July 23rd, 2010
12:00 PM ET

Old MacDonald had a knee jerk

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/21/navarrette.sherrod.race/smlvid.shirley.sherrod.phone.cnn.jpg caption="The real issue here, however, is not racism. It’s reaction-ism." width=300 height=169]

If you notice political punditas walking around with neck braces this weekend, it may be because they were whiplashed by the story of Shirley Sherrod. She’s the Agriculture Department official who was given the bum’s rush out of her job after she made a speech that was clipped by a blogger, that was posted online, that seemed to be racist, that lay in the house that Jack built. Or something like that.

Ag Secretary Vilsack (who up until now was pretty much just the answer to a current affairs trivia question) apologized for unceremoniously heaving her from the loft. Seems her comments were taken out of context; that the speech was made long ago, and it was actually about the need to overcome racism in all its nasty forms. Imagine.

The real issue here, however, is not racism. It’s reaction-ism. For years, Washington and the political media have ramped up the feeding frenzy mentality that passes for news in the same sense that BP passes for an environmental group. The appetite for scandal begat a hunger for instant scandal begat a craving for anything that even looks like scandal, even if the facts haven’t fallen into the furrow.

After all, why coax the seed of truth, when you can pile up the fertilizer of sensationalism? The water falls from the blogosphere, or is piped in by political schemers, many of whom have only a passing familiarity with the truth even on their best days. Their real passion lies in winning. Both sides have pursued this kind of instant, public pillorying with such gusto that each is now terrified of it.

So something like the Sherrod story splashes across the headlines, the damage control police start ringing their alarm bells, and before there is even reasonable time for facts to be determined and weighed, rash action is launched. (As an aside, notice how quickly Washington can move when political image is at stake instead of, oh say, jobs or the Gulf of Mexico.)

I’m neither defending nor condemning Ms. Sherrod, because I’ll readily admit I don’t know enough about her case. But others had no problem choosing their course of action, with no more information. And as a result, the Ag Department, the Administration, and many in the DC media are reaping a bitter harvest.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Carol Erbes

    And so they should...what is that old timey saying....jump in haste, repent in leisure. Or something like that.

    I think Mrs. Sherrod is due all the apologies in the world....and to her I would say, you go girl! I think she is fully capable of sticking up for herself......no doubt learned in the process of sticking up for and assisting all the people she has thru the years. She seems to be the ultimate advocate for the "have nots", something we "haves" could learn do to more of as well. But that is just me.

    July 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  2. Vivien, NYC

    Totally agree that Washington over-reacted w/o investigating, but the news media also feeds this frenzy preferring irresponsible sensationalism to real news. It certainly makes me uneasy about both Washington's lack of research and basis for decision making as well as what I read in the papers.

    July 24, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  3. Arthur

    Cooper, does anyone know who funds Mr. Breitbart's blog site? Who are the entities that are supporting a guy who smears, lies, and ruins peoples job just to lie and play games of checkmate with the President?

    July 24, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  4. NeSS

    I was outraged when I heard about what was done to Ms. Sherrod and why (let's not forget that Un-BreitBart deliberately altered a piece of video speaking to one thing and deliberately turned it into something else – a Lie. He deliberately took into account (he had to, because he knew he was altering the video to score a Gottcha against the NAACP) that he could destroy a woman he knew nothing about in order to achieve his petty little 'revenge' goals. He is a Low-Life and the Poster Child for the real Tea Party that he has worked so deliberately to defend against this very thing. Hmmmm...

    Another gift to us in this inane debacle is the power of what Ms. Sherrod did, said, and spoke to: THIS IS ABOUT CLASS and RACISM is a TOOL of separation, division and hatred – as are other things.

    It's about the Haves using whatever they can to keep the Have-Nots not having.

    July 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  5. E.Sharrow

    Of course it comes down to this: dirty tricks in the blogosphere and perception wins over truth.Are there consequences for bloggers who plant the lie?

    July 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  6. TravelersShorts

    To the writer, Tom Foreman, you say in this same article: "...The water falls from the blogosphere, or is piped in by political schemers, many of whom have only a passing familiarity with the truth even on their best days..." AND you say, "I’m neither defending nor condemning Ms. Sherrod, because I’ll readily admit I don’t know enough about her case..." Aren't you just another example of media with an appetite for scandal? You even admit here that you personally have not taken the time to allow this Shirley Sherrod story to "fall into furrow" for YOU, yourself. You should practice what you preach. You are simply glomming on to the scandal like everyone else for no other apparent reason than to parody yourself and the rest.

    July 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  7. sophia

    the whole thing about them saying that it wasnt about racism is a lie. just a cover up. if thats what it was thats they would Have said from the get go

    July 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm |

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