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July 26th, 2010
Freethought San Marcos: Race and transformation in America

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Anyone who watched the news this past week knows about the false attack on federal employee Shirley Sherrod, who worked in the Department of Agriculture in Georgia. A right-wing distortionist–Andrew Breitbart–published an edited video that made night out of day. It’s the sort of stunt that Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart delight in doing openly, for laughs, to politicians, actors, and other self-important personages for laughs. But Breitbart is no comedian. His work was defamation, whether he did the editing or it was done by someone else.

He used a very simple technique, not the least bit clever. A public figure says something like, “I have never taken a bribe.” Edit out the word “never,” and you have that official saying, “I have taken a bribe.” Any rube with an editing machine can perform this trick. While this may be great fun on the comedy circuit, it can be devastating when presented as news on a national cable network. Unfortunately, it is typical fare on what some call “Faux News.”

The Fox “News” network ran the distortion repeatedly early in the week, and its commentators had great fun expressing outrage and talking about Ms. Sherrod’s alleged racism. Of course, her story was not about racism, but about overcoming racism. At another time and in another place, she had considered not helping a white family that was about to lose its farm. Before she had committed a social and personal sin based in racial animosity and omission, she realized that the problem in our society was bigger than race. It was about poverty and class, with the wealthy and powerful sticking it to the weak, poor, uneducated, and unsophisticated.

The incident transformed her anger at white on black racism, and turned her into a kind of populist, who realized that the issue of economic disadvantage was based as much in top-down power as it was in racial animus, though that is a real and harmful condition that led to the murder of Ms. Sherrod’s father by a white man who was never prosecuted, in spite of overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

Many years ago, I worked for a white man who ran a social service organization, who regularly referred to blacks as “niggers.” If someone, of whatever race or ethnicity, was particularly dense about an issue or did something particularly stupid, he had a favorite saying for that person: “He’s dumber than twin niggers.” My boss gradually changed, not because he had a religious experience that showed him the error of his ways or because of anything I did to convince him that using those words was inappropriate, but because he had some real life experiences that influenced him, much the way Shirley Sherrod had been influenced by getting to know the white family that needed her help.

Before taking the job of running the social service organization, my boss’s experience with blacks had been limited to those who were farm workers, uneducated, and poor. As similar social service agencies began to proliferate in Texas, they formed an association and held regular meetings together to improve and coordinate their work. For the first time in my boss’s life, he was rubbing shoulders with educated blacks and Hispanics who were his equal in every way. Their incomes were as good. Their educations were as good as or better than his. Their homes were as lovely as his. They had new cars, just as he did. They were members of country clubs, just as he was. They liked to sip bourbon on the rocks, just as he did. They spoke as well as he did, often better. They had children in college or working as professionals, just as he did. In every sense, they were his peers. Gradually, he became friends with some of them, and that made all the difference in his life. No longer did he use racial epithets. And more important, he began trying to change the behavior of his old white friends, with whom he still associated, even when they began to call him a “nigger-lover” or a liberal.

Transformations do happen in real life. It happened to Shirley Sherrod. It happened to Malcolm X after he made a pilgrimage to Mecca and saw for himself that Muslims came in all shades of color and ethnicities. It happened to Robert Byrd, George Wallace, and to a lesser extent to Strom Thurmond. How fortunate we were to have a federal employee in Georgia who was enlightened by her own experience to recognize that many farmers need some help, no matter their race or ethnicity. How shameful it is that the Obama administration fired her before looking into the facts instead of relying on the Fox “News” propaganda machine.

But the Obama administration was not alone its lack of diligence. The NAACP rushed to condemn Ms. Sherrod without investigating the false claims. (The NAACP, Ms. Sherrod’s boss, and President Obama have since apologized, for what’s that worth.) For a time after the white farmer and his wife came to the aid of Ms. Sherrod, describing her as their hero, the New York Times, our self-proclaimed newspaper of record, failed to report their comments.

The best coverage of this deplorable fiasco was done by Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show:

“This is what Fox News does, this is how they are different from other news organizations. This is why the White House argued months ago that Fox should be treated as a media organization but not as a normal news organization, because they don’t treat news the way a normal news organization treats news. Just like the fake ACORN controversy, Fox News knows that it has a role in this dance….
“Fox does what Fox does… What is interesting about this story is that the Obama administration inexplicably keeps falling for it…
“Dear White House, dear administration: believing conservative spin about what’s so wrong with you and then giving into that spin is not an effective defense against that spin. Just buying it and apologizing for it, and doing whatever they want you to do doesn’t make the problem of them lying about you go away. In fact, it makes it worse…
“The huge tide of negative publicity that followed these video tapes and the coverage they got on Fox wall-to-wall was a dishonest political stunt that bears no resemblance to journalism and no resemblance to the actual facts of what happened. But it worked. Means be damned, in the end it worked.”

I don’t watch any news program or commentator all the time, but among those that I occasionally watch, it is difficult to find one more reliable, intelligent, and correct than Rachel Maddow’s program. In this case, she has demonstrated the nearly complete lack of integrity of Fox “News” as a news organization. She has shown a weakness in the Obama administration–in many ways it fails to follow principle as much as any administration in our history. It is an important principle. No administration should act without having reliable information. Fortunately for the country, this mistaken episode did not lead to a (so far) $750 billion war.

To further demonstrate how bereft of authenticity Fox “News” is, compare their behavior to that of CBS News after Dan Rather hyped a story using suspect memos purporting to be written by George W. Bush’s commander when he served in the National Guard. No attempt was made to authenticate the documents before Rather aired them less than two months before the 2004 election. As a result of the incident, CBS fired the producer of the program (60 Minutes Wednesday) on which the story aired, Mary Mapes. Several senior news executives were asked to resign, and CBS apologized to viewers. Dan Rather also resigned as anchorman in 2005, having been disgraced by his failure to authenticate serious charges against the President before airing them. Don’t expect anything similar from Fox “News.”

One other aspect of the Sherrod incident was stated cogently by Eugene Robinson, Washington Post Associate Editor and Op-Ed Columnist: “A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites.” This kind of venal, irrational fear is peddled by elements of the Tea Party (a subsidiary of the Republican Party), the extreme right wing, neo-Nazis, skinheads, and some of my hopelessly racist relatives who are comfortable with blacks only if they see them on TV in a sports uniform. Such false fear is behind most of the venomous racist attacks spread like a virus over the internet since Obama became a contender for the presidency. It is a national shame that Obama has been sucked into this racist vortex instead of opposing such racism forthrightly and openly. To contend, as many in and out of this adminstration do, that this is a post-racial society is mendacious.

My remaining question is how long will it take for the Obama administration to correct its mistake, reinstate Ms. Sherrod (if she still wants to work for such a feckless employer), and repair her reputation? Apparently, the answer is “too long.” Of course, this may be the kind of mistake that can’t be completely undone, but someone in this administration needs to try.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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13 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Race and transformation in America

  1. Thank you, Lamar. I cringe when my son says “FOX news is all the news I need”. Makes me quite sad that so many agree with him.

  2. Lamar:

    Let’s stick with the facts. The Obama administration forced her to resign before the video or her name were EVER MENTIONED on FoxNews. FoxNews reported the story the SAME EVENING, the SAME TIME that all the other cable news shows did so. She resigned in the afternoon, and Bill O’Reilly (whom I hate) mentioned the story during his evening show. You would have known this had you bothered to get your news from a source other than Rachel Maddow and NPR.

    Secondly, to compare this incident with the Rathergate is patently absurd. Dan Rather aired FORGED DOCUMENTS. CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, CBS, ABC, and NBC all aired an edited clip from a speech. Not a worthy comparison, even for a partisan hack like you.

    As a background note for you, Lamar: Andrew Breitbart is on record as saying he received the video clip back in April and made 4…count that..4 attempts to get the full, unedited version from the NAACP. The NAACP refused ALL 4 requests. But I’m sure you will claim that Breitbart is a racist liar. Typical for the Left.

    Lastly, would you care to defend her husband who in Jan. 2010 said this:

    “We must stop the white man and his Uncle Tom from stealing our elections. We must not be afraid to vote black. We must not be afraid to turn a black out who votes against our interests. In a few days or weeks the FCC will announce that we won a full power community-owned radio station in Albany, Georgia, a result of years of work. Tears that we shed so many times when the TV and the newspaper comes out the day of an election or day before an election and tell white folk all over wherever we’re running somebody for an office that blacks are gonna take the office over and thousands are coming to the polls. But we had no means of communicating with our people. It’s a blessing that finally we will have a radio station to cover thousands of people.”

    Or are you gonna say that was taken out of context too?? As for his wife, listen to the whole speech. She is a RACIST. They are a perfect match for one another.

  3. Isn’t Obama the one that told Holder to drop the case against the New Black Panthers intimidating people going to the polls?

    Isn’t Obama the one that sat in Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years and listened to him damn America and rail against the white man and Jews?

    Isn’t Obama the one that threw his own grandmother under the bus, saying she was a “typical white person”?

    Isn’t Obama the one that condemned the Cambridge police as acting “stupidly” before knowing the facts?

    There are far more examples that Obama is a racist than examples his opponents are racist. In fact, there is evidence that Leftist “journalists” conspired to paint the opposition as racists.

    Lamar, your marching orders to paint the opposition as racist have been revealed. The American people are on to this crap and are fed up with it. The game will be over in November. Remember in November.

  4. Is this writer serious? What a putz. It’s a same that so many people have bought the liberal media’s spin on this story. This writer needs to get out of his little bubble of spin.

  5. Stewart: Fox Snookered No One, Breitbart Most Honest Person In Sherrod Affair

    Comedian Jon Stewart on Monday said what most in the liberal media continue to deny: as it pertains to the Shirley Sherrod affair, Fox News snookered no one.

    Even more surprising, the “Daily Show” host claimed conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart “may be the most honest person in this entire story.”

  6. It seems that Mark Jones is engaging in selective reading. Here is what Stewart said:

    STEWART: See, he didn’t say, “I want to be in the history books as a paragon of honesty.” He didn’t say, “I’d like to be in the Museum of Broadcasting and be known by children around the world as Arnold B. Truthington of Accuracy Lane.” No. He said, out loud, “I want to bring down the institutional Left.” So, if you are on the institutional Left and you receive a package from him, watch the whole f**king tape! How is that snookering?

    None of which means that Breitbart is an honest person.

    And I couldn’t find the part where Stewart said that ‘Fox snookered no one.” That was Noel Sheppard’s incorrect interpretation, not Stewart’s words. But remember, Stewart is a comedian, not a news reporter. It is his job to make jokes based on the news, not give us the news.

  7. J. Stewart said, “First of all, Fox News is too busy with their Black Panther hard-on to bother much with this,”

    Seconds later, J. Stewart said, “You weren’t snookered.”

    Seems pretty obvious that J. Stewart don’t believe Fox News snookered anyone. But I understand that it doesn’t fit your narrative so you will ignore the obvious. It’s kind of funny to see you spit out the liberal talking points ala NPR and Rachel Maddow. It’s nice to see that you are being exposed for doing so.

    For those that want to watch the entire segment and judge for themselves (rather than take the partisan Lamer for his word) check it out here:

  8. Lamar,

    Why are you ignoring the previous people’s post? Can’t address the fact that you are offering a baseless, factless, slanted interpretation of the events?

    Readers beware. Lamar is agenda driven and has a difficult time dealing with facts that don’t fit is Leftist narrative. Sorry to point out the obvious.

  9. I never ignore posts, but I don’t respond to all of them for a variety of reasons. I sometimes respond to people who distort facts or who distort what I have written, but if someone is just expressing their opinion, I’m perfectly happy for them to do so unmolested by me. After all, I’ve had my say and now it’s your turn. I seldom respond to people who like to engage in name-calling. That is rarely a useful argument to have and I don’t always have time to respond to even the factually-challenged. I figure that if someone can’t sort out the truth from the fiction, there isn’t much I can say to correct that.

  10. I’ll add one more comment about what I try to do in my columns. I try to have serious discussions about important issues. In this case, about race and racism in our society. Some readers are uncomfortable about serious discussions and try to move the discussion in other directions. That, of course, is their right. And I have the right not to take the bait, which is another reason I don’t respond to every effort to avoid the important, but uncomfortable issues.

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