Reality Check: Fox News Hosts Had Nothing to Do With Shirley Sherrod Resignation
UPDATE (3:20 PM): A couple of quotes below the fold demonstrate just how ideologically diverse critics are who note that Fox played no direct role in Sherrod's resignation. Pundits from the Washington Post and National Review weigh in.
Shirley Sherrod placed the blame for her ouster at Fox News's feet. Hardly surprising. She's a liberal (former) member of a liberal administration. More surprising, given the clear preponderance of facts contradicting this meme, is that much of the media has followed her lead.
Ironically, while a number of mainstream media outlets claim that Fox News is responsible for getting Sherrod to resign, Fox's first call for a resignation, made by Bill O'Reilly just before 9:00 pm on Monday, came roughly an hour after Sherrod had actually resigned.
In other words, Fox News exerted no meaningful pressure on the administration to take any specific actions with regard to Sherrod before the administration took those actions on its own accord. FoxNews.com had run a story earlier (no longer available on its site) displaying Breitbart's video and reporting what were then assumed (erroneously, it turns out) to be the facts of the situation - Sherrod had acted in a condemnable, racist manner.
Howard Kurtz claims Sherrod was "dismissed because of the fear that Fox host Glenn Beck might go after her." But it is simply absurd to claim that the administration forms policy based on the potential that Glenn Beck might get mad. Come on, is there anything the administration has done so far that has not gotten Beck riled up?
The administration was not concerned about upsetting conservative commentators, it was concerned about upsetting Americans. Had Sherrod actually been guilty of the offense of which she was accused on Monday, the American public would have rightly been outraged. The administration - specifically Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - realized this fact and pre-empted what seemed to be the inevitable public backlash.
Liberal commentators are not so much upset that the administration bent to the will of Fox News as they are that the White House missed a golden opportunity to hammer its conservative critics. Ed Morrissey explains:
The real reason they moved so quickly against Sherrod is because of their understandable sensitivity to racial politics, especially after the “beer summit” fiasco and at a moment when the DOJ’s dealing with accusations of bias via the Black Panthers case. That’s why Gibbs’s deputy, Jim Messina, reportedly spent yesterday morning congratulating the WH press team for having moved so quickly against Sherrod. And of course the real reason liberals are angry with him isn’t because Obama’s cuddling up to conservatives or whatever but because he’s blown a golden opportunity to bludgeon the left’s enemies in conservative media. Had the White House held back until the full tape came out, they could have launched a full media offensive against the credibility of righty blogs. As it is, Gibbs is left apologizing for pretty much everyone. What a whiff.
This reality has not put a rest the nonsensical meme that the White House is extremely concerned with how conservatives view its policies, and encouraged a hasty firing of Shirley Sherrod to satiate the right.
The line of argument was best summed up by Markos Moulitsas, who claimed that the governing left "desperately want to be liked by the right, and this pathological need to ingratiate themselves with people who want to destroy them lead them to make stupid move after stupid move."
But the mystery remains: how could the firing of an obscure USDA official for comments made 20 years ago possibly make up for the administration's constant battering of conservative positions? If it is trying to court the right, the White House should probably start by repealing ObamaCare, dropping its lawsuit against Arizona, investigating allegations of a racialist approach to federal voting rights law enforcement, abandoning the pursuit of cap and trade and card check, halting efforts to undermine the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and hey, while they're at it, stumping for Sharron Angle and Marco Rubio.
Writing at National Review's Media Blog, Greg Pollowitz also notes Fox's innocence in this regard, and the absurdity of claiming the channel is somehow responsible for Sherrod's resignation.
Let’s not even argue with Media Matters about it, and just accept their timeline as fact. It’s as good as any I’ve seen. What’s really missing from the timeline, however, is ANY broadcast coverage by Fox News of the Sherrod video prior to her firing. Media Matters has two web links. That’s it. That’s what snookered the president of the NAACP and that’s what forced the White House to act as quickly as they did? I’m sorry, but that’s just not believable.
Now, once she was fired, that’s when the coverage picked up, and why wouldn’t it? As the editors of the Washington Post write today, most of the blame lies squarely on the White House and the Tom Vilsack. Blaming Fox News is just a distraction to move the story away from the incompetence on display by this administration and the NAACP.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, quoted above, actually agrees with most of this argument:
The White House spokesman and the agriculture secretary weren't the only ones offering regrets Wednesday to the lower-level official abruptly fired over a videotape excerpt that turned out to be totally misleading. Bill O'Reilly apologized to Shirley Sherrod as well.
But for all the chatter -- some of it from Sherrod herself -- that she was done in by Fox News, the network didn't touch the story until her forced resignation was made public Monday evening, with the exception of brief comments by O'Reilly...
Clemente, the Fox executive, said in an interview that Sherrod "certainly could be forgiven for being confused." As for other critics, he said that blaming Fox is "a comfortable reflex for some people."