Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We're Ruled By Lying Cowards

Caption: The White House confronts mendacious conservatives the only way it knows how.

We're ruled by lying cowards. I can't see any other possible conclusion from the events of this day regarding Shirley Sherrod, who was, until this morning, the head of the USDA's Rural Development Georgia office.

An employee of the Department of Agriculture has resigned, after conservative media outlets posted video Monday of her describing a time in the past when she hadn't used the "full force" of her abilities to help a farmer because he was white.

In the video, Shirley Sherrod, who is black, recounts having been asked to help a white farmer avoid foreclosure. She says she was torn over how much to help him because so many black farmers were also struggling, and decided to do just enough to be able to say she'd tried[.]

USDA Official Resigns Amid Race Controversy

That is, until she realized she was wrong:

The controversy over USDA official Shirley Sherrod has taken a surprising turn. Not only has the Georgia farmer she allegedly discriminated against come to her defense, but a few prominent conservative and liberal opinion leaders have united in saying she was unjustly ousted based on a selectively edited video.

RedState, NAACP Agree: Shirley Sherrod Got a Raw Deal

You read that right, a RedState blogger, Erick Erickson, was one of the people who came to Sherrod's defense. He did this, despite the fact that all this came to a head, because Andrew Breitbart posted a creatively edited version of the speech Ms. Sherrod gave on his blog:

Andrew Breitbart promised he would do to the left what the left has been doing to the right for years. He is gathering quite the collection of leftwing scalps and will forever warm the hearts of the right for the ACORN takedown alone. I’m glad he is on our side.

That said, I think Shirley Sherrod has been unfairly characterized as a racist.

In the Breitbart video, we hear Ms. Sherrod discuss meeting with a white farmer who clearly wanted to make sure she knew he was superior to her. And we hear her say she decided she’d help, but only do so much. And we clearly hear her say she decided to send him to his own kind — a white lawyer.

What we only start to hear before the video ends and where the conversation goes is Ms. Sherrod realizing the issue was not black vs. white, but a matter of the poor.

Collecting Scalps At What Cost

Yes, it was so bad that someone who was inclined to take Breitbart's video as true spotted the problem. I think this shows just how obviously wrong what happened next actually was:

Shirley Sherrod, the former Georgia director of Rural Development, said she received a phone call from the USDA's deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook on Monday while she was in a car. Cook told her that the White House wanted her to call it quits.

"They called me twice," Sherrod told the Associated Press. "The last time they asked me to pull over the side of the road and submit my resignation on my Blackberry, and that's what I did."

Shirley Sherrod, Ex-USDA Worker: White House Forced Me To Resign Over Fabricated Racial Controversy

In the little bit of time I spent looking, I was not able to find out if Sherrod's post is a political appointment or not. It's hard to believe it's a civil service job. Assuming they hadn't been caught doing something unethical or illegal, the civil servants I've known would have had a short response to that request, which would have ended with the pronoun "you". So, let's assume for now it's a political appointment, and put off until later the question of why such an insignificant office isn't a civil service post.

The head of Sherrod's cabinet department, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, tried to defend the decision later, as quoted by The Upshot:

In a statement quoted by CNN, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said of Sherrod's actions:

There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person. ... We have been working hard through the past 18 months to reverse the checkered civil rights history at the department and take the issue of fairness and equality very seriously.

USDA Official Resigns Amid Race Controversy

To recap, Sherrod was fired for something she didn't say, because a news site known to fabricate things released a video purporting to show she was bragging about being a racist. In reality, she was trying to show that it was wrong to do such things. The Department of Agriculture's Deputy Undersecretary of something-or-other badgered the woman into resigning, saying the White House was applying pressure, and the SecAg accepted responsibility. So far, this episode just demonstrates the usual cravenness of the New Democrats when faced with conservatives lying their asses off to make a political point, as Scarecrow ably explained today so I don't have to:

So when Andrew Breitbart posted an incomplete, edited video purporting to show a government employee expressing bias against whites, everyone should have said, “you’ve been shown to be dishonest, so show us the full video.” Instead, they just ran with the story as though it were true, and Fox News featured it yesterday as a proof of the Obama Administration’s hatred of whites.

The NAACP overreacted and now claims they were conned by Fox News, as were senior officials at the Agriculture Department, which may or may not have consulted with the White House about what to do about the brewing scandal. The simple answer should have been, find out all the facts before you get conned again. But apparently no one in Secretary Vilsack’s Agriculture Department or the White House thought to do that.

Obama Administration Gets Ratf**d, Wrongly Fires Apparently Honest Person in Another Breitbart Fraud

But it gets better:

A White House official insists that the White House didn't pressure Shirley Sherrod to resign, or pressure USDA chief Tom Vilsack to fire her, over the Andrew Breitbart video allegedly showing her claiming she didn't help a white farmer 24 years ago because of racial reasons.

"We did not pressure USDA or Ms. Sherrod," the White House official emails me. Ben Smith was told something similar.

White House official: We Didn't Push For Sherrod's Firing

I may be overestimating Ms. Sherrod's chutzpah, but it's hard to imagine she just decided to quit today because she got some bad press, or because the Deputy Undersecretary of Nothing Important asked her to sternly. There had to have actually been some pressure from somewhere, and if Cheryl Cook isn't either fired or severely chastised in public for invoking the name of the White House when she had no business doing it, then you know that denial is worth even less than the hard disk space it's written on.

Now, who do you suppose that anonymous coward White House official was who made that denial? I think it rhymes with Hypocritical Wanker Of The Day and that little rat fucker. No one else would dare cross the White House Chief of Staff, or his boss, so once again we can invoke one of my favorite rules of guessing secret White House sources: Who Got Fired For Saying That. If no one was fired, you can pretty well assume it was Rahm or his boss.

Which is the reason for the title of this post. No one in his right mind would believe that the White House wasn't responsible for this. A cabinet secretary took it upon himself to respond to a possibly fake news item by firing someone running an office he might not have even heard of until today? Even if it's true, the better thing to do would have been for the White House to say it regretted the misunderstanding, and wished Shirley Sherrod well, or just say absolutely nothing. But, as in the past, the White House just couldn't help itself.

To make this episode even more lovely, two supposed journalists couldn't help but print an anonymously sourced bit of character assassination from an Administration official.

We're not only ruled by lying cowards, but it's becoming increasingly clear that they're not terribly bright, either. And thanks to what passes for journalism in DC, they don't have to be.

UPDATE (Jul. 21): As David Dayen points out, the USDA might, maybe, um, kinda reconsider its actions re: Ms. Sherrod:

Sometimes, if the facts are clear, if the people band together an yell loud enough, sometimes, just sometimes, you can get the powers that be to reconsider an unjust act. Not overturn, yet, but reconsider. Ain’t America grand?
Let me conduct your thorough review, Secretary Vilsack. Watch this tape. Or read the transcript. Or, if you want to throw in “additional facts,” this woman’s history. I think you could wrap up the review in about 45 minutes.

USDA Reportedly Reconsidering Shirley Sherrod Firing

Doesn't it just make you proud? They took, what, an hour? to fire her, but reconsidering could take some time...

Maybe Shirley Sherrod should find some more intelligent bosses.

UPDATE 2: Apparently, the White House has decided it should apologize:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today offered an apology to Shirley Sherrod on behalf of the Obama administration.

He said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is trying to reach Sherrod as well, to offer his own apology and to "talk about their next steps."

Gibbs Apologizes To Sherrod; She May Get Her Job Back (VIDEO)

If Vilsack and the Administration are lucky, the next steps won't require lawyers or groveling. (h/t Scarecrow)

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