Has the US right-wing media finally gone too far?
It all started a couple of days ago, after right-wing doyen and Internet loudmouth Andrew Breitbart claimed to have uncovered damning video of a (black) Department of Agriculture employee named Shirley Sherrod admitting to discriminating against a white farmer – or not giving ‘the full force’ of her help to him. As you can see from the link, he went ballistic, popping his digital veins in a spittle-flecked rant about ‘racism’ and the hypocrisy of the left.
It was a bad video. She looked as though she was revelling in her apparent racism, at one point saying:
“What he didn’t know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me was, I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him,” she said. “I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough.”
Breitbart, who has a history of splenetic extreme-right agitation, was using it as a counterpoint to the Left’s constant assault on his beloved Tea Party. Fox News went hard at it, it hit the blogosphere, and suddenly the full machinery of the conservative hate machine was swinging into play. In short order, Shirley Sherrod was sacked by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, apparently with the cognizance of the White House.
Conservatives didn’t have much time to celebrate their scalp, and their proof that the Left is all up’n racist, because it turned out that the 2:36 of video Breitbart had published was slightly edited. Well, heavily edited. The full video emerged within 48 hours. It was 43 minutes long, and contextualises the anecdote – she related the event because it helped her overcome her own prejudices. She admitted she had been wrong, and was in fact talking about how to beat racism! And, you’ll note, the farmer in question’s wife named Sherrod as a ‘friend for life’.
If nothing else, this demonstrates the current power of the right-wing media in the US at the moment; they can push any old paranoid fantasy out through the gate, and manufacture a storm in the mainstream media, who seem to feel duty-bound to report rumours as fact until shown otherwise.
Cue grovelling apologies from the White House and the Department of Agriculture, and an offer of reinstatement. It’s not being left at that, though. After months of stoically trying to deflect the Right’s attacks off its own chin, the Left now seems to be gearing up to make this little flashpoint into an actual fight. Breitbart, who may have done this sort of thing before, stands accused of deliberately distorting the facts, and there’s talk of libel suits and reporting Fox to the FCC. It’s all very exciting, because, as noted, the Left normally just buries its head in the sand at the first sight of partisan media trouble.
Despite all this, and despite all those other times the conservative media has attempted to mould the truth, history tells us that not much will happen. Perhaps Breitbart will get served, and perhaps he’ll have to pay some damages. However, he’s a wealthy man, and he’ll be able to suck it up and keep sounding off, maybe just a little more careful than before, in the full knowledge that even his failed rumours are doing real damage to the Obama administration.
Fox News, meanwhile, will also shrug it off. They’ve already spun on a ha’penny and started howling about how Sherrod shouldn’t have been sacked – yet more demonstration that they run nimble rings around the White House.
Breitbart, for his part, remains unrepentantly belligerent. He’s claiming that the so-called farmer’s so-called wife is a plant. What a gent.
Picture credit: Getty Images
Recent Posts on The Foreign Desk
- Rahul Gandhi's on a trip that maybe shouldn’t end
- Indian government tries to block revealing BBC rape film
- India’s Budget wins on the economy but is weak on inspiration
- Crowds at Lahore Lit Fest ignore bomb risks and raise hopes for Pakistan’s future
- Four years of public protest produce Modi and Kejriwal as India's leaders of change
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter