Are Black Leaders Brainwashed?
The rush to condemn Shirley Sherrod exposes a lack of courage that we cannot afford in the coming media war.
The debacle surrounding the virtual lynching of black agriculture official Shirley Sherrod has left everyone involved scrambling for cover. President Obama, while not directly linked to the premature decision to fire Sherrod, called her Thursday to apologize. Video provocateur Andrew Breitbart has insisted he was not after Sherrod but after the NAACP. Fox News' Glenn Beck displayed a time line on his show to argue he only covered the story after Sherrod was shown to have been unfairly dismissed.
But the role played by black leaders in this tragic story deserves a closer look. It tells us a lot about the state of black leadership in America and the lack of courage among these leaders in the face of the relentless campaign from the conservative right to demonize black America. When the incriminating video first aired, implying that Sherrod had discriminated against a white farmer, the NAACP quickly repudiated Sherrod, defining her words as ''appalling, shameful, intolerable and racist.'' CNN's Roland Martin expressed solidarity with the NAACP, saying its admonishment was correct.
When the truth came to light -- that the video posted by Breitbart was heavily edited to dilute Sherrod's anecdotal story of racial reconciliation -- NAACP president Ben Jealous retracted his organization's repudiation, claiming they had all been ''snookered'' by Fox News and Breitbart. Jealous said the orchestrated smear campaign represented a ''teachable moment'' for activists and journalists.
I beg to differ. For black political and community leaders, media pundits and voters, this is not just a ''teachable moment.'' It's our moment of reconciliation, our moment to take a stand. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Breitbart said he released the truncatedSherrod video in response to the NAACP's use of ''propaganda'' to smear the Tea Party. It was a classic pot-kettle maneuver from a member of the camp that has resurrected and expertly utilized fear-based, Nazi-era propagandizing techniques. Judging by the right's record, the Sherrod affair is just the warm-up act before the fall elections. It's a safe bet that race-based attacks will be part of the propaganda war to drive Obamafrom office.
On the winner-takes-all, scurrilous, new-media battlefield, there's no room for political naiveté or acquiescence. Frankly, it's embarrassing that the leader of a prominent civil rights organization allowed conservative operatives to influence his decision to demean a socially conscious black woman. To admit he was ''snookered'' by Fox News is akin to being surprised that the Ku Klux Klan's has a distaste for black people. Judging blacks ''without all the facts'' is a tepid response from a black president who doesn't seem to have the stomach for racial confrontations.