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Wednesday, July 21, 2010  

Easy Marks

Not to chase the shiny object of the moment, but this Andrew Breitbart/Shirley Sherrod fiasco has been revealing and depressing in about equal measure. We're used to the set-up:

1) Unscrupulous activist/journalist figure gins up bogus controversy
2) Bogus controversy is amplified by ideologically friendly media
3) Anticipating a political headache, the administration cashiers the innocent but hopelessly smeared target

But in this case there was something of a surprise finish:

4) Smear job is exposed as such and its architects are semi-forced to semi-recant.

And yet there has been and will be no actual price paid by the very bad actors who made this happen. Indeed, even their failure stumbled blindly into success, as today's NPR coverage of this hit job led with Robert Gibbs apologizing to Shirley Sherrod. Which, to be fair, he and his boss needed to do--hanging her out to dry was shameful. But they weren't the ones who assassinated her character. Somebody else did that.

But for NPR, it was all about the political headaches this has/would/will cause for the president. It penetrated no one's thinking that this was a bogus story. The patient is dead and everyone is sitting around talking about what he's going to eat for breakfast. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

Of course somebody made a high-minded pivot to race. Does this speak to unresolved racial issues in America? And maybe a closer approximation to a useful question, does race help explain why this kind of story has legs?

Unfortunately their talking head, Jonathan Alter, didn't have anything to say about that. He talked about the political instincts of the White House, again as if this were a real thing that required a real response and conveyed real meaning, rather than a bush-league Nixonian ripoff. At some point hands were wrung over whether Andrew Breitbart raises issues by blurring the line between journalism and activism.

So let's put our thinking caps on here for a minute, shall we?

This incident was not about race or racism, at least not in its presenting issue. It is not about the president's political skills or his savvy in negotiating race matters. It is not about combining journalism and activism, which no reasonable person objects to. It's about maliciously misrepresenting a person's comments in order to assassinate their character. And secondarily, it's about the speed with which so many would-be respectable people decided to leap down that puke funnel after the odious Breitbart (a process no doubt accelerated by the Spidey sense some people have for the supposedly omnipresent force of anti-white racism).* That's the story--how a third-rate hatchet job became a folk legend overnight. Between all the whining about liberals and the NAACP, people ought to ask themselves how they fell for this in the first place, how they will view those who are responsible given that even NPR won't try to hold them accountable, and what they will do the next time a perfect piece of moron-bait falls into their laps.

* though now that we're on the subject, I really wonder why conservatives think it's a good idea to hype every sliver of evidence that somebody somewhere doesn't like white people while simultaneously having nothing at all to say about anti-black, anti-Latino, and anti-Asian racism. It is not the posture of a movement or a party that is trying to indicate that it takes the experiences, perspectives, and interests of non-white voters at all seriously.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:28 PM
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