Readers outside the US may or may not hear about the Shirley Sherrod controversy, so I’ll summarize.
Ms. Sherrod is apparently a woman of great character. As a black child in Georgia in the early 1960’s, she had to cope with the killing of her father, for which the known killer, a white man, was never arraigned. Apparently, in her youth she had resentment toward white people. This is understandable to say the least. She discussed this at a talk at the NAACP which is embroiled in racial controversy with the “Tea Party”. A couple of things she said were clipped out of context, leaving the casual viewer with the impression that she, in her current post as an executive in the US Department of Agriculture, currently treats black people preferentially to white people. In fact this was exactly the opposite of the point of her talk. This was picked up by a certain rightwing flak by the name of Breitbart who runs some sort of nasty right wing web site; there is no proof either way whether Breitbart himself had anything to do with editing the file. On Monday, with some cover from NAACP itself, she was summarily dismissed (stricly speaking, her resignation was demanded). It’s clear that the Agriculture Secretary was personally involved, and there’s some doubt as to how much direct White House input there was.
I don’t need to go into any more detail. There must be a million words on this on the net already.
Another innocent career casually destroyed by the right wing, right? Ho-hum.
If you ask why the outrage of “climategate” gets no attention, why the Cuccinelli abuse of power gets a shrug, here’s your answer. This is business as usual in America.
So why all the attention to Shirley Sherrod after all? Why the million words? Three reasons:
1) Ms. Sherrod did not take this lying down
2) Ms. Sherrod has some prominent friends
3) Ms. Sherrod tracked down the entire videotape
All of which led to a decisive vindication in a short time.
The first I heard of the story was on NPR Tuesday evening, by which time it was clear that Ms. Sherrod had not just done nothing wrong, but in fact had done a great deal very right. For her to be summarily dismissed by the white house on the word of an iresponsible blogger (who in fact had been responsible for the equally reprehensible, malicious, and misleading destruction of the voting rights non-profit group ACORN) is a bit baffling, but a little bit of panic at the White House and the NAACP is really not the issue. The issue is the reprehensible misrepresentation of well-intentioned human beings by a reputation-destruction industry aimed squarely at responsible decent and talented black people, especially ones from impoverished backgrounds who have had the nerve to actually lift themselves out of poverty and desperation.
Now this particular segment of the reputation-destruction industry is perhaps a bit more sinister than the one aimed at climate scientists, because it preys on old and deep wounds in American society, rather than working assiduously to create new ones.
CNN’s coverage of the matter has been surprisingly solid; the first serious bit of mass media journalism I’ve seen in years. I think they are pissed off, though, precisely because Anderson Cooper is a personal friend of Shirley Sherrod. He said so.
But the similarity of the attack is hard to miss. So one lesson for climate scientists is to have friends in the media; not just contacts (which is easy) but friends. The trouble is, climate scientists live in college towns, not New York or DC. (Notable exceptions: Hansen, Schmidt.) Journalism is like a branch of government, with a pecking order, and the big dogs are in New York or DC; you can’t affect national media very effectively from Boulder or San Diego or Woods Hole or Madison. We may have trouble on that front.
But the other lesson is to concede nothing, to take nothing under advisement, to save sensible compromise for honest and decent opposition. They will win some and lose some; when they lose one they will slither away quickly throwing a couple of distracting snarks at side issues. But they will concede nothing. At best they will choose someone else’s life to wreck.
This whole phenomenon appears to be a British import, judging from the egregious Mr. Dellingpole and his ilk. Regardless, it must stop.
Human civilization is at risk directly from these people. We won’t have time for climate change to destroy us if these people continue to have their way. By the time we start running out of food, at this rate we won’t be much worth saving anyway. We’ll just have sunk into barbarism.
In a world like this, it’s such a relief to have a rare victory for the forces of civilization.
So bravo Ms. Sherrod! Congratulations! My hat is off to you!
And to the rest of the world, and to the press, and to other targets of intimidation and slander, and to the White House, and especially to responsible, rational conservatives, please, for God’s sake, grow a spine. Shirley Sherrod can show you how it’s done.
Update: Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo:
as disappointing as Tom Vilsack’s first crack at this was, the idea that he or Obama is the bad guy in this story is not only preposterous but verging on obscene. It’s like the NYPD as the bad guy in the Son of Sam saga because they didn’t catch David Berkowitz fast enough. Or perhaps that the real moral of the story is that the woman with the stalker should have been more focused on personal data security. Not for some time has something so captured the essential corruption of a big chunk of what passes as ‘right wing media’ (not all, by any means, but a sizable chunk along the Breitbart/Fox/Hannity continuum) and the corruption of the mainstream media itself as this episode.
I highly recommend the TPM article. This is yet another recounting that, if you read it with climate politics in mind, goes a long way toward putting our own problems into perspective in the contemporary political/journalistic disaster.