Friday, July 23, 2010

VERITAS: FUMBLE - THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ON THE SHERROD AFFAIR

This week's perspective from Orli Giroux-Namian:

Pity Shirley Sherrod, a mid-level official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who has become the centre of a storm of controversy about race, race sensitivity and political bungling in Washington. Her saga began after blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a sliced-and-diced portion of a speech Sherrod gave at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) event last year, at which she mentioned an instance of not offering her full help to a white farmer. Within hours, the “story” was picked up by other websites and pushed out as news by cable network FOX News. Sherrod was promptly denounced by the NAACP and, more importantly, fired by US government officials. Oops. Anyone viewing the full speech would have quickly learned three things: first, the incident happened long before Sherrod’s days with the Agriculture Department, and second, the point Sherrod was making in her speech was that people should move beyond race. In fact, the farmer Sherrod referred to came forward to tell reporters that she had helped him save his farm. Of course, once the full version of the speech was released, the media pack charged in the opposite direction. Sherrod received a flurry of apologies, including calls from President Barack Obama, the Agriculture Secretary and the NAACP, not to mention some rarely heard mea culpas from Fox TV personalities. One bright light at FOX News, Shepard Smith, denounced his network for running with the story in the first place: "We here at Studio B did not run the video and did not reference the story in any way for many reasons, among them: we didn't know who shot it, we didn't know when it was shot, we didn't know the context of the statement, and because of the history of the videos on the site where it was posted, in short we do not and did not trust the source." From a PR perspective, that’s good general direction for anyone facing a damaging news story of questionable accuracy. And it’s something the White House might have considered. Instead, it got swept up in a media frenzy and didn’t take the time to verify before acting—almost always a recipe for disaster. Now, an employee’s professional and personal reputation has been damaged, but not so much as the Obama

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