Sherrod flap leads to apology

SHERROD FLAP LEADS TO APOLOGY…. In a rarity, CNN aired the White House press briefing live this afternoon, entirely because of the one subject the press corps was most interested in. The landmark Wall Street reform bill being signed into law? The vote on unemployment benefits Republicans are still blocking? Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico?

No, the story on the minds of political reporters is the firing of Shirley Sherrod.

One of the things I find interesting about the media’s coverage today is that it’s not following the usual model. There tends to be a trend — conservatives get worked up about something; Republicans make irresponsible allegations; and political reporters push the White House to respond. But in the Sherrod matter, Republicans aren’t saying a word — the media is interested because … the media is interested.

What’s more, note how that interest is manifesting itself. The media isn’t excoriating Breitbart, digging to find the original source of the video, or noting the racist themes in far-right attacks of late. Instead, it seems news outlets are fascinated by process, demanding to know who knew what when. Rather than quoting conservative Republicans in Congress going after the White House, the media has taken to highlighting concerns raised by liberal bloggers who are going after the White House.

For what it’s worth, the press briefing that got more attention than most featured a well-deserved apology.

The White House offered a full-throated apology to former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, calling her ouster as the result of an out-of-context video an “injustice,” and said the agriculture secretary is attempting to contact her to discuss “next steps.”

Press secretary Robert Gibbs conceded Wednesday afternoon that the government had acted rashly and without all the facts when it sought Sherrod’s resignation for racially themed comments she made during a recent speech to the NAACP. But Gibbs would not say whether Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will offer her job back.

“The secretary is trying to reach her. The secretary will apologize for the actions that have taken place in the past 24 to 36 hours,” he told reporters. “On behalf of the administration, I offer our apologies.”

Gibbs said he had talked about the situation Wednesday with President Obama, and said the president believes that “an injustice” had been done.

Good move. I get the sense that many of those who’ve been critical of the administration’s overreaction are looking for evidence that officials realize a mistake was made. The White House made that recognition clear.

The press secretary also suggested that it’s worth taking some time to consider how this mess happened in the first place — and that includes reporters he was speaking to directly: “I think everybody has to go back and look at what has happened over the past 24 to 36 hours, and ask ourselves how we got into this. How did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions?”