod story; Sherrod calls network ‘racist’

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Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture employee forced to resign over misleadingly edited footage showing her making “racist” remarks at an NAACP meeting, has lashed out at Fox News and conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart, accusing their journalistic practices of being a manifestation of racism.

“When you look at their reporting, this is just another way of seeing that they are (racist),” Sherrod told MediaMatters’ Joe Strupp.

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Her comments came ahead of Wednesday’s apologies to Sherrod from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who took the blame for Sherrod’s forced resignation.

“I did not think before I acted, and for that reason, this poor woman has gone through a difficult time,” Vilsack said, as quoted at The Hill. “There was no pressure from the White House, I want to make sure everyone understands this was my decision, and I regret having made it in haste.

“This is a good woman,” Vilsack said. “She’s been put through hell.”

AP reports that Sherrod is “thinking over” a “unique” job offer from Vilsack.

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Previously: Video of ‘racist’ USDA official appears taken out of context

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post describes Sherrod’s comments about Fox News as “pretty incendiary stuff,” adding that Sherrod “appears determined to force a larger conversation about the Breitbart-Fox News axis’s broader efforts to stoke white resentment towards the nation’s first African American president.”

As the political tide quickly shifted in Sherrod’s favor, embarrassed reporters and bloggers began to backtrack on their reporting of Sherrod’s comments as “racist” earlier this week. At Fox News, which played an instrumental role in publicizing the video, a news host even suggested that the network didn’t air the story to begin with.

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Responding to an NAACP press release in which the activist group said it was “snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart” into believing Sherrod had treated a white couple in a racist manner 24 years ago, Fox’s Bret Baier responded: “Fox News didn’t even do the story. We didn’t do it on Special Report, we posted it online….”

However, MediaMatters has chronicled the extensive coverage given the story on Fox News before it turned out the tape had been edited to make an anecdote about racial reconciliation appear to be a racist rant.

In the wake of the embarrassing scandal, everyone from the White House to the news media is being criticized for its handling. But many prominent voices are now speaking up about what they see as a pattern of disinformation and deceit coming from conservative activist journalists.

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“When the right-wing noise machine starts promoting another alleged scandal, you shouldn’t suspect that it’s fake — you should presume that it’s fake, until further evidence becomes available,” writes Paul Krugman at the New York Times.

Brad Friedman at BradBlog goes even further, and suggests that the media circus surrounding the video is a sign that Andrew Breitbart — the activist reporter behind BigGovernment.com who first released the video on Monday — has come “undone.” Friedman draws parallels between the Sherrod episode and the ACORN controversy. (Breitbart was instrumental in promoting the “ACORN sting” videos of James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, which also turned out to be heavily edited and based on a false context.)

Breitbart “finds himself backed into a corner threatening whatever legitimacy he had foolishly been granted by adults who ought to have known better long ago,” Friedman writes.

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Other commentators see the problem as being more deep-seated than the racial leanings of reporters, and suggest the United States missed an opportunity to overcome a heritage of racism with the election of President Barack Obama.

“The election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was supposed to be a sign of our national maturity, a chance to transform the charged, stilted “national conversation” about race into a smarter and more authentic dialogue, led by a president who was also one of the nation’s subtlest thinkers and writers on the topic,” writes Ben Smith at Politico. “Instead, the conversation just got dumber.”

The following video was broadcast July 20, 2010 on Fox News and uploaded to the Web by MediaMatters.

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