A 'Rosa Parks' for our generation

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2010

Anyone who's kept up with the news in the past week knows about Shirley Sherrod. This African American woman lost her job with the USDA Monday after a TV network showed video of her describing how she discriminated against a Caucasian farm owner.

Then, as the real facts emerged through the week we learned:

* The first story showed only selected video snippets of a speech wherein Ms. Sherrod actually told a tale of overcoming her own racist feelings, a tale of inspiration.

* News agencies never fully checked the story before repeating it (of this, we are especially embarrassed for our profession).

* Obama administration officials never fully checked the story before demanding Ms. Sherrod's resignation.

* The Caucasian farm owner later was interviewed on air and praised Ms. Sherrod as helping to save his farm.

* USDA chief Tom Vilsack apologized and asked Ms. Sherrod to come back.

There are so many things wrong with this picture.

Certainly, any organization in the business of news had a responsibility to fully report this story before giving it to their audience. In that mission, it appears, we all failed.

Federal officials showed just how harmfully impulsive they can be when they allow themselves to be influenced by the news of the moment instead of looking into the issue itself.

Indeed, you could argue that the only person who acted with any sense of decorum in this sad tale was Ms. Sherrod. Many years ago she recognized that her feelings on race needed to change and she changed them -- without fanfare or public recognition. That's what her story was really about.

Having been torn apart by the 24-7 news cycle, Ms. Sherrod has maintained a public image of stoicism and quiet reserve

Without realizing it, and certainly without intending to, the news media in its bumbling race to fill the 24-7 news cycle may have turned Shirley Sherrod into our generation's Rosa Parks -- a new African American woman icon in the fight against ignorance and racism.

In short: The real story: Inspiration can shine through no matter how poorly the story is researched.

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