Conservatives (and no doubt some of the more thoughtful on the left) are mulling this incident with the video of Shirley Sherrod, Breitbart’s posting of it, and Sherrod’s subsequent resignation, under pressure, from her post with the federal government.
Rovin makes the point at Hot Air’s Green Room that the Alinskyite left has been basically hoist on its own petard in this instance – which in one sense is true, although I’m not sure we’ve seen the conclusion of the whole story yet.
It’s a valid question how “Alinskyite” the Breitbart editorial decision actually was. It appears the original video posting cut Ms. Sherrod’s comments off without her follow-on explanation, in the speech she was making, that she recognized the racism in her own attitude (toward a white farmer) during the incident she was describing. It seems unlikely that the Breitbart video editor didn’t recognize the mitigating quality of this acknowledgment by Sherrod.
But there is a difference between poor journalistic judgment and Alinskyite cherry-picking. Selecting the quotes or passages that make your point (as opposed to the original speaker’s) isn’t identical to selecting the ones that, out of context, make the speaker look bad. From what I can tell about this incident, it appears the Breitbart editorial decision fell in the gray area of potential overlap between these two practices, where a flashing neon light should have gone off for somebody.
**UPDATE** TOC rushed to publish, and has just learned that Breitbart says he received the video originally in its edited form. So the whole discourse here on editing video would be better couched as a comment on researching edited videos when they’re sent to you. Small-time bloggers don’t necessarily have the resources to do that (and should therefore be extremely careful what they link to), but Breitbart does have them. **UPDATE**
Video is a medium in which the editor of a clip has a special responsibility to ensure the full context is available, if he expects to be understood as showing good faith. A blogger quoting from another online source can simply link to the original and inherently make the whole context available, even if he doesn’t block-quote it from top to bottom. A video editor is presenting a stand-alone snatch of information or story, and should employ a stricter standard for what he decides to leave out.
So I do think Team Breitbart showed bad judgment in the editing of the original clip. Andrew Breitbart said on CNN that the purpose of airing the clip was not to attack Shirley Sherrod but to demonstrate that racist attitudes are common and receive sympathy at NAACP gatherings – with the larger point being that this is what the NAACP official recently accused the Tea Party movement of. Well and good; but the barest modicum of professionalism would, in my view, have chosen a different and less questionable point at which to cut the video clip off. Now that Glenn Beck has weighed in, the infosphere is buzzing with the mangled theme that Breitbart doctored the video (which I don’t think Beck said, and of which there is no evidence, but I am certainly seeing the garbled rumor crop up in my email queue and across a sampling of blogs). There’s is a negative theme developing about his editorial integrity that Breitbart could have avoided.
But all that said, the real story here is that there was no temperate, dispassionate due process applied by her superiors in the case of Ms. Sherrod’s job with the Department of Agriculture. The department simply reacted like Pavlov’s dog hearing a bell ring. Everyone feels sorry for Ms. Sherrod – I do myself – but the fact is that she did say what she was captured saying in the video of the NAACP event (a discourse that implied she treated a white farmer unfairly, although apparently the event she referred to occurred before she was employed with DOA). In no sense of justice does it matter whether Breitbart edited the video to cut off part of her comments. She said the words; she is not being accused falsely, and Agriculture should have had no difficulty obtaining the whole, unedited video, or investigating the event to which she alluded.
But it appears Agriculture didn’t try, before pressuring her to resign. And that is the problem. That’s the story here: she was pressured to resign over this, without the hearing and the review process that would have been required for the department to fire her. She was not given the benefit of the rule-of-law doubt that our governments at the federal and state level have routinely proclaimed to be unbreachable for all workers, public and private. Should any American, of any race or ethnicity, be subject to that?
And as Rovin implies, what we need to remember is who carried out this kind of mob rule: this abandonment of the rule of law because of a passing paroxysm of sentiment. If George W. Bush were still in office, I am very certain that Shirley Sherrod would not have been pressured to resign without the due process to which all federal employers are entitled under the U.S. Code.
Cross-posted at Hot Air.