The Shirley Sherrod controversy has shown that the White House needs to stand up to conservative media attacks, or risk "feeding the zealots" in America's political debate, says the editor and publisher of a leading progressive magazine.

The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel told NBC's Today Show Friday that the Obama administration needs to "get a spine."

"This White House needs to institute procedures, as President Obama said, and get a spine because it is feeding the zealots of our system by not standing tall and confronting the forces of hate and fear in a country that has a lot of economic pain," vanden Heuvel said.

She described the controversy as "a testing moment for America ... Are we going to be an America that learns from Shirley Sherrod's tale of reconciliation, overcoming prejudice? ... Are we going to be a media system which is vetting and upholding standards, or are we going to be bullied as a country by a right wing media which peddles fears and slanders to, really, destroy President Obama's presidency?"

Host Matt Lauer interrupted vanden Heuvel to point out that "in the past it's worked in both directions. Biased media is nothing new."

Vanden Heuvel responded by saying the issue wasn't about media bias, but media credibility. It's about "the mainstream media -- with a few exceptions in this case -- accepting Andrew Breitbart, a journalist who's known to have no credibility."

This video is from NBC's Today Show, broadcast July 23, 2010.

Watch this video on iPhone/iPad