I love judgmentalism — it’s a sport … I like judging. I like judging! Let me judge.
— Internet media mogul Andrew Breitbart in the New Yorker
If I’m Andrew Brietbart, why would I ever apologize for sliming Shirley Sherrod? In a culture in which verbally facile people are paid boat loads of money to rush to judgment — and publicly pronounce sentence in as smart-assed a manner as possible — what’s the upside to saying, “I was wrong. I’m sorry”?
Especially to a mid-level member of the Agriculture Department?
Sherrod, of course, went from bureaucratic obscurity to household name last week when a speech she had given to an NAACP chapter was edited to portray her as a black racist. The video was then posted by Breitbart with vitriolic comment on one of his many conservative web sites and flagged to Fox News, which could not get it on the air fast enough for condemnation.
The NAACP and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reacted with equally alarming and under-informed speed. Monday, Sherrod was denounced by national NAACP executives and, despite her protests of innocence, forced to resign (via BlackBerry on the shoulder of a highway) from her position as rural development director of Georgia.
When her full speech was posted on the Web the day after, it became obvious that Sherrod had related a story of overcoming her own prejudice — her father reportedly was killed in a racially motivated crime — not bragged about giving a poor white farm couple short shrift.
In affirmation, the white farmers, who actually had been helped by Sherrod, spoke up in her defense to reporters all over the country.
Breitbart’s initial reaction was to say he was a victim of fraud by whomever passed the edited video clip to him. He corrected a time element in his original blast — the farm anecdote occurred while Sherrod worked for a non-profit, not the Ag department — and posted more of her speech.
But as the week wore on and visitors swarmed to Breitbart.com, right-wing pundits leapt to his side. Some parsed anew every line of Sherrod’s full speech, inferred prejudice from her audience’s reaction or insisted that her use of the present tense in parts of the farmer story proved she really is a black racist.
By week’s end, Sherrod had been showered with NAACP and Obama administration apologies and offered a new job in the Agriculture Department. Breitbart, meanwhile, was protecting the identity of his video source and declaring that liberal news media had used a couple of errors to shift attention to him from their own double standard for reporting on racism.
Breitbart also had returned to an aggressive stance against Sherrod. On Tuesday, he had emphasized that his beef was with the NAACP and he’d never suggested she be fired. By Friday, he told Politico that Sherrod’s speech demonstrates “this person has not gotten past black versus white.”
In a telephone interview with Politico’s Kenneth Vogel, Breitbart said, “I am public enemy No. 1 or 2 to the Democratic Party, the progressive movement and the Obama administration, based upon the success my journalism has had.”
No wonder Politico recently named Breitbart one of its “50 Politicos to Watch,” praising his “wit” and “edge.” Wit and edge — especially edge — are the currency of the realm in opinion journalism, which is the brand of the profession Breitbart practices.
As for the realm of opinion among the general population, wit and edge aren’t necessary — any more than accuracy and context are necessary. What really matters is the speed at which citizens weigh in on a subject and the passion with which they condemn or defend it.
This is America 2010, after all. Who wants to wait around while someone checks facts or obtains the whole story? That can take days, even weeks. All those instant polls on TV, radio the ’net and our cell phones? How could we vote if we paused long enough to get more than a sound bite accusation?
Whether it’s the food we order in a restaurant, the roads and highways we travel or the lives we want to build, we just don’t like waiting around for mission accomplished. Careful deliberation is for juries — unless Nancy Grace tells us they blew the case. Then we can second-guess 12 people we never met, based not on all the testimony they heard, but on our gut reaction to the verdict they rendered.
When Agriculture secretary Vilsack reversed his decision and apologized to Sherrod, he said the firing “was a decision I regret having made in haste.” The same day, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that the administration had reacted without having all the pertinent information.
In a news conference, Gibbs spoke of a “frenzied culture where everything happens so quickly.” He told the White House press corps that everyone involved in the Sherrod affair should “ask themselves, How did we get into this? How did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions?”
Um, because that’s just the way we all do it these days?
Whatever the socio-political causes, we Americans, from the White House to our own house, have surpassed a rush to judgment. We now display an instinct to judge. Based on fragments, shards and snapshots of information — an irritable checkout clerk, a dawdling driver, a crying child, a standoffish church member, a hyperactive colleague — we fill in the blanks with made up facts from our imagination. And we judge, judge, judge.
Once in a great while, if and when we’re proven wrong and can’t wriggle out of it, we might admit, like Vilsack, that we made a regrettable judgment in haste. Most of the time, though, we don’t because saying, “I was wrong. I’m sorry,” is even harder than waiting around.
Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love judgmentalism — it’s a sport … I like judging. I like judging! Let me judge.
FLASHPOINT: Dealing with hunger requires less rhetoric, more action
In November, millions of families in Indiana and across the nation saw their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cut through a planned phase-out of a temporary increase in funding that originally took place during the 2009 recession.
READER FORUM: Dec. 8, 2013
• Diving in to pool project
• A timely review of food basics
• Name-calling shows sad state of our politics
• Republicans their own worst enemy
• Full attack on common sense
EDITORIAL: Refusing to accept injustice, Mandela made world a better place
Injustice seldom ceases easily. Humans rationalize entrenched systems of persecution. Oppressed people or ideas get painted as a danger to the peaceful social order — the status quo. Cast in that image, inequality appears acceptable, even necessary, to the masses.
Time for a tour?
There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Congress now free from the threat of too much work
The headline on the Congress-watching newspaper Politico said it all: “Done.”
RONN MOTT: A friend celebrates his 90th
I went to Charlie Fox’s 90th birthday party Sunday last. He was standing greeting people as they came in the door. I never saw him sit down even one time. He looked more like a man celebrating his 60th rather than his 90th.
Editorial: Bring on the ‘Miracle’
For five miraculous years, Terre Haute’s Christmas festival on a Friday night in early December has grown and prospered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 6, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cigars
Leaving Baesler’s Market the other day, making my round of errands, I started to re-light my cigar. It was left over from the day before and I did not place it in the humidor. It had gotten too dry, so I threw it into my garbage sack asking myself the question, “Why do I do this?” Well, I do it because I enjoy it.
TRIBUNE-STAR EDITORIAL: Changing attitudes demand GOP action
From all indications, the Republican Party’s legislative leadership will punt away in its next session the opportunity to make a good decision on behalf of all Hoosiers about placing a same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 5, 2013
• Anarchy is in the ‘tea’ leaves
Editorial: Help us spread holiday cheer
The kind and generous people of the Wabash Valley are called upon often to help those less fortunate. We are proud to live an area where that call never goes unanswered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 4, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.
I suppose we should give her a cake and a candle, but she would be happier with a handful of “treats” you can find wherever you shop for groceries. I’m talking about the two-year anniversary of the first cat we adopted. If we had known there were going to be more, her name probably would have been different. She was Orange Crush, a small, bedraggled, starving, Golden Tabby female that wandered into our yard a little after Thanksgiving. She had been badly maltreated.
MS. TAKES: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 3, 2013
• Prestige chosen over practicality
• Tea partiers love country, freedom
• Same old clowns
LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 3, 2013
Prestige chosen over practicality
Tea partiers love country, freedom
Same old clowns
EDITORIAL: For NESC, transparency best option
The five-member board of the Northeast School Corp. of Sullivan County is in the midst of tough times as it faces a difficult decision on the future of its schools, including Union High School in Dugger.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 2, 2013
‘Ask not …’: Living by the words we speak
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
EDITORIAL: Preserving, improving our parks
Few amenities more greatly affect the quality of life in Terre Haute than its public parks.
FLASHPOINT: Getting right with history
I am ornery enough to never much worry about whether I am on the “right” side of history.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 1, 2013
The dangers of aggressive driving
Thanks to Lowe’s for great work
Another ‘Miracle’ set for Friday
Obama lies with malicious intent
Down the path to nowhere
Remembering to help needy
Jihadis, be careful what you wish for
Hanging on to people’s rights
No more trespassers thanks to mayor
RONN MOTT: Collett Park Christmas Walk always a special event
Since I live right across the street from Collett Park, I enjoy very much this particular neighborhood. And since I have walked around it a few times, I’m familiar with the 0.8 of a mile it takes to walk around the park. The Christmas Walk is a walk around the neighborhood. There were approximately 15 homes involved and open to the public this year
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
An expansion of county parks
A teacher, visionary and leader
Reader poll results
READERS’ FORUM: Nov. 29, 2013
Cooperation helps enhance security
RONN MOTT: Rule Changes
Watching the beginning of a new basketball season reminds me of my attempt to play basketball in high school. On the B-team, at a township high school my freshman and sophomore years, I fouled out of a great many basketball games.
EDITORIAL: To be solemn, reverent and grateful
Its label is “Thanksgiving.” As Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed this national holiday in 1863, this 24-hour period celebrates our blessings, to be “solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”
READERS’ FORUM: Nov. 28, 2013
Governor can put words into action
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