The Real Lesson

Published: July 26, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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After a week of sensational claims, a resignation, revelations, apologies, non-apologies, and hype surrounding wrongful allegations of racism against Shirley Sherrod, three points emerge:

Point 1. Andrew Breitbart, the faux journalist who broke the story of Sherrod’s faux racism refused to apologize after the truth came out.  While most of the media did a 180, includingFox’s Bill O’Reilly, Breitbart played the victim in countless interviews, saying he was only trying to set the record straight about the NAACP’s racist remarks against The Tea Party.

However, the saddest part to this episode is how many in the media jumped the gun on the original accusations and how slow some were to come back and not only call out the story for the lie that it was but discuss the decline in responsible reporting by those who pass themselves off as journalists.

There’s a difference between dissent and hate, and as we have seen too often, hate often masquerades as a kind of inane zealotry. Whatever you want to call it, wrong is wrong and it needs to be called out. In that department, CNN’s Anderson Cooper made the clearest argument of the week (July 21) when he not only addressed the Sherrod case, but the real elephant in the room.

“…a woman who gave the speech about the change in her outlook and her heart has been dragged through the mud and has had to prove she is not a racist. This can happen to anyone. And it is not right. Imagine it happening to you.

“The truth is, it can happen to anyone, and the truth does matter. But we live in an age where that simple fact is increasingly lost, as people on the right and the left, people who view things through the prism of politics and ideology, seek to score points by scoring scalps.

“Cable news is part of the problem. There’s no doubt about that. The left and the right have their own anchors who only report on the stories that suit their slant. That’s their right.

“But we think the truth matters. It’s even worse on the Internet, where there are no standards and where anonymity allows for the cruelest expressions of vitriol and hate.”

Cooper followed-up (July 22) with a stronger case that puts the question directly in front of the rest of us: Do we want the truth or misinformation whose purpose is to push a political agenda at the cost of an individual’s reputation?

“[Andrew Breitbart is] the only actor in this dismal drama that has not apologized to Ms. Sherrod. And in fact, today, he says he is the victim and that the Obama administration and mainstream media are out to destroy him…

“Now, calling what Mr. Breitbart does journalism is hard for those of us who actually check facts and try to be fair. I’m certainly not perfect and have made mistakes and have apologized for them. But journalism shouldn’t be about left and right. It should be about the truth.

“What Mr. Breitbart does and what others on the left and the right do may very well be what journalism has become, but it’s certainly not what it should be.

“Mr. Breitbart… told Politico — quote – ‘The desire here is to make it about me and not the Democratic establishment and theNAACP versus The Tea Party.’

“That’s been Mr. Breitbart’s excuse since it was revealed that his video was not what he said it was. He claims this was never about Shirley Sherrod. In fact, he said to Sean Hannity — quote – ‘I could care less about Shirley Sherrod, to be honest with you.’

“That is the one thing he has said that is indisputable. He does not care about Shirley Sherrod. He doesn’t care about making false allegations against her or ruining her career. Andrew Breitbart has his ideology. He believes he is right. And in his mind that justifies any action he takes.

“And that’s how ideologues think on the left and on the right. He posted a video clip that’s misleading? No problem if it helps you make your argument, if it helps boost visitors to your Web site…

“David Frum, a conservative, said on this program last night the problem is not liberalism or conservatism, its factionalism. Seeing the world through your own limited political lens and never admitting when you have made a mistake, never admitting the other side may be right some of the time, never doing anything that damages your faction.

“It’s a game for people like Mr. Breitbart and others. They don’t go out into the field and meet the people they are supposedly reporting on. They don’t go out and challenge their assumptions. They stay behind a desk and see the world as black or white, left or right. And it’s a lot more complex than that.”

Point 2.  If those individuals who position themselves as part of the media continue down this track you can expect more train wrecks that could, quite possibly, make the Sherrod case look like a walk in the park. The ultimate victim in this whole Us vs. Them battle will be an American public that won’t trust anyonewith the truth.

Point 3. The brightest part of the whole Sherrod episode came in Conservative Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journalcommentary on Saturday (July 24).

“Here’s a way to get some good,” Noonan writes. “This September, when school begins, we should make the speech required viewing in the nation’s high schools. It packs quite a lesson within quite a story…

“There is beauty in the speech and bravery too. It was brave because her subject wasn’t the nation’s failures and your failures but her failures. The beauty is that it deals with the great subject of our lives: how to be better, how to make the world better…

“So what are the lessons? That we’re all too quick to judge. That we don’t even let the evidence of our eyes stop us in our rush to judgment. You can’t see and hear Ms. Sherrod and fail to understand that she’s a thoughtful, serious person.

“That we are not skeptical enough of what new media can cook up in its little devil’s den. That anyone can be the victim of a high-tech lynching, and that because of this we have to be careful, slow down, look deeper. We live in a time when what you say is taped, and those tapes can be cut, and the cuts can be ruinous, and if you think it only happens to the rich and famous, think again. It’s coming to a theater near you.

“And for students? What can they learn? How about: Individuals can change, just like nations. They can get better, if they want to be.

“What’s more important than that? What do students need to hear more?”

AMEN, Peggy!


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