The significance of the Shirley Sherrod affair is clear: an employee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture lost her job and was painted as a racist due to the release of an edited, highly misleading video of a speech she made a quarter-century ago. In any rational world, the headline for a story about the case is pretty obvious: “African American woman fired due to bogus charge of racism; victim smeared by video snippet released by conservative group.”
Needless to say, this was not the headline above the idiotic piece that ran in today’s Washington Post by Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson: “New front in racism battle: USDA official’s words provide fodder to those who call Obama biased.”
This was a classic piece of spineless “he said, she said” Washington journalism that was desperately afraid to take a position or state the obvious:
For some on the right, Sherrod’s comments as initially reported reinforced a larger, more sinister narrative: that the administration of the first African American to occupy the White House practices its own brand of racism.
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.
So basically both sides are guilty here and questions about Obama’s “motives, his legitimacy and even his citizenship” stem from “[s]uspicions on the right that Obama has a hidden agenda.”
Where does one even begin detailing what’s wrong with all that?
First, there are lots of grounds to criticize the Obama Administration, as I do all the time, but the observation that it is “racist” is moronic and not an idea that should be taken seriously, even in a newspaper that’s afraid of its own shadow.
Second, some liberals no doubt see racism behind opposition to Obama, but it’s also true that some notable percentage of opposition to him stems from racism. Voicing “suspicion” that the president has a secret agenda can be a safer way of expressing racism.
Third, I have no idea what percentage of Tea Party members are racist; presumably it’s a relatively small number. But anyone who has spent any time at rallies of the Tea Party or visited their websites or read their literature can discover that racism very quickly. That doesn’t mean the entire Tea Party is racist, but let’s not ignore the obvious either.
But the Post apparently sees the responsible role of a newspaper as being to take every side of an argument seriously, no matter how inane and politically calculated.