There's nothing shocking or surprising about the latest Andrew Breitbart scam in which he released selectively-edited video of an African American USDA worker, Shirley Sherrod, and accused her of racism against a white farmer couple, the Spooners. That's not to suggest we shouldn't be vigorously talking about it. We absolutely should be. But the most outrageous aspects of the story are fairly typical of everyone involved: Breitbart, the so-called "liberal" news media, Democrats, Fox News Channel and all points in between.
For background purposes, it's important to note that Andrew Breitbart is an attention-whore who is desperate to emulate his mentor, Matt Drudge, and this isn't the first time he's released misleading videotape "evidence" of African Americans behaving badly (or so he claims) in order to drive traffic to his various websites while augmenting his status as a player in the modern conservative movement. He previously engaged in the same chicanery when he released heavily edited and ultimately phony Jackass-style videos in which, he alleges, ACORN workers had given inappropriate advice to a (fake) pimp and a (fake) prostitute who were, among other things, seeking to engage in human trafficking. The videos turned out to be misleading at best, and the fake pimp character went on to plead guilty to charges of entering federal property under false pretense.
Breitbart scammed nearly everyone on the ACORN videos including people who should have known better, like, for example, Jon Stewart.
Breitbart has done it again. This time, he's flimflammed the White House, the NAACP and the traditional news media.
None of this is a particularly big shocker, of course. This is what Breitbart does. He's another Karl Rove type in that his entire modus operandi is to tangle the debate -- to be an instigator. To kerfuffle everyone he engages until the discourse has become so confused, skewed and tangential that he's able to walk away more or less unscathed while the targets of his regularly scheduled crusades are often damaged beyond repair. ACORN is a national pariah. And this week, a decent woman is out of a job.
By the way, also not shocking here is the fact that, once again, the far-right is targeting someone who is more or less a noncombatant. This isn't the first time far-right operatives, bloggers or Fox News hosts have targeted people who aren't participants in bigtime political discourse and who certainly don't have the wherewithal to defend themselves against, in the case of Fox News, one of the largest media organizations in the world.
These aren't fair fights. The far-right media has previously targeted schools, small town school administrators and, more times than I can count, children -- often outing the geographic locations of these victims. And now, Breitbart and Fox News can add a notch in their pitchforks and torches for Shirley Sherrod, a low level government worker who did nothing wrong and who didn't deserve to lose her job or to undergo this kind of media scrutiny.
What a coup, Breitbart. Who's next? The assistant to the deputy undersecretary for paper clips and doodads?
Yesterday, on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Margaret Carlson, who is normally one of the more measured and smart analysts on MSNBC, was aghast at the edited video of Sherrod's speech. Carlson compared Sherrod to disgraced tea party leader Mark Williams and exclaimed, "It's every bit as hateful [as the New Black Panther video]. Look at that woman! I mean, aren't you ashamed?"
It's possible, however unlikely, that the Morning Joe crew and Carlson were unaware of who released the tape. But at some point, journalistic instincts and restraint ought to kick in when it comes to a random videotape excerpt from a previously unknown speaker. Instead, the panel, like the White House and the NAACP, were outraged by Sherrod's out of context remarks without bothering to investigate the source of the video and whether that source was credible. Today, on Morning Joe, Mark Whitaker and Mark Halperin were quick to indict the president while ignoring the initial media hysteria around the video. Halperin went so far as to warn the Democrats of repercussions in the midterms. Repercussions from whom? African Americans? It comes as no surprise that Halperin didn't warn of repercussions against either Breitbart or his co-conspirator Fox News Channel.
And this will all happen again. Why? Because the traditional news media and, to a certain extent, the Democrats including the president, are too easily cowed by right-wing freakouts.
In fact, it's happening again as I write this.
As near as I can ascertain, every cable news reporter covering this story is taking Breitbart at his word that he received the Sherrod video pre-edited and that he hadn't seen the full speech until after he published his irresponsible, masturbatory screed -- as though Breitbart still has credibility. This scam artist is going around to every camera he can find and suggesting that his "source" only sent him the so-called "racist" part of the video, but not the full Sherrod speech. And no one is challenging him on this, or even asking him whether he himself edited the video to take out of context the remarks about helping the Spooners. This hack just engaged in yet another scam in which he duped the traditional press, and yet the traditional press is taking his mea culpa -- his "but... but... but..." at face value.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration and the NAACP kneejerked as soon as the Breitbart story broke and almost immediately demanded that Sherrod resign her post.
One of the reasons I so vocally and enthusiastically endorsed and supported the Obama campaign was because he seemed like a new and different kind of Democrat. Someone who wouldn't collapse under pressure from the wingnut right. Sure, he spoke a lot about bipartisan cooperation, but I never got the impression the president would easily succumb to the crazies. While I still believe he's a new kind of Democrat, I'm not entirely confident in his ability to call bullshit on the bullshitters and stand by his team in a fight. Too many good people have been too easily jettisoned because of loud noises from Fox News and AM radio. I get this idea of picking one's battles, but this was an easily winnable fight and they still caved.
Though I'm not sure this is a trait reserved for Democratic politicians alone. Almost since I began writing this column, friends, commenters and colleagues have suggested that we simply ignore attacks from Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or Drudge. If we constantly fire back, they say, then we're only increasing the visibility of the usual suspects and welcoming a counterattack. Last week, Dave Weigel, a reporter who I normally admire, advised that we avoid the debate about the tea party and racism because it invites a "backlash" from the right. It's baffling to me that so many otherwise smart people would want to walk away from injustices like these simply to avoid the subsequent loud noises from the right. This attitude is what helped to marginalize and weaken liberals and progressives for too many years. An unwillingness to fight.
It's a shame because there's a broader point here and a growing misperception about racial bigotry circulating around the conventional wisdom. While I'm sure anyone could track down examples of anti-white bigotry by African Americans, I'm also sure if you tried hard enough you could also track down gnat shit in a pepper shaker. In other words, yes, there are black people who dislike and distrust white people because of race. Much of that hatred has to do with 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow laws -- scars that haven't yet healed, and understandably so.
But to suggest there's an equivalency here, or systemic harm from anti-white bigotry is laughable. African Americans are 12.4 percent of the U.S. population (not the commonly and inaccurately repeated 30 percent). Whites are 75 percent of the population. To listen to the tea party or Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, you'd think whites were a meek and defenseless minority being crushed under the boot of a powerful black majority.
Even if Sherrod's remarks were flat out racist (they weren't), and even if her remarks were representative of the views of most blacks and the NAACP, it's numerically impossible for the sum total of 12.4 percent of the population to oppress 75 percent of the population. There's no way. In short: there is no threat of widespread anti-white bigotry. None. Sure, we have an African American president. But the vast majority of the American government is white. President Obama is the first black president out of 44. The U.S. Senate is widely and disproportionately white (and male). There's one African American member of the Supreme Court, and he's a Republican. I'll stop here because it's absurd that I have to enumerate the minority status of African Americans in government leadership when it ought to be obvious to anyone with a brain -- even if the brain resides under a pointy white hood.
And now, Breitbart is using some sort of hamfisted logic to insist that he proved his point about the alleged hypocrisy of the NAACP's resolution regarding the tea party and race. (Breitbart also accused the white farmer couple, the Spooners, of being plants.)
If, in fact, Breitbart's agenda was seriously more than just satisfying his own narcissism -- if his agenda was to seriously point out anti-white bigotry among black people, he was doomed to fail. Partly because his lies were easily and quickly exposed by CNN, and because there's no threat whatsoever from anti-white bigotry. In order to prove a point and to defend the tea party, the only evidence of anti-white bigotry he could find within the NAACP was a speech by an obscure government worker from Georgia, and the speech turned out to be a speech in opposition to anti-white bigotry.
Somehow in Breitbart's twisted gourd this is equivalent to tea party leaders engaging in Southern Strategy politics, race-baiting and, in the case of Dale Robertson and Mark Williams, outright racism -- this deliberately misleading videotape of a virtually unknown official is equivalent to Rush Limbaugh's constant racial stereotyping or members of Congress validating the Birthers or the wide variety of racist mailers and rally signs.
Breitbart has only succeeded in underscoring how much of a buffoon he is. But somehow he managed to sell his buffoonery to the news media, to the NAACP and to the White House who, by their cowardice, only managed to empower him, making it more likely he'll keep trying. I wonder who will be fired and disgraced next. Unless there are serious changes, it certainly won't be the operatives responsible for these hoaxes.