News flash: Context matters! Big headlines this last week about the Obama administration’s rush to judgment in demanding the resignation of Shirley Sherrod, the former Agricultural Department’s Chief of Rural Development in its Georgia office. She was forced to resign after a 2 and 1/2 minute clip of her March 2010 speech at an N.A.A.C.P. event in Georgia was all over the Internet and the news.
Had her employer conducted even a cursory investigation (a few hours locating, and listening to, the whole 45-minute speech or even talking to Ms. Sherrod), it would have learned the truth. In her speech she recalled a period 24 years ago when she worked for a nonprofit agency that helped rural farmers fight bankruptcy. In the brief excerpt, she spoke of helping a white farmer, but not with the “full force of what she could do" or with what she then believed black farmers needed in assistance. She recounted how the white farmer had ultimately opened her eyes to the truth that white farmers faced much the same threat as blacks and that “there is no difference between us.”
According to a CBS News story on July 20, the white farmer’s family has confirmed her story saying “She’s a good friend”, “She helped us save our farm,” "She’s a friend for life" and how she helped them out of bankruptcy.
So, the context was that she was using a personal story from 24 years ago to make a point that it was not about "black and white", but about helping the poor.
According to a New York Times editorial on July 21:
Ms. Sherrod told of how an agriculture under secretary phoned her to demand she resign instantly via her BlackBerry. The official anxiously cited the likelihood that the furor would “be on Glenn Beck tonight.”
By the time the conservative commentator took up the issue, the full transcript of the speech was out and Mr. Beck was citing Ms. Sherrod — but as a victim of administration recklessness. This time, he was right.