Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is This What Public Debate Is Supposed To Look Like?

If you follow the 24-hour news cycle, you've undoubtedly heard about Shirely Sherrod, the official at the Department of Agriculture who was forced out earlier this week in the wake of a scandal earlier this week, only to be rehired yesterday when it was determined the scandal was all a misunderstanding caused by a selectively edited video. Needless to say, it's been an odd couple of days. The selectively edited video was originally posted by Andrew Breitbart on the Big Government page of his conservative news empire, showing Sherrod (who is black) making seemingly racist statements about refusing to help white farmers. The media machine swung into action following the posting of the clips and in no less than 24 hours, Sherrod was condemned by the NAACP and her resignation was demanded by Department of Agriculture Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. Only problem was, the clips were part of a longer, anti-racist speech and the particular incident which was designed to sound racist through the selective editing was actually a turning point in Ms. Sherrod's life. She actually did help the white farmers who she had at first thought disparagingly of, and those same white farmers are still grateful to her today.

The weirdest part of this story was not the selectively edited clips would be taken out of context, nor that the government migth chose to react so quickly without knowing all the facts, but that the NAACP was so quick to condemn Sherrod, given that the speech in question had occurred at an NAACP event only a few months ago and that the they had the full video before any of the news broke.

There are all sorts of angles to take in regards to this bizarre story, but I think Glenn Greenwald is on the right track in condemning everyone involved. We're talking about powerful media figures, powerful organizations, and the all-powerful federal government, none of whom did the slightest bit of investigation before condemning a woman who is very arguably not any sort of public figure.

The other weird part of the story is Andrew Breitbart's continued defense of the decision to post the edited version of the speech (which, according to him, he did not know at the time). According to Breitbart, posting the clips was, in part, a response to the NAACP's call to the Tea Party to condemn the racist elements in it's mix. Clearly Andrew Breitbart does not want to be taken seriously as a journalist or anything closely resembling a journalist, or there'd be no reason to post an un-investigated story for the purpose of one-upping one's political enemies. But that doesn't bother me so much as the fact that Breitbart or those who rush to his defense are essentially saying that this is how political debate should work.

Obviously, a government official abusing his or her power is a noteworthy story, but it's also the sort of accusation that should be thoroughly investigated and not be made based solely on a video clip. But that wasn't the point in posting the video, the point was to counter the ridiculous accusations of Tea Party racism with more clips of blacks saying racist things about whites. It's the same reason those who watch Fox News have been inundated with clips of the New Black Panthers saying and doing ridiculous things. And what's mind-blowing is far as I'm concerned is this seemingly prevalent view that this is an appropriate form of public discourse.

Switch back to our discussions on the blog about liberaltarians and the future of libertarianism and remember that the whole debate is about ideas and the future of ideas. It's mud-slinging nonsense like this that has me convinced that libertarians really are smarter than everyone else out there. This whole sordid saga is not necessarily indicative of intellectual shallowness, but it is quite clearly a case of misplaced priorities. Rather than fighting Obamacare or any of the big government Democrat agenda through the power of ideas, Andrew Breitbart has instead chosen to play the "I'm not racist, you are" card. And so be it, if that's what he wants to do, but I don't see why thinking people should take him seriously.


Anonymous rose said...

(Sorry, but here comes another defense of conservatives. Predictable, I know.)

Here's the problem I have with equating the right and left on race issues. Every group has lunatics, but those lunatics don't neccessarily have the same influence in that group. Listing loons like Pat Buchanon and Breitbart doesn't prove anything. You gotta identify how important the people who are acting ridiculous are.

In this case, you've got the NAACP, an influential group with 500,000 members, versus Breitbart.

Also, since Obama was inaugurated, we've heard from past Presidents Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, Attorney general Eric Holder and Speaker Pelosi (just to name a few dem heavyweights) about how the Tea Party is driven by racism.

Next, most major news organizations pay a disproportionate amount of attention to any sniff of some loon at a tea party event.

Last, I think it is reasonable to still be disturbed by Obama's track record on race. I still can't comprehend how reasonable people can overlook Wright.

Of course, this sounds like a "yeah, but they did it first" type complaint and it basically is. Democrat and media heavyweights have been unfairly portraying opposition to Obama as racially motivated since day one. Obama is capable of running car companies and interjecting in civil disputes in Cambridge, Mass, but hasn't aggressively told the NAACP, or Pelosi, or Holder to quiet down once! Ticked off minorities are vital to democrats success and they're doing all they can to fire shit up.

Differentiate beteween Breitbart and Limbaugh-commentators selling entertainment-and politicians. I don't see conservative pols saying absurd things on race.

And yes, libertarians are definitely smarter. IQ is positively correlated with support for markets and liberal social policies.

12:13 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Here's the thing- You can condemn the way the left throws around accusations of racism and still point out that Breitbart doesn't come off so well, but I just don't see it (except of course, from libertarians).

My problem may be that I used to sort of like Breitbart. I remember him going on Bill Maher a year or two ago (the definition of a hostile environment) and Breitbart held his own while the other guests, Maher himself, and his audience of clapping seals attempted to tar him and all Republicans as racists. I've liked how Breitbart's guest appearances on Red Eye and the way in which he won't stand for snide little remarks that would color conservatives as racists, bigots, and homophobes. And maybe he's taken it all too personally, but whatever it is, I think what disturbs me so much is how much this nonsense takes away from real debate - how do you convince people to take the correct side on issues like government spending when this is what you get?

1:17 PM  
Anonymous rhofulster said...

"Listing loons like Pat Buchanon and Breitbart doesn't prove anything. You gotta identify how important the people who are acting ridiculous are."

Fox News is an order of magnitude more influential than the NAACP. Did you get even a glimpse of the 24 hour orgy Fox had slobbering over the "loon" Breitbart's video?

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Simon Jester said...

My biggest issue with this whole affair is that somehow the Sherrod case all is being blamed on Fox. No question Breitbart was totally in the wrong (the guy just lost the rest of the little creditability he had), but liberal media outlets like MSNBC, CNN and especially the Huffington Post are making this about Fox. They blame them for the firing when even the Washington Post and the far from friendly Media Matters actually agree that the firing happened before Fox News pushed the story. Once she was fired, the flood gates opened. And no wonder. Wouldn't you, as a news director, take her sacking as confirmation that the video was legit? Being the conservative station they are, of course Fox hit it hard. But they had nothing to do with her being fired. If I hear Sherrod in an interview one more time blaming them I am going to lose it. The amount of intermingling of media and government is now so high I am actually scared. I'm starting to wonder if there really isn't a Glenn Beck level of conspiracy on this one. Everyone has a spin. Everyone is untrustworthy. When people don't know who to trust, they run to the people that think like them. This just further entrenches their assumptions and beliefs even when they are wrong.

10:02 PM  

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