Lessons learned from Breitbart and Sherrod

So there I was on strike, and this appalling news story flew by and I had to choke on my tongue. I’m late, but I have to say something.

The story, as you probably all know, is that Shirley Sherrod gave a talk on her work assisting poor farmers hang on to their land, in which she confessed to being less enthusiastic about helping poor white farmers early on. Andrew Breitbart, professional pseudojournalist and teabaggin’ hack, ran just that excerpt of her talk and made it sound as if she and her audience at the NAACP were flaming racist hatemongers who were chuckling over making Whitey pay.

He lied. He lied outrageously by editing out the context (or, as he claims, his source did the editing), and making it sound like racism when it was exactly the opposite, and Tom Vilsack, the Democrat at the Department of Agriculture rushed to appease Breitbart and had Sherrod fired.

Afterwards, the full video of the talk was revealed, and it’s discovered that Sherrod was making the point that her early biases were wrong, and that she learned that it was important to get over the false barriers of racism and realize that this is a problem of the poor of every color. Then the farmers who she’d been initially reluctant to help came forward to say that Sherrod had been a wonderful person who’d saved the family farm for them. It’s quite a story: it’s the complete annihilation of a right-wing lie, and the emergence of a real hero, Shirley Sherrod.

I’ve learned a couple of things.

  • Andrew Breitbart is beneath contempt. He’s not a journalist at all: he’s a partisan hack who will make up stories to fit his biases (he was also guilty of faking the ACORN scandal). I’m hoping the news media will recognize his name as purest poison from now on. I don’t have high hopes, though; people seem to be swallowing Breitbart’s excuses, lame as they are.

  • Our Democratic leadership is spineless. They fired this woman at the command of right-wing attack dogs? For shame. They didn’t even try to investigate and figure out if this was a genuine problem. Please learn: when the wingnuts bark, don’t jump, because they are little yappy dogs who never shut up. Fire Vilsack and put Sherrod in his place — she seems to have a moral compass.

  • Racism isn’t dead, and the Republican party seems to be its bastion. This was an effort by Breitbart to punish the NAACP because it had been accusing the teabaggers of racism; it has soundly backfired, because trying to damage an organization working to end racism is simply another manifestation of racism. Sherrod is fighting back, pointing out what the right-wing media is actually trying to do.

    “They were looking for the result they got yesterday,” she said of Fox. “I am just a pawn. I was just here. They are after a bigger thing, they would love to take us back to where we were many years ago. Back to where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person.”

  • The right-wing political base is truly vile. I looked at a few of their blogs, and despite the thoroughness of Breitbart’s credibility implosion and the way this story has blown up in their faces, they’re still trying to defend it. I’m not going to link to them, but instead, look at this brief and effective deconstruction of one such apologia by John Cole. Are the teaparty promoters racist? Hell, yes. Either that or they’re just brain-damaged idiots, I can’t tell.

  • There’s another minor lesson to be learned here, too. Glenn Greenwald said something of Breitbart, who is still refusing to explain how he got this dishonestly edited tape:

    “Journalists” are supposed to expose their “sources” if they use the journalist to perpetrate a fraud.

    Oh, yes?

  • The important lesson, though, is that this is about class politics and class warfare — not the phony kind the Republicans decry, which is all about the horrible way the obscenely rich are hindered from becoming pornographically rich, but the real one, the one fought in an America where children still go to bed hungry and everyone has to worry about the porous social safety net. This is a country where a middle-class person can be completely wiped out by a serious illness in the family, where the poor are kept paddling in place trying to make ends meet and never get an opportunity to advance themselves. Sherrod said that, too.

    Sherrod delivered an address on race, class, and government that wove together reflections of the murder of her father at the hands of white man, her early-life misgivings about the American South, her work organizing the community in the face of violent racism, and her eventual recognition as a government official working with local farmers that class, not race, was the dominant matter. “It’s not just about black people, it’s about poor people,” Sherrod said. “We have to get to the point where race exists but it doesn’t matter.”

    That should frighten Republicans more than their phony race-baiting story: when Americans wake up to their common cause despite Republican efforts to sow divisions by race, then we might have some progressive politics again (beyond the weak and unprincipled of Democratic Republican-lite politics, that is.)

But most of all, we’ve got to treat the Republican hate machine appropriately: Drudge-acolytes like Breitbart, phonies like Beck and Limbaugh — all are pariahs that our news media must stop treating respectfully.