In this week’s Centre Square commentary, Chris Satullo suggests that last week’s media circus over a videotaped speech by an obscure federal official says far more about our toxic political culture than about the woman herself.[audio: satullo20100725.mp3]
A rumor, Churchill once said, can get half way around the world before the truth gets out of bed.
That was back in Sir Winston’s slower day.
In this digital age, before the truth raises its hand, a falsehood can circle the globe, start its own talk show and call for your resignation.
Just ask Shirley Sherrod.
Sherrod is the federal official who, just this week, has been defamed by a deceptively edited video on a prominent Web site, blasted on Fox News, fired, exonerated, offered her job back, and apologized to by both Barack Obama and Bill O’Reilly.
This is a disturbing tale of how off the rails our partisan media culture has gone. It begins with Breitbart.com, a news aggregation site that shows what happens when news obsession gets cross-bred with partisanship and ADD.
The web site posted a video snippet edited to make it seem Sherrod, who was black, admitted denying services to a white farmer because of his skin color. In fact, the farmer credits Sherrod with helping save his farm.
The violations of Journalism 101 here are multiple. Why not insist on seeing the whole video before posting an explosive snippet? Why not call the farmer? Why not call Sherrod?
Of course none of this had anything to do with journalism. It had to do with agenda, with whipping up a blogstorm to further a standing conservative narrative – about how it’s really black people who are the racists. Once Breitbart ran the video snippet, the Fox news talkers, like good Pavlov’s dogs, began flogging it.
Again, just business as usual in the partisan snakepit of cable. Let me make here the fairness point that characters on the left such as Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore also shoot from the hip sometimes.
The real shocker is that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a good guy, reacted by canning Sherrod, without doing basic fact-checking. Within a day, he’d come to his senses and apologized.
Too late. He made the Obama administration look craven.
You’d like to think such a flagrant case of drive-by character assassination would make everyone in the exploding partisan media step back, take a breath, and vow reform. You’d like to think that. But it’s more likely Shirley Sherrod won’t be the last person wounded by this media buzzsaw. She’s just this week’s victim.