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Lessons from the Shirley Sherrod case

By Scott Tibbs, July 28, 2010

Last week, Andrew Breitbart posted a clip of Shirley Sherrod sharing a story of how she initially did not want to help a white farmer save his farm because of bitterness at the way black farmers had been treated. The clip was only the beginning of the story she shared - she realized her initial reaction had been wrong, and the Washington Post reports that "she had been instrumental in saving the man's farm." The damage had been done before the full story came out - her reputation had been harmed and the Obama Administration forced her to resign.

Of course, it was the Obama administration who forced her to resign - not Andrew Breitbart, not Bill O'Reilly and not Rush Limbaugh. Fearing a political backlash, the Obama administration was as guilty of rushing to judgment as anyone else. The Obama Administration bears the greatest responsibility because they are the ones who actually have the power to preserve or destroy Sherrod's career. This was primarily the Obama Administration's failure.

The lesson here for bloggers and pundits on both sides is we have to be careful in how we report things. (Ask Rush Limbaugh about being taken out of context.) I had not commented on the Sherrod case until now, because I had not followed the story at all last week and finally got caught up on Sunday. Because of this, I was lambasted by Leftists and accused of lying because I refrained from making a value judgment without all the facts.

Nonetheless, while both video clips and written editorials can be mined for inflammatory statements taken out of context, the error we now face is going to the other extreme and refusing to trust even the most obvious evidence. When a thug Congressman was caught on tape physically assaulting student journalists, there was no "context" needed to explain his criminal behavior. When Baron Hill berated a college student for trying to tape his town hall meeting (and had a meltdown afterward) there was no "context" needed to explain his arrogance.

I have been called a liar for posting a video showing Elena Kagan refusing to admit that she wrote a memo that was clearly in her handwriting. She did finally admit to writing the memo, but only after she was cornered and had no other choice. My statement was clearly accurate: Kagan did refuse to admit authorship of the memo even when confronted by irrefutable evidence that she wrote it. Her decision to admit authorship later was a political decision, because continuing to flagrantly lie about it would have destroyed her chances of being on the Supreme Court.

The lessons of the Sherrod case are clear: we should not rush to judgment before we have all the facts, but we should not refrain from judgment when there are clearly more than enough facts to discern what had happened.