In the days after Andrew Breitbart's media empire succeeded in forcing the Obama administration to fire U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod over comments she made in a speech to the NAACP, a number of events have cast serious doubts on the campaign against Shirley. The video of Sherrod's full speech appears far less damaging than the edited version, the Department of Agriculture suggests it will reconsider her firing (but she might not go back), and the wife of the farmer against whom Sherrod supposedly discriminated has come out in defense of the USDA official, calling her a "friend for life." Clearly Sherrod's crimes were exaggerated and many now think her firing premature. But what role did the media play in her demise? Several high-profile commentators are undergoing some serious soul-searching over the media's role and the nature of the media today.
- 'Agenda-Driven Infotainment' Taking Over NBC News' Chuck Todd gets introspective on Twitter. "Every time you think the 'media' has hit an all-time low, the bottom falls out. ... more of us simply want to cover the story, most of us don't have bias... But the few that do dominate the landscape. ... I think a lot of folks know what happened today and know it's a problem. ... Scarier folks are those w/camera and agenda pretending to be journalists. That's who public and media fear. ... it's sad so-called MSM has been bludgeoned and sullied by agenda-driven infotainment to make you and others distrust so much."
- Cycle of Media 'Self-Flagellation' Continues The Atlantic's Joshua Green writes:
Awhile back, particularly during the Clinton administration, the media would flagellate itself every so often for rushing, lemming-like, to cover some story or other that was being touted on the Drudge Report, and then, after a period of reflection, deciding that it shouldn't be. There was usually a Howard Kurtz column to demarcate such an episode. But the recidivism rate was high. Invariably, the media would chase the next Drudge rumor, and the whole cycle would repeat.
That doesn't seem to happen anymore, at least not with Drudge. But it does happen, and more powerfully than ever, with Andrew Breitbart, who has inherited Barnum's instinct for what will cause a circus and the certainty that suckers are still being born every minute. One difference is that Drudge usually focused on sex scandals and tawdry personal humiliations, which, in the end, is hardly worth getting worked up about. Yes, yes, shame on reporters for taking the bait. But c'mon.
Breitbart focuses on race.
- Race-Based Conspiracy Theories Dominate Coverage The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson write, "A fuzzy video of an Agriculture Department official opened a new front Tuesday in the ongoing war between the left and right over which side is at fault for stoking persistent forces of racism in politics. ... Suspicions on the right that Obama has a hidden agenda -- theories stoked in part by conservative media and sometimes involving race -- have been a subplot of his rise, beginning almost as soon as he announced his campaign. They lie beneath many of the questions that conservatives on the political fringes have raised about his motives, his legitimacy and even his citizenship. On the other hand, some of the president's allies on the left have at times reflexively seen racism as the real force behind the vehemence of the opposition against Obama's policies and decisions."
- Breitbart 'Hacking' the Media Wired's Noah Shachtman wrote in a prescient March profile, "One thing Breitbart will say about [Matt] Drudge, though, is that his mentor introduced him to Arianna Huffington, then a right-wing pundit and Drudge confidant. Breitbart became her researcher and Web guru. By her side, he learned that the media could be more than scooped — it could be hacked."
- When Will Media Learn? Liberal blogger John Cole sighs, "I’m not sure what exactly it will take before everyone realizes what they are dealing with every time these guys release a tape. Will the media learn a lesson as the NAACP did? Or, more likely, are we just a few days away from Clark Hoyt and Andrew Alexander apologizing to the wingnuts for not coming out against Sherrod in a more timely manner."
- Why Can't We Honestly Discuss Race? The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart sighs, "Attorney General Eric Holder got into a mess of trouble last year when he said that we are "a nation of cowards" because "we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race." But he was absolutely right. When there is talking, there is no listening. No attempt to take a step back, to hear the words being said and to try to at least understand if not empathize with the pain, anger or frustration coming from the other side. The Sherrod episode just bolsters Holder’s case. To talk honestly and openly about the nation’s original sin and its impact you risk getting shredded. Comments are taken out of context. Motives are questioned. A defensive posture is adopted on both sides. False impressions and misunderstandings take hold. And bad things end up happening to good people of good will."
@PressSec is right: the non-Fox media jumped on the story without questioning it, too. We should have done our jobs better .