Tuesday, July 20, 2010

USDA official, victimized by selective use of video and forced out, is offered a new job

UPDATE, July 21: The White House apologized to Shirley Sherrod today; yesterday it asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reconsider his decision. Late today, Vilsack offered Sherrod a new job. He took responsibility for the debacle and said the decision "should have been done with far more thought and with much less haste." He reiterated that he made the decision without consulting the White House. Last night, Jake Tapper of ABC asked, "Did Vilsack know that the incident in question was in 1986 at a different place of employment when he issued his statement? An official with the Department of Agriculture concedes that he didn’t, but insisted that didn’t matter since her telling of the story in 2010 was the real issue." (Read more) The NAACP released the full video. Shepard Smith of Fox News criticized his own network today for airing the partial video from "a widely discredited website that has had inaccurate postings of videos in the past" without proper checking. He asked, "What in the world has happened to our industry and the White House?" Good question.

Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign her job as Rural Development director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Georgia this week because it was revealed that she told an NAACP banquet in March that she had only halfheartedly helped a farmer because he is white. The video was originally posted by BigGovernment.com "as part of the running feud between the NAACP and the Tea Party over which organization is more racist," Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. (Read more)

A caption on the video says Sherrod discriminated while in her USDA job, but she told reporters that the episode occurred in 1986, when she worked for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund, and the clip "excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with him and his wife," Marcus Garner of the AJC writes. "And I went on to work with many more white farmers," she told Garner. "The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it's about the people who have and the people who don't. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race." The farmer told TV networks that Sherrod saved his farm.

In a statement announcing Sherrod's resignation, Vilsack he sought it because "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."" (Read more)

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