Shirley Sherrod worked for the U.S. Agriculture Department until Monday, when she was slammed by a political express moving at the speed of broadband. Hers is a cautionary tale: With so many snippets of information hurtling at us, it's important not to rush to judgment.
Sherrod, who is black, was branded a racist and forced to resign based on a video clip of her recounting an incident, 24 years ago, when a white man asked her to help save his farm. "I didn't give him the full force of what I could do," she said.
She didn't work in government then. But that comment landed her in a political skirmish ignited when the NAACP called upon the tea party movement to purge racists from its ranks. In an apparent tit-for-tat, a blogger posted the two-minute clip of Sherrod speaking at an NAACP banquet in March. It went viral. It was broadcast nationally. Sherrod said she was told the White House wanted her resignation to quell the bad press.
It would have taken 43 minutes to get the facts. Watch her entire speech and it's clear that the clip turned Sherrod's message on its head. She recounted the incident as a transformational moment and urged her audience to look beyond race. She said Roger Spooner's plight taught her that "it's not just about black people, it's about poor people." Spooner said Tuesday that Sherrod saved his farm and is a friend to this day.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered Sherrod a new job yesterday. A spokesman for President Obama profusely apologized. If the White House had worried less about politics and more about treating this woman fairly, there would have been no mess to clean up. hN