ou want to see media bias in action? Okay — look at the conservative media reaction to the firing of Shirley Sherrod.
Sherrod is the former U.S. Department of Agriculture employee fired for supposed anti-white racism. On July 19, Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com website posted a short video clip from a speech Sherrod had delivered to an NAACP gathering in March.
In the clip, Sherrod confessed to having deliberately declined on racial grounds to help a white farmer faced with a foreclosure on his farm. She was immediately terminated by the USDA and condemned by the national NAACP.
But a second look at the tape made it obvious that the tape had been severely edited, abruptly cut short. Within hours it emerged that the story on the tape was exactly the opposite of the story Breitbart had wanted to tell.
Sherrod was telling a story about overcoming her own racial antagonisms. She had repented, had helped the white farmer, had saved the farm, had formed a friendship with the farmer and his family that lasts to this day. Besides which: The episode in question dates back to 1986, long before Sherrod ever went to work at the USDA.
By the morning of July 20 the Sherrod-as-racist narrative had collapsed.
What is most fascinating about that second day, however, was the conservative reaction to the collapse. At midday on the 20th, Rush Limbaugh was still praising Breitbart: "I know that Andrew Breitbart's done great work getting this video of Ms. Sherrod at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her supposed racism and so forth saying she's not gonna help a white farmer."
By the evening of the 20th, however, conservatives were backing away, acknowledging that an innocent women had been defamed.
Here's Glenn Beck.
Here's Rich Lowry, editor of National Review.
Here's the popular Anchoress blog at First Things.
Even the racially incendiary Eric Erickson tweeted his disquiet, and then posted this on his RedState website.
But you’ll never guess who emerged as the villains of the story in this second-day conservative react. Not Andrew Breitbart, the distributor of a falsified tape. No, the villains were President Obama and the NAACP for believing Breitbart's falsehood.
Breitbart went almost universally unmentioned. Erickson even justified Breitbart's falsehood as a tragic but necessary and justifiable measure of conservative self-defense:
This is what we have become in politics because of the unrepentant race-baiting on the Left. It has become a tit for tat war of retribution. ... That war has casualties on both sides. Ms. Sherrod is the latest. It is not fair. But that’s how the Left plays and the Right must fight on offense or not fight at all. It disgusts me to have to say it, but that is so very sadly where we are."
Breitbart himself had this to say about those who would manipulate the public record for ideological purposes:
Journalists love whistle-blowers. Just not when the whistle is blown on them. Journalists love transparency. As long as they’re not the ones being exposed. No steadfast journalism rule is unbendable when it comes to justifying and protecting the racket that is modern journalism, specifically, political journalism in the United States today. The ends justify the means .... They lie when they claim to be objective. They lie when they claim to be unbiased, because these so called "truth seekers" are guilty of engaging in open political warfare. And when the whistle is blown, they simply double down.
But that of course was not a confession or apology. Breitbart continues to defend his own "ends justify the means" bending of the truth, as you can see here in this July 20 interview with CNN’s John King.
No, Breitbart’s indignant words on the 20th were aimed at another snippets-out-of-context scandal for the Right: the Daily Caller’s publication of quotations from the JournoList archive in which liberal activists and bloggers jeered George Stephanopoulos for asking Barack Obama about Jeremiah Wright.
Speaking on a liberal list serve, journalists had wondered how the Wright story could be stifled. One obnoxious young participant had even suggested that the story could be killed by hurling accusations of racism at conservative figures like Fred Barnes and Karl Rove. Conservatives exploded: The media were colluding to quash bad news about their beloved Obama! Only of course the Wright story was not quashed — unlike the story of Breitbart's role in Sherrod's firing, which has been, at least among conservatives.
On the phone on the evening of July 20, a friend asked me: "Can Breitbart possibly survive?" I could only laugh incredulously. I answered: "Of course he'll survive, and undamaged. The incident won't matter at all."
There will be no apology or statement of regret for distributing a doctored tape to defame and destroy someone. There will be not even a flutter of interest among conservatives in discussing Breitbart’s role. By the morning of July 21, the Fox & Friends morning show could devote a segment to the Sherrod case without so much as a mention of Breitbart’s role. The central fact of the Sherrod story has been edited out of the conservative narrative, just as it was edited out of the tape itself.
When people talk of the "closing of the conservative mind" this is what they mean: not that conservatives are more narrow-minded than other people — everybody can be narrow minded — but that conservatives have a unique capacity to ignore unwelcome fact.
When Dan Rather succumbed to the forged Bush war record hoax in 2004, CBS forced him into retirement. Breitbart is the conservative Dan Rather, but there will be no discredit, no resignation for him.
Instead, conservatives are consumed with a new snippets-out-of-context uproar, the latest round of JournoList quotations. Here at last is proof of the cynical machinations of the hated liberal media! As to the cynical machinations of conservative media — well, as the saying goes, the fish never notices the water through which it swims.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why is American internet so slow?
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- The new bride who had a horrifying allergic reaction to her husband's sperm
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
Subscribe to the Week