Media-circus ringmaster Andrew Breitbart, the self-styled scourge of everything liberal and politically correct, has really outdone himself this time. With the help of Fox News—and, truth be told, key members of the Obama administration—he has made the president’s minions look like clowns.
White House operatives are twisting themselves into a pretzel of apparent spinelessness and foolishness over the abrupt firing—and what is likely to be the hasty promotion—of Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, a middle-aged African-American woman, for supposed racial discrimination against white farmers that she never endorsed and certainly didn’t commit.
Full clip of the controversial portion of Shirley Sherrod's speech at the Freedom Fund Banquet.
For President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack—who obtained Sherrod’s resignation shortly after Breitbart posted a deviously edited video Monday purporting to show her gloating to an NAACP crowd that she uses her powerful position to disadvantage whites—it’s a political firestorm.
For the media-savvy Breitbart, it’s an unalloyed triumph—even better than last year’s redacted videos of a fake pimp and prostitute seeking business advice from ACORN, which resulted in Congress voting to defund the community group. But lest anyone think he’s savoring his moment in the sun, he says think again.
“I hate this!” Breitbart told me Wednesday morning. “I feel bad for this lady.”
“It shows that there’s a double standard and hypocrisy,” Breitbart said. “The fact that they made it about her, and not about the double standard, showed that their hands were caught in the cookie jar.”
Breitbart was on the phone from JFK, getting ready to board a flight back to his Los Angeles lair after a dizzying round of New York media appearances to discuss and defend all the mischief he’s caused.
“I’m sick of seeing my face on television,” he claimed, although he sounded energized and refreshed—eager for battle.
• Lloyd Grove: Andrew Breitbart, Mad As HellOn Wednesday afternoon, as the Sherrod incident inevitably metamorphosed into an endless, inescapable video loop on cable news, a chagrined Vilsack was desperately trying to reach her to offer his abject apology. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs twitted Vilsack and Co. for “act[ing] without all the facts.”
“Without a doubt, Ms. Sherrod is owed an apology—and I do so on behalf of this administration,” Gibbs, speaking for Obama, said at his afternoon briefing.
Was anyone at the White House involved in her dismissal?
“Not to my knowledge,” Gibbs answered, leaving plenty of wiggle-room.
An hour later, Secretary Vilsack publicly flagellated himself for the flap, announcing to a news conference that he had finally talked to Sherrod, received her forgiveness and offered her a higher-placed position in the Agriculture Department.
“This is a good woman. She has been put through hell.” Vilsack said. “I could have and should have done a better job.”
Breitbart, for his part, told me that when he posted the original redacted video Monday on his BigGovernment.com blog, he didn’t realize that it had been severely edited to distort Sherrod’s message of racial conciliation into the opposite of its intended meaning.
“[Breitbart's source] told me about this back in early April—he said ‘I just heard a really sensitive speech, where this lady recounts this story and the entire audience affirms it,’ ” Breitbart said about the unidentified man who provided the video of Sherrod’s March 27 speech, adding that he can’t explain the highly selective editing. “I don’t know this person. I can’t divine what that person’s motivation was. I don’t know.”
In the full video—which Breitbart has since posted as well—Sherrod tells NAACP members about her experience decades ago as a case-worker for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund helping a financially strapped white farmer, and how she overcame her own prejudices to embrace the notion that whites and blacks share common interests and problems. “When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people and to black people only,” Sherrod tells the crowd. “But [with God’s grace] you realize that the struggle is really about poor people.”
I asked Breitbart if he regretted posting the redacted video: Wouldn’t the full context of Sherrod’s words be considered exculpatory? “’Exculpatory’ is in the eye of the beholder,” Breitbart answered. He stoutly defended his redacted video, claiming that the audience’s approving response to Sherrod’s confession—of initially not wanting to help the white farmer more than minimally necessary—demonstrates that the NAACP is guilty of the same racially charged attitudes for which the civil-rights organization recently slammed Tea Party activists.
Within hours of Breitbart’s post, Fox News stars such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity were inaccurately presenting her remarks as though they reflected the current policy at the Department of Agriculture, and demanded her head on a pike. Weirdly, the NAACP, which had access to her full remarks, joined in calling for Sherrod’s resignation—and Vilsack followed suit.
“It shows that there’s a double standard and hypocrisy,” Breitbart said. “The fact that they made it about her, and not about the double standard, showed that their hands were caught in the cookie jar…They threw her under the bus…The message to the NAACP is that two can play at this game.”
Breitbart accuses the NAACP and others of dividing the country along racial lines by inventing confrontations that he insists just never happened (notably the notorious n-word epithets that Tea Partiers allegedly shouted at black congressmen on the Capitol steps during the health-care debate).
Surprisingly, the otherwise voluble blogger declined to weigh in on whether Tea Party Express mouthpiece and talk-radio jock Mark Williams deserved to be expelled from the movement for his much-reviled “satirical” letter to Abraham Lincoln in which emancipated “colored people” supposedly demand that the president restore them to slavery because it’s “a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house.”
“I do not have an opinion on that,” Breitbart insisted. “If I did have to say something, I’d refer to Jonathan Swift as it relates to trying to make a post regarding race: You’d better be damned good.”
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.