You may not have noticed it last week, but for a full day, honesty, “journalistic” integrity, due process, and fairness took a day off Tuesday. For nearly a full day, Fox News, the tea party website run by Andrew Breitbart, and the right-wing echo chamber deliberately smeared the good name of a long-time public servant, Shirley Sherrod, and got her fired. Temporarily.
There are at least two lessons here: Fox News (or, as many of my colleagues in the media call it, “Faux News”) is neither fair nor balanced, a message which should come as a surprise to no one with the capacity for rational thinking; and, as I’ve said many times, the blogosphere and talk radio are NOT “journalism”.
Jim Mitchell, who writes editorials for the Dallas Morning News, says the whole Sherrod debacle was created by partisan hatred and fueled by media haste, characterized by opportunism and buck-passing. Shirley Sherrod’s story is one of redemption and healing, not hostility and racism.
All the way from the partisan hack who craftily edited the videotape to make it seem like Sherrod was a racist who wouldn’t use her power as a government ag official to help a white farmer, to the tea party website that posted the altered video, to Fox News, to the NAACP, to the US Ag Department and the White House, there was either intentional or unintentional fanning of racial hatred and fear.
None of the above gave Shirley Sherrod a chance to defend herself; once the story was blasted out by Fox News, the NAACP, the Ag Department, and the White House jumped to a conclusion and acted without even saying “what’s her side of the story?”, and didn’t give her the opportunity to explain.
Fortunately, Sherrod was able to get her message out – through CNN and other media – and it dramatically changed the situation.
These were not good-faith errors made by any of the parties involved. There was a deliberate attempt to deceive, made by Breitbart and Fox News; the NAACP, which gave a knee-jerk reaction, later said it was “snookered” by Fox; and the White House and Ag Department followed the rush to judgment. At no point in that chain of events Tuesday did the NAACP, The White House, or the Ag Department say “wait a minute – this is a lifetime civil servant – what is she saying about all this?”, a fundamental proposition which any accused person or organization deserves.
We report, you decide? Only if the reporting is truly fair and balanced, and the fundamentals of journalism and reporting are honored.