Breitbart flounders as his Sherrod story collapses

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

As his story about former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod has disintegrated, Andrew Breitbart has desperately tried to maintain his credibility. Media Matters chronicles Breitbart's shifting stories, lies, and attempts to spin the story and pass the blame to others.

Breitbart Ascendant: Video is "evidence of racism" by Sherrod

Initial post: "Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism" by Sherrod. In his initial July 19 BigGovernment.com post, published at 11:18 AM ET and headlined "Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism--2010," Breitbart wrote in the piece's first two sentences:

Context is everything.

In this piece you will see video evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee and NAACP award recipient and in another clip from the same event a perfect rationalization for why the Tea Party needs to exist.

After detailing the "context" - that "Americans who consider themselves aligned with the Tea Party movement have suffered the indignity of being falsely labeled racist by the NAACP and their pro-bono publicity managers, the main stream media" -- Breitbart wrote:

We are in possession of a video from in which Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaks at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her meandering speech to what appears to be an all-black audience, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn't do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from "one of his own kind". She refers him to a white lawyer.

Sherrod's racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups' racial tolerance.

Breitbart then posted the heavily edited video clip from Sherrod's speech.

On Twitter, Breitbart says Sherrod "Brags About Discriminating Against Whites," asks if DOJ will investigate. In tweets posted at 11:51 AM and 12:31 PM on July 19, Breitbart wrote:

Breitbart victory lap: "Racist Govt Official/NAACP Award Recipient Resigns after Big Government Expose." In a July 19 blog post published at 7:51 pm ET, "Publius," the pseudonym of BigGovernment.com's "Editorial Panel," wrote that "This morning, we broke video of a USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, recounting for attendees at an NAACP awards dinner how she withheld help from a white farmer seeking the agency's help in saving his farm." After noting a report that Sherrod had resigned, they wrote that "Presumably, [the NAACP] will denounce the racism in the video." The post was headlined, "Racist Govt Official/NAACP Award Recipient Resigns after Big Government Expose."

As cracks form in story, Breitbart doubles down

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Sherrod says clip "completely misconstrued" her comments. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's July 20 article (since updated) on the controversy surrounding Shirley Sherrod's statements at an NAACP banquet, the paper reported that "the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago -- before she got the USDA job -- when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund." The article also reported that, according to Sherrod, the "38-second video posted online Monday by biggovernment.com and reported on by FoxNews.com and the AJC completely misconstrued the message she was trying to convey."

"White farmer" and his wife: Sherrod is a "friend" who "helped us save our farm." Later in the day, Sherrod appeared on CNN Newsroom to discuss the accusations against her. On the show, anchor Tony Harris contacted the wife of the "white farmer" Sherrod had discussed in her appearance at the NAACP banquet. The wife, Eloise Spooner, described Sherrod as "a good friend" who "helped us save our farm." In a later CNN interview, the farmer, Roger Spooner, said that Sherrod "did her level best" to help him save his farm and those that are smearing her as a racist "don't know what they're talking about."

Video producer confirmed that "the full speech is exactly as Sherrod described ... she goes on to explain learning the error of her initial impression." Talking Points Memo reported at 1:03 PM ET on July 20 that "The Douglas, Ga., company which filmed the banquet for the local NAACP has refused to release" the video until the national NAACP gives him "permission" to post it. However, Wilkerson told TPM "that the full speech is exactly as Sherrod described, and that she goes on to explain learning the error of her initial impression and helping the farmer keep his farm."

Breitbart: "I don't have" the full video, but heavily edited clip "speaks for itself." At 3:58 PM ET on July 20, TPM Media reported that in an interview, Breitbart acknowledged that he hadn't seen the full video, but believed that the video "speaks for itself" and illustrated "a present tense racism" by Sherrod:

The crux of the Shirley Sherrod controversy is what she said outside of the two-minute video clip posted by Big Government -- whether she was, as she claims, telling a story about how she overcame racial prejudice while helping poor farmers in Georgia, or whether the clip is a good encapsulation of her views. So we asked Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Big Government, why he hasn't posted the full video.

"I don't have it," Breitbart told TPMmuckraker in an interview. Breitbart said his source sent him just the edited clips at first, but is in the process of sending the full video.

Breitbart said he'll post the full video, if he can get permission from the video production company who filmed it for a local NAACP chapter. He also maintained that he didn't edit the clip and that it was sent to him already edited.

[...]

"I think the video speaks for itself," he said. "The way she's talking about white people ... is conveying a present tense racism in my opinion. But racism is in the eye of the beholder."

In media blitz, Breitbart flounders, hurls bizarre accusations, tries to change story

NAACP releases full tape vindicating Sherrod. The NAACP released the full video of Sherrod's comments on the evening of July 20. In the video, Sherrod sates that "working with him [the white farmer] made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't." She went on to state that "they could be black, and they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people -- those who don't have access the way others have."

Breitbart now says his story is "not about Shirley Sherrod," blames White House for making her the story. On the July 20 edition of CNN's John King Live, Breitbart was asked whether there is a "factual mistake" in his initial report. He replied, "This story is about the NAACP. This story is about the NAACP falsely accusing the Tea Party of being racist." Throughout the interview, Breitbart denied that his story was about Sherrod, saying at one point, "It's not about Shirley Sherrod. I can say it 20 times. It's about the NAACP." Likewise, in a July 20 interview on Hannity, Breitbart said (accessed from Nexis):

The reason why Shirley Sherrod is the story right now, not the NAACP, is because the White House which stands by the firing or the forced resignation -- harassment as she said -- they made the story about Shirley. They threw her under the bus.

I have not asked that she get fired. I've not asked for an investigation into her. The whole point was to show that the -- for the NAACP to spend five days on national TV saying that the Tea Party is racist without any evidence when we can prove that the central argument didn't happen and the mainstream media won't play it -- for them to talk about racism they should not be throwing stones in glass houses.

Similarly, on the July 20 edition of America's Nightly Scoreboard, Breitbart said the story is "about the NAACP, not about Shirley Sherrod."

Breitbart invents NAACP audience cheers and applause, claims they are the real story. On Hannity, Breitbart claimed that the real story is how "the audience was laughing and applauding as she described how she maltreated the white farmer." He also said that "The point is that the NAACP at a dinner honoring this person is cheering on a person describing -- describing a white person as the other." And on a July 21 Good Morning America interview, Breitbart again claimed that his video shows that "at an NAACP event, people are applauding racism." But in his initial post, Breitbart described the audience reaction as only "nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement." And in fact, Breitbart's claim that the audience was applauding as she "described how she maltreated the white farmer" is demonstrably false. Contrary to Breitbart's claim, the audience does not applaud or cheer at any point during the story about her interaction with the farmer.

Freak-out: On CNN, Breitbart suggests events didn't happen decades ago, "farmer's wife" isn't who she says she is. On John King Live, Breitbart suggested that the incident Sherrod discussed in the clip didn't happen decades ago, saying, "I mean there -- if you're going to accuse me of a falsehood, tell me where you've confirmed that this incident happened 24 years ago. This is Shirley Sherrod trying to save her job." In fact, in the clip he posted, Sherrod placed the events of her story when "Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted." This occurred in 1986. Breitbart also asked King, "You tell me as a reporter how CNN put on a person today who purported to be the farmer's wife? What did you do to find out whether or not that was the actual farmer's wife?" He later added: "You're going off of her word that the farmer's wife is the farmer's wife. What type of extra reporting have you done on this?"

Reaction becomes farce: Breitbart feels "sorry" that "the media" made Sherrod fiasco "about her"

Breitbart is "sympathetic" to Sherrod's "plight." In a July 21 interview with MSNBC, Breitbart - who smeared Sherrod for racism, cheered her resignation, and questioned whether she would be investigated by the Justice Department - said:

I feel bad that they made this about her. And I feel sorry that they made this about her. I'm not sure if that was done because they rushed to judgment or whether they wanted to make it about Shirley versus me, because that's what it's become. But watching how they've misconstrued, the media has misconstrued the intention behind this, I do feel a sympathy for her plight, currently. And I do think that she's gone -- when you look at the full video and you look at the video that was excerpted, you see that she mentions that she went through some type of a transformation. So I'm sympathetic to her that she's caught in this plight right now. I'm sympathetic to the fact that they went after her and not after the NAACP.

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