Ex-USDA Official Settles Her Lawsuit Over Breitbart Video That Got Her Fired

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Shirley Sherrod has settled her lawsuit over the deeply flawed 2010 Breitbart story that cost Sherrod her job at the USDA over ultimately false allegations that she discriminated against a white farmer, The National Law Journal reported. The suit had been brought against Andrew Breitbart — who died in 2012 and was represented by his estate — and Larry O’Connor, head of Breitbart.tv at the time.

Sherrod, O’Connor and Breitbart’s estate released a joint statement Thursday announcing the settlement: “In a gesture they hope will inspire others to engage in the difficult but critically important process of bridging racial divides, the parties have agreed to resolve this lawsuit on confidential terms.”

The conservative website had posted a cut from a video of a speech Sherrod had given to a local Georgia chapter of the NAACP, in which she recounted struggling to help a white farmer because of the way black farmers had been treated. “So I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough,” she said in the clip.

Breitbart ran the story with the headline, “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism-2010,” and wrongly suggested that Sherrod had been talking about her behavior as a federal official.

The anecdote, however had been taken out of context, as TPM and other outlets reported at the time, and Sherrod had been talking about her own journey to overcome prejudices. Later on in the speech, past the part where the Breitbart story had cut, she described helping the farmer find a lawyer when he was blocked from filing bankruptcy and his farm was foreclosed.

“Working with him made me see that it’s really about those who have versus those who don’t. They could be black, 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,” she said.

After the initial Breitbart story, Sherrod was swiftly forced to resign from the USDA, and the NAACP condemned her on the basis of the edited version of the remarks. Once a full version of the speech surfaced, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the White House apologized to Sherrod, who was also offered a position back at the USDA which she turned down.

“Mr. Breitbart and Mr. O’Connor did not call for Mrs. Sherrod to lose her job, and
communications between the USDA and the White House disclosed in the course of the lawsuit suggest that the administration acted too hastily to cut ties with her,” the statement said, while admitting the story was “a key catalyst for the series of events which ultimately resulted in her job loss and a maelstrom of media coverage.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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