The circumstances behind Sherrod’s ouster

THE CIRCUMSTANCES BEHIND SHERROD’S OUSTER…. We talked earlier about the latest Breitbart/Big Government clip, which may have forced the resignation of a capable administration official who did nothing wrong. There’s been some interesting discussion this afternoon about all the blame that can be spread around.

To quickly review, a video from the right-wing website shows USDA official Shirley Sherrod, who has been the director of regional development in Georgia, talking to the NAACP about an instance in which she didn’t work as hard as she should have for a white farmer because she was “struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land.” What the clip didn’t show was that Sherrod was talking about an incident from 24 years ago — long before she joined the USDA — in which she eventually worked with that farmer to help ward off foreclosure of his farm.

While there’s been ample criticism of Breitbart/Big Government for releasing the misleading video, in some circles, there’s been nearly as much criticism of the Obama administration. After all, Sherrod said today that she was forced to step down from her post after receiving “at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign.”

The point, obviously, is that the administration shouldn’t act too hastily in response to some right-wing hatchet job. It’s understandable that officials would be concerned about some new media “scandal” — one probably intended to generate racial tensions in advance of the midterm elections — but it’s preferable to get the facts first.

This afternoon, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees the USDA, said he’s the one who made the decision — the White House didn’t pressure Vilsack or Sherrod. From the cabinet secretary’s statement:

“Yesterday, I asked for and accepted Ms. Sherrod’s resignation for two reasons. First, for the past 18 months, we have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices. Second, state rural development directors make many decisions and are often called to use their discretion. The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia.

“Our policy is clear. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA and we strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person. We have a duty to ensure that when we provide services to the American people we do so in an equitable manner. But equally important is our duty to instill confidence in the American people that we are fair service providers.”

That’s fine, but I’m left with two questions:

1. The next time a right-wing website releases a video like this, can skepticism please rule the day until all the facts are out?

2. Since Sherrod didn’t do what she was accused of, can Vilsack re-hire her for the job?