NBC's Today Show Inaccurately Blames Fox News for Sherrod Firing

On Wednesday's Today show, Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Savannah Guthrie left the impression that Fox News's criticism of Shirley Sherrod was the reason she lost her job at the Agriculture Department, with Lauer, in his interview with Sherrod, charging: "I don't know who to blame here, Miss Sherrod. I mean the, the, the activist who put forward this garbage in the first place has an agenda. We shouldn't be surprised by that. The cable news network that, that played this garbage on and on and talked about it, has an agenda. We shouldn't be surprised by that." But Lauer and NBC News, itself, revealed they have their own agenda, by failing to report, as the MRC's Rich Noyes pointed out, that Fox News didn't mention the Sherrod story until she had already left her job.

However, that didn't stop Curry from claiming, in the 8am half hour news brief, that: "After the video was used to vilify her on Fox television, she lost her job," and Guthrie advancing the NAACP's notion, in her piece, that they had been "snookered" by Fox News.

The following is a complete transcript of Guthrie's set-up piece followed by Lauer's interview with Sherrod as they were aired on the July 21 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Now to the turbulence facing the Obama administration over the resignation of an Agriculture Department official. Was she forced to quit her job for comments that were taken completely out of context? We're gonna talk to Shirley Sherrod in a moment, but first, NBC's Savannah Guthrie is at the White House with the latest. Savannah, good morning.

[On screen headline: "Race In America, Should Obama Appointee Have Been Forced To Resign?"]

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Good morning to you, Matt. Well these developments are moving really quickly. At first there were condemnations against Shirley Sherrod for alleged racist remarks. But now some of the very first people to rebuke her are now apologizing and over the night the White House directed the agency that fired her to reconsider. This is the video at the center of the controversy.

SHIRLEY SHERROD: The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm-

GUTHRIE: First posted on a conservative Web site, it shows Shirley Sherrod, a Georgia-based official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an Obama administration appointee, at an NAACP dinner in March of this year describing her reluctance to help a white farmer who came for aid.

SHERROD: I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn't give him the full force of what I could do.

GUTHRIE: The video became an overnight cable news sensation.

BILL O'REILLY: Miss Sherrod must resign immediately. The federal government cannot have skin color deciding any assistance.

LAURA INGRAHAM: The question is how many more people like Miss Sherrod exist in the Obama administration?

GUTHRIE: The action against Sherrod was quick and decisive. The NAACP condemned her, calling her remarks shameful and intolerable. The USDA asked her to resign. Sherrod says she was driving Monday afternoon when she got the call from an official in Washington.

SHERROD: She said, "Well they want you to pull over to the side of the road and submit your resignation." It was just unbelievable. You know, it was just unbelievable.

GUTHRIE: But Sherrod says it was a rush to judgment. The incident she had described at the March NAACP dinner had occurred more than 20 years ago, before she worked for the USDA, and it was a story she told, as an example of overcoming her own prejudices.

SHERROD: That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have. And in telling that story, how I changed while working with him, I used that to help others to see it's not about race.

GUTHRIE: The farmer who Sherrod is accused of treating unfairly went public Tuesday saying she is no racist and saved his family farm.

FARMER: I appreciated everything she done for [us], and we got our farm back.

GUTHRIE: Still, in a statement Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stood by his decision to fire Sherrod saying, quote, "We have been working to turn the page on this sordid civil rights record at USDA, and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices. But by Tuesday night, the NAACP had reversed course. Officials looked at the full context of her remarks made at the NAACP's own event, concluded they'd been, quote, "snookered" by Fox News and the conservative activist, who first posted portions of the video. But they acknowledged, they were too quick to condemn.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT: We made a mistake here. We have a very good batting average. You know it is near 1,000 but some times we make a mistake and we, and we made one here.

GUTHRIE: For Shirley Sherrod, the damage has been done.

SHERROD: They called me a racist, of all people. They called me a racist. When you look at my work, when you look at everything I've done, you know that I'm not a racist.

GUTHRIE: Alright, so initially officials here at the White House said this was solely at the discretion of the Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack. That the President was briefed only afterward, although staff knew something of it, and that he fully stood by the Agriculture Secretary's decision. However, late last night after the full video was posted on the NAACP Web site, the White House contacted the Agriculture Secretary and encouraged the Agriculture Secretary to take another look. He now says he will, and let me read the statement from Tom Vilsack. He said, quote, "I am, of course, willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner." But no word yet, Matt, this morning whether or not Shirley Sherrod gets her job back.

MATT LAUER: Savannah Guthrie, thank you very much. Shirley Sherrod is with us now from Atlanta. Miss Sherrod, good morning to you.

SHIRLEY SHERROD: Good morning.

LAUER: What a 24-48 hours you've had. I mean let's go through it here. You were villainized, you were forced to resign, and then when, when even the most elementary level of investigation was put toward your situation, what I like to call the "oopses!" began. The NAACP, which had originally come out against you, apologized saying they made a mistake and now I even understand that the Agriculture Secretary who originally stood by his decision, has said he's willing to see more information. Can you describe your emotions as we sit here and talk this morning?

SHERROD: You know, it's so hard looking at the last 24 hours. When the department, when, you know, this first came to light I said to them you need to look at the whole thing. That's not the message I was putting out there. And for them, all day yesterday, to say they were standing by their decision and now, you know, at this late hour to be saying they are now willing to look at the facts, you know, it's hard to take at this point.

LAUER: What's outrageous about this is this story, that was sent out there as an example of racism on your part was the opposite. It was a story of enlightenment and transformation of overcoming the narrow mindedness that you had been surrounded by as a younger woman and here it was completely misconstrued and misrepresented.

SHERROD: Yes, and I couldn't get people, I couldn't get the people I was working with, people who should have listened to me, to see that because that was one of the things I kept saying. You need to look at the whole thing. That's not my message. That's not me. If you look at my life, if you look at my life's work, you would know that, that's not me.

[On screen headline: "Race In America, Obama Appointee Forced To Resign Speaks Out"]

LAUER: As a state worker in Georgia, you tell this story about how you were dealing with a white farmer who was about to lose his farm and perhaps the temptation was there on your part to continue down the road, you had seen so many travel in the past and maybe not give that farmer, that white person, all the benefit of your help. But you had this, almost an epiphany at that moment-

SHERROD: Yes.

LAUER: -and said, "Wait a second, the civil rights movement was not about black versus white. It's about the poor and the powerless and this man deserves as much help as anyone." I mean did, could anyone who had listened, who would have listened to the entire story have, have thought of you as a racist?

SHERROD: I don't think they would have. I don't, if, you know, anyone, you know, most people would not have known me but if they had looked at the entire tape, I just don't see how they could've come away with it, thinking I was a racist.

LAUER: I don't who to blame-

SHERROD: You know those-

LAUER: I don't know who to blame here, Miss Sherrod. I mean the, the, the activist who put forward this garbage in the first place has an agenda. We shouldn't be surprised by that.

SHERROD: Right.

LAUER: The cable news network that, that played this garbage on and on and talked about it, has an agenda. We shouldn't be surprised by that. I am shocked at the NAACP, I have to admit. That, that-

SHERROD: Yes.

LAUER: -that they did not investigate further before condemning you. And I'm shocked at the Obama administration for not putting an investigation in place either. Can you give me your thoughts on that?

SHERROD: Yes. I was particularly hurt by the NAACP's reaction to it because if they - you know, I put years, all of my life has been about civil rights work and fairness. And if they had just taken the time to look at it, to see, to look at me, to, to see what I've done, I'm certain they would not have come out with that first statement. But I can appreciate the fact that they now have looked at it, they've seen, and they come up with a new statement. I can accept the apology.

LAUER: And as for the Obama administration, as for the Obama administration, why do you think the Secretary of Agriculture acted so quickly in this situation?

SHERROD: You know, that is so hard to, to, to take, especially when I kept saying look at the entire thing. Look at my message and no one would listen. No one would listen.

LAUER: The NAACP, Miss Sherrod, now calls this "a teachable moment."What lessons have you learned?

SHERROD: Oh, gosh. You know, the, it's, it's the outpouring of support has just been great for me. To, you know, I don't know that I would have done anything different because this is just me. This is my life. It's all about fairness. And then to not be treated fairly, you know, in this whole situation is, is, it's, it's just something hard to deal with.

LAUER: The door seems to be open a little bit to you getting your, your old job back. Do you want to walk through that door?

SHERROD: You know, I am just not sure of how I would be treated there now. That's, that's, that's one I just don't know at this point.

LAUER: Shirley Sherrod. Miss Sherrod I thank you for your time this morning.

SHERROD: Thank you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.