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COLUMN: Lesson to be learned from lack of coverage of Sherrod's firing

Thursday, August 5, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

"You're fired!" The words did not come from "The Donald," but from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"It was a learning moment," are not the words of education innovator Horace Mann, but from the press, including White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, as it concerned the firing of USDA official Shirley Sherrod.

The Sherrod firing was discussed with great passion on the Sunday talking-head shows. It was great news drama, until over 91,000 military documents showed up on Wikileaks.

For those of you who have been playing Rip van Winkle, here is the short version of the story: On March 27, Sherrod gave a passionate presentation to the NAACP about race relations, discovering her own prejudices and her epiphany that she was wrong.

On July 19, conservative zealot Andrew Breitbart posted a portion of Sherrod's speech on his blog to show that the NAACP's allegations that the tea party is prejudiced were not true, pointing his finger back to the NAACP. This is the same Breitbart who posted the propagandist video "showing" ACORN offering assistance to a pimp and hooker who were, in fact, Breitbart's henchmen.

We now understand that Breitbart's newest video was nothing more than propaganda, an assault on the NAACP using Shirley Sherrod as the target. A portion of that speech was taken out of context. Way out of context. You can watch the entire Sherrod speech on YouTube. Ask yourself, "What is wrong with Breitbart's video?" Make your own conclusion.

The talking-head shows claimed that this was a teaching moment, focusing their discussions on race relations in the United States. They talked about how the USDA overreacted to this situation, firing Sherrod while she was driving, demanding she text her resignation immediately. However, the "learning moment" is not only about racism and government's (and corporate's) overreaction to the race issue. It is about the press and, by extension, Internet citizen journalists and propagandists.

What does this have to do with the fine citizens of Columbia? It has to do with how citizens obtain news and how news media's obsession for 24/7 coverage is destroying its own morals.

Good journalism is based on facts and research. Commentaries are one person's opinion concerning those facts. Both open up discussions on subjects that may be hiding in the fields.

Propaganda, on the other hand, is designed only to provoke extremist views. Mostly of anger. To burn those fields.

Knowing that the source of this video had already perpetrated propaganda, the Fourth Estate should have questioned the video immediately. They did not, including both our cross-town competitor and us.

The Missourian was guilty for not running the Sherrod story, connecting it in terms of race relations in Columbia and the failure of the press to conduct due diligence.

It used to be that if we read it in the paper, it must be true. Then if we heard it on the radio or if we saw it on television it must be true. Today, if we read it on the Internet or hear it on late night TV it must be true. Even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, partisan politics maneuvered the press and partisan press maneuvered public opinion. Readers cannot separate the wheat from the chaff as they sift for news. Now with the coming of Internet propagandists, the weeds are enveloping the fields.

The press, including the Missourian, and citizen journalists, including myself, have an obligation to the public — to seek out the truth, expose the lie and show how national stories such as Sherrod versus Breitbart have a hyper-local connection. Columbia's citizen journalist Mike Martin alluded to this very thing in his July 29 issue of "The Columbia Heart Beat." Citizen radio hosts Tyree and Jesca Byndom make the national news local on their KOPN talk shows, "Kore Issues" and "Straight Talk."

This was a learning moment for citizen journalists, commentators and the press. The lesson: We need to do better. Much better.

By the way, Sherrod is suing Breitbart for slander. Breitbart has been invited to a Labor Day Republican fundraiser. Now, what is wrong with this picture?

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.


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Comments

Ray Shapiro August 5, 2010 | 4:30 p.m.

I was once fired from a job for trying to break up a fight between a sober white redneck and a drunken black man.
The drunken black man called me a racist because I got involved in trying to defuse the situation...and the fact that I'm white.
Of all things, my boss, who had very few black employees and made certain they would never get promoted to more meaningful jobs, fired me to avoid any further action from the drunk.
No one ever apologized to me for trying to defuse the conflict.
This krap about firings over political correctness or race sensitivities happens all the time.
Has any one apologized to Imus?
Who cares about Sherrod. I'm certain the Obama administration will make sure she's well compensated. She must have tons of friends. Even the white farmer couple she helped.
Only employers, who truly care about their subordinates, seek out the truth about the subordinate that's targeted for "taking it on the chin," are worthy of being an employer.
Then there are some employers who don't care about the truth, or choose to make up their own.
It just seems that politics and money seem to trump everything. Even the truth.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens August 11, 2010 | 9:41 a.m.

Are you kidding Ray? You REALLY believe that Don Imus deserves an apology? He referred to Black women as "nappy headed hoes." Surely that cannot be acceptable. You still seem bitter about your firing which is on your white racist boss and not on the drunken black man you seem to be angry at. (By the way, this is why a lot of people would rather not get involved in conflicts.) Shirley Sherrod was telling people that probably needed to hear it that she has learned something along the way in life. Those words were taken out of context and the USDA and the Obama administration overreacted.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens August 11, 2010 | 9:47 a.m.

By the way David, 'Straight Talk' is with Wynna Faye Elbert and Darrell Foster. And as of late, Dr. Gene Robertson is a frequent co-host.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 11, 2010 | 10:21 a.m.

Nathan:
1. It was Don Imus.
He was targeted by Al Sharpton, etc for political purposes.
(If it were Don Rickles or Chris Rock, would they be targeted?)
2. Don Imus offended people who chose to be offended by a phrase which I believe was started and used by a segment of "black culture" and Imus was probably just trying to be "hip" and with the times. Where was the malicious intent in his words? Does outrage warrant firing? Is that how we "lynch" white folk?
His total comment actually was one of awe and complimentary, IMHO.
If you can't even grasp that possibility, then your view of how honest people communicate is very different than mine.
3. The dude I tried to help did not come to my assistance when he sobered up. So like I should love my "brother" for hanging me out to dry?
4. What's Sherrod's net worth and why is she playing victim? Why is she attacking the right? Shouldn't she be upset and bitter with her boss? With the NAACP? With the Obama administration?
Have the words Racist and Bigot become the new "N" word for the Al Sharpton's to use for degrading and invalidating "whitey?"

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens August 11, 2010 | 11:47 a.m.

Ray,

I had typed up a long response to this but the realization occurred that if this is where you are, there is nothing I or anyone else can say to change your way of thinking. So instead I will say God bless and best wishes and all that.

NAS

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 11, 2010 | 1:27 p.m.

So much for dialog on an open board.
Save your lengthy response for another time.
I hope I get a chance to read it and respond another time.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens August 11, 2010 | 2:04 p.m.

Maybe Ray, just maybe. I believe that timing is everything and it didn't seem to be the right time.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 11, 2010 | 5:24 p.m.

Fair enough.
Have a good week.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 18, 2010 | 2:55 p.m.

Funny how even Rick Sanchez on today's CNN broadcast of Rick's list in discussing Dr. Laura's decision to opt for a different venue then radio saw Imus as an old white dude trying to be "hip" instead of the racist which Al Sharpton painted him out to be.
When did not being "Politically Correct" become such an heinous crime? When did the Sharpton's of America become Judge, Jury and Executioner? Is this the new call to "Lynch Whitey?" Well Al is not my pal, my role model, my leader or my reverend. Yea, those who became piranhas on Imus owe him an apology which I suspect he'll never get.
Must have to do with "Black Pride," or something like that.
Heck, you guys don't even know who your true friends are.
Imus was, and still is, one of them.

(Report Comment)

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