Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oops!

A rightwing blogger started it, some of the national media piled on, including FOX News, and then the Secretary of Agriculture and the President of the NAACP got sucked in.

And Mrs. Shirley Sherrod was the piƱata, getting smacked around by all of them.

The “former” USDA employee was forced to resign from the Agriculture Department almost immediately after Blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an edited and misleading video of comments Mrs. Sherrod made at a local NAACP meeting in Georgia last March.

The 2-minute, 38-second video was lifted out of a longer speech she made. It made it sound as if years ago, she failed to help a white farmer who was about to lose his farm. She said she was tempted to do less than was required by her job more than 20-years ago,to help the man because he was white and because whites in the South had treated blacks that way in the past.

Without hearing the rest of the “lesson” that she was trying to convey, the President of the National NAACP was put on the spot by reporters and he quickly condemned her statement as racist and called for her ouster. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack quickly responded to the reports of her so-called “racists” remarks and had Mrs. Sherrod’s supervisor call her in her car and ask for her resignation.

The full video later turned up and was forward to the NAACP and some news rooms. NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said his organization was “snookered” into reacting. And the Obama Administration, which publicly supported the Secretary’s actions, based on the misleading and out-of-context reporting by Fox and others, ended up with egg on its face, as did Jealous and Vilsack when the full story surfaced.

The next morning NBC Today Host Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Sherrod and asked her if this wasn’t an “oops” kind of moment for her former Agency, the White House and the NAACP.

She was very gracious and measured with her words. And before the day was over, the NAACP President, the White House and Secretary Vilsack publicly apologized and the Secretary offered her a new job with the USDA leading the agency on civil rights issues. She agreed to consider the offer.

The question is what happened? Who was responsible? Why did such an injustice occur?

Mrs. Sherrod came out the best. She never over-reacted. She was gracious in her response to media inquiries. She did not lash out at her critics or say anything inappropriate.

Vilsack was a little slow to fix a mess he helped make worse by jumping to a conclusion, but he did ultimately take responsibility and said, “She’s been put through hell and I could have done, and should have done, a better job.” And he added, “She was extraordinarily gracious.”

Of course it’s easy to blame the blogger who first posted the misleading video and equally easy to point a finger at FOX News and other rightwing leaning news shops who seem to always be looking for opportunities to pile-on, in what appears to be an ongoing attack on the “liberal” Democrats in Washington.

There are several lessons.
1. Make sure you have the facts before you insert foot in mouth and bite down hard!
2. Be careful and gracious when under attack – especially if you did nothing wrong.
3. When you over-react and speak out of turn, take responsibility and own-up as quickly as possible.
4. In spite of the preaching of one of our competitors who says apologies are over rated, apologize quickly and earnestly and then set about fixing whatever needs fixing.

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