L'Affaire Sherrod: Quick Question Crumbles Capehart's White House Cover

Jonathan Capehart is the early frontrunner to win my Obama Parrot of the Week, the dubious award I hand out on my local TV show to the media member most wantonly toeing the White House line.

On today's Morning Joe, the Washington Post editorialist, trying to suggest the White House was not involved in the firing of Shirley Sherrod, offered a strained theory of how Sherrod misunderstood what she was being told by a USDA official about the White House wanting her gone.

But when Willie Geist asked the obvious question, Capehart's house of cards largely crumbled, forcing Jonathan to beat a hasty tactical retreat.  It's actually quite amusing: do check out the video.
PAT BUCHANAN: My guess is, when that [USDA official] was calling up three times on that highway [telling Sherrod to resign], it was the boys in the White House that were pushing her. I'm not saying it was the President of the United States, but my guess is it's the staff in the White House.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Willie, I just want to push back a little bit on the conspiracy theories that there's some cabal in the White House that pushed Vilsack to push this woman out. Greg Sargent at Plum Line at the Washington Post, the last post he had yesterday was about what is it about these phone calls she got where they were saying "the White House wants you out."
Through his reporting and through my own reporting, sources say the thinking was that the White House liaison at the Agriculture Department was in the room with this Deputy Undersecretary when she was on the phone with Shirley Sherrod.  Apparently that is standard procedure when you're dealing with political appointments.  The White House liaison is only there to manage the political appointments for that department.  So when Shirley Sherrod is on the phone, she heard "I have the White House liaison with me," and you can understand how someone might think that the White House is in the room, but that's not the case.

So I think we just need to pull back a little bit and try to move back from trying to make this --
Willie Geist then asked the question that was all the more devastating for being so obvious.
WILLIE GEIST: Is the liaison not bringing a message from the West Wing, though?

CAPEHART: That's a good question. Um, I don't think so, but that's a good question that I'll have to ask.

Update: Crazy Larry Contradicts Capehart

Appearing in a subsequent segment, old Washington hand Larry O'Donnell emphatically asserted it was "inconceivable" that the White House was not involved in the decision to fire Sherrod.

Update Deux: What Willie Didn't Get To Ask Shirley

After having made the rounds of all the morning broadcast shows, Shirley Sherrod appeared during one of Morning Joe's later segments.  Willie was clearly interested in pinning down the matter of what Ms. Sherrod was told about the White House's involvement.  He started to sketch a timeline with her, but never had a chance to explore her statement that she was told by a USDA Undersecretary that "the White House wanted me to resign."

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.