In a new statement, NAACP president Ben Jealous has backed off his original criticism of Shirley Sherrod after watching the full tape of her remarks.
Jealous, who originally called Sherrod’s actions “shameful,” now says the whole thing a “teachable moment.”
Jealous said that, after reviewing the full tape (which we still haven’t seen) and speaking to Sherrod and the white farmers in question, the NAACP has realized it was “snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias.”
“Next time we are confronted by a racial controversy broken by Fox News or their allies in the Tea Party like Mr. Breitbart, we will consider the source and be more deliberate in responding,” he said.
Jealous also finds room to take a shot at the Tea Party Express.
The full statement:
The NAACP has a zero tolerance policy against racial discrimination, whether practiced by blacks, whites, or any other group.
The NAACP also has long championed and embraced transformation by people who have move beyond racial bias. Most notably, we have done so for late Alabama Governor George Wallace and late US Senator Robert Byrd–each a man who had associated with and supported white supremacists and their cause before embracing civil rights for all.
With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias.
Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.
The fact is Ms. Sherrod did help the white farmers mentioned in her speech. They personally credit her with helping to save their family farm.
Moreover, this incident and the lesson it prompted occurred more that 20 years before she went to work for USDA.
Finally, she was sharing this account as part of a story of transformation and redemption. In the full video, Ms.Sherrod says she realized that the dislocation of farmers is about “haves and have nots.” “It’s not just about black people, it’s about poor people,” says Sherrod in the speech. “We have to get to the point where race exists but it doesn’t matter.”
This is a teachable moment, for activists and for journalists.
Most Americans agree that racism has no place in American Society. We also believe that civil and human rights have to be measured by a single yardstick.
The NAACP has demonstrated its commitment to live by that standard.
The Tea Party Federation took a step in that direction when it expelled the Tea Party Express over the weekend. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear from other leaders in the Tea Party movement like Dick Armey and Sarah Palin, who have been virtually silent on the “internal bigotry” issue.
Next time we are confronted by a racial controversy broken by Fox News or their allies in the Tea Party like Mr. Breitbart, we will consider the source and be more deliberate in responding. The tape of Ms. Sherrod’s speech at an NAACP banquet was deliberately edited to create a false impression of racial bias, and to create a controversy where none existed. This just shows the lengths to which extremist elements will go to discredit legitimate opposition.
According to the USDA, Sherrod’s statements prompted her dismissal. While we understand why Secretary Vilsack believes this false controversy will impede her ability to function in the role, we urge him to reconsider and give everyday Americans a chance to surprise him.
Finally, we hope this incident will heighten Congress’s urgency in dealing with the well documented findings of discrimination toward black, Latino, Asian American and Native American farmers, as well as female farmers of all races.