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 email@example.com.
I love judgmentalism — it’s a sport … I like judging. I like judging! Let me judge.
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on a cool day (Part III)
• Resolving to praise ISU
• Right down our alley
- READERS' FORUM: March 12, 2014
RONN MOTT: SAWS
A few days ago we talked to John Anderson of the Greencastle Presbyterian Church. He’s the coordinator for a mission of the church that builds ramps and stairs for those who are physically handicapped in Putnam County.
EDITORIAL: Thinking warm thoughts (Part II of III)
• Renewing a local library commitment
LIZ CIANCONE: We’re not only ones ready for springtime
During the most recent of our numerous descents into polar temperatures, I was astounded to see a dozen or more robins up to their ankles in snow. They were fluffed out to about twice their normal size. I suppose that was an effort to provide a bit of feathered insulation against the cold.
READERS' FORUM: March 11, 2014
• Meat-free path to the fountain of youth
• Faulty point?
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on cool days (Part I of III)
• Something good’s brewing
• Y we can’t take it for granted
FLASHPOINT: Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t
At a public gathering the other day, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.
READERS' FORUM: March 10, 2014
• Our government’s heart and soul
• A plea for more give and take
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
EDITORIAL: Ads on the sides of school buses? What have we come to?
Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.
Flashpoint: President should stop Medicare Advantage cuts
Virtually all elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — share the goal of increasing access to affordable health insurance and helping families receive the best coverage to meet their specific needs.
Readers’ Forum: March 9, 2014
Mardi Gras great event for Swope
EPA regs will cause energy bills to soar
Please pray for Ukraine innocents
Sinful thinking on road to hell
Liberty — or licentiousness
People will not always agree
Botched chance at leadership
RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love
I fell in love with radio when I was 16, just a few short weeks before my 17th birthday. The man who did the deed and hired me was Adlai Ferguson.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
Welcome to girls teams, fans
You can say that again
Reader Poll results
EDITORIAL: What do Sony cutbacks mean?
It is easy to understand why shivers run down local people’s spines whenever rumors hit the streets about Sony DADC’s plant on Terre Haute’s east side. With more than 1,400 people currently employed in Sony’s production and distribution facilities, the community has grown somewhat dependent on the economic stability Sony provides.
- Readers’ Forum: March 7, 2014
RONN MOTT: Knicks
The big noise in the NBA is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
If my memory serves, and it doesn’t always, Carmelo left the Denver Nuggets, the team that drafted him, to play in the bright lights of the Big Apple. It was loudly proclaimed at the time that Carmelo wanted to play for a championship team. The Knicks’ ownership bought a bunch of players and spent a whole bunch of money to aid Carmelo in helping the Knicks to get to a championship.
EDITORIAL: More ill will against gays
If you’re a feral cat wandering freely through a trailer park in Indiana, the General Assembly has taken action to make your life better.
Readers’ Forum: March 6, 2014
Utilities do need tighter regulation
Great work by TV sports staff
Editorial: A good place for persistence
The topic of Gov. Mike Pence’s effectiveness as the state’s top governmental leader during this year’s General Assembly will be hashed and rehashed after the session closes down in the next couple of weeks. At best, the first-term governor will get mixed marks.
- Readers’ Forum: March 5, 2014
RONN MOTT: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington
I remember when by edict the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were lumped into a single celebration called “Presidents Day.” I thought it was stupid then, and I still do.
LIZ CIANCONE: Antiques show better than any modern programs
I’m not a big fan of television.
Readers’ Forum: March 4, 2014
Lunatic ravings of the far right
Let IRS take the bullying pledge
EDITORIAL: New attention on sex assaults
Youth sexual assault in Indiana is a troubling issue that has not received the attention it deserves.
KELLY HAWES: It’s time to take politics out of redistricting
A bill to form a bipartisan redistricting commission apparently died in the Indiana Senate last week.
Readers’ Forum: March 3, 2014
Social workers honor profession
FLASHPOINT: Restoring trust, respect in schools rests in fundamentals
A recent Harris poll of 2,250 adults reveals a troubling educational trend.
EDITORIAL: Voters don’t have to stand for entrenched partisanship
Realistic Hoosiers understand members of Congress will typically follow their political party line.
- More Opinion Headlines
- EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on a cool day (Part III)