Outrage machine is hard at work

July 25, 2010


Last week, the conservative outrage machine tried to chew up Shirley Sherrod.

You are familiar with that machine if you have access to the Internet or Fox News. As the name implies, it exists to stoke and maintain a state of perpetual apoplexy on the political right by feeding it a never-ending stream of perceived sins against conservative orthodoxy.

While the machine will use any available fuel (health care, immigration, Muslims) to manufacture fury, it has a special fondness for race. Specifically, for stories that depict the God-fearing white conservative as a victim of oppression.

So Sherrod must have seemed a godsend to blogger Andrew Breitbart.

Last Monday, he posted an excerpted video of Sherrod, an African-American employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, telling a NAACP audience how she once hesitated, because he was white, to help a farmer stave off bankruptcy. “Evidence of racism,” Breitbart sniffs righteously in an accompanying post.

Except that it wasn’t.

“After” the NAACP pronounced the video appalling, “after” Bill O’Reilly called her words unacceptable, and “after” the USDA demanded her resignation (all have since apologized) the truth came out, via the full video.

It turns out Sherrod is a daughter of Baker County, Ga., which she describes as having been the sort of proudly unreconstructed place where a black man might be murdered by a white one and despite three witnesses, the grand jury would decline to indict. In 1965, Sherrod’s father was that black man, one of many.

So there she is in 1986, working at a nonprofit agency established to help farmers, and in comes this white farmer she finds condescending. She didn’t do all she could’ve for him, she told the audience. Instead, she handed him off to a white lawyer, figuring one of “his own kind” would take care of him.

Which would indeed be appalling and unacceptable, except that when the white lawyer failed to help that farmer, Sherrod resolved to help him herself, to overcome the bitterness and bias of her own heart. That farmer credits her with saving his farm.

Breitbart used a snippet of video to misrepresent her as a black bureaucrat bragging of how she stuck it to the white man. Sherrod’s point was actually about reconciliation, redemption, learning to embrace the wholeness of humanity.

Invited by CNN to explain the dissonance between his video and the truth, Breitbart chose instead to reiterate his charge of “racist” sentiment. For Breitbart, the video was an attempt to embarrass the NAACP, because it recently passed a resolution denouncing racist elements in the tea party movement. This is not about Sherrod, he insisted, though she might beg to differ.

In the interview, Breitbart came across as not overly concerned with “truth,” and much less with racial injustice, except insofar as it can be used to further his cause.

And isn’t it telling how often conservatives will discover their burning concern over race just when it becomes useful to them? We saw this last year. In a nation where one state may soon require Latinos to show their papers, conservatives hyperventilated over the “racism” of Sonia Sotomayor extolling the virtues of a “wise Latina.” Now, against the backdrop of an Agriculture Department that long ago admitted to decades of discrimination against black farmers, Breitbart weeps over the “racism” of Shirley Sherrod refusing to assist a white farmer — right up until she did.

It is probably useless to say Breitbart should be ashamed. There is little evidence he possesses the ability. But Sherrod is pondering a defamation suit, and a judgment in her favor might help him fix that defect.

May she win big. And may the outrage machine choke on the bill.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com


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50YearResident 7 years, 9 months ago

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cato_the_elder 7 years, 9 months ago

It's difficult to see anyone more outraged than the writer of this column himself, whose outrage seems to have grown exponentially since Obama's presidency has shown increasingly greater signs of failure. I suspect that if Republicans score big in November, he will be even more outraged, and undoubtedly will tell us how truly outraged he is. Moreover, if Obama loses the Democrat nomination to Hillary in 2012, or retains the nomination but loses the presidential election, Leonard will definitely be in the Pitts.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 9 months ago

Edjayhawk, if you don't know that then you don't follow politics.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

Lenny needs to relax and have a popsicle. It's a cool and fruity treat on a summer day.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

How true, Lenny. And how that will outrage the usual suspects here who so assiduously avoid the truth.

werekoala 7 years, 9 months ago

Dare I ask what TRUTH that is?

Or is it just, as Pitts describes, a never-ending stream of out-of-context anecdotes that are selected & slanted so as to generate a perpetual propaganda onslaught?

Would you even see a difference? Would you even care?

jafs 7 years, 9 months ago

And liberals are called all sorts of things, especially by TS.

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 9 months ago

"Conservatives are called stupid, racist, haters and any number of other things on this web site."

Not without reason, evidence (such as the Sherrod story) and proof. I see nothing here that isn't a typical day at Fox "News" Network, a network that fully admits they aren't a news network but "entertainment". Too bad so many people (including TS who has fully admitted so) take their "reporters"; Beck and Hannity, as gospel truth when even their own network is forced to admit that they lie and misrepresent..

Horatio Bfor 7 years, 9 months ago

racism is outrageous no matter what the color of skin. It would seem that the Whitehouse had the same outrage as Breitbart, after viewing the same video.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

This whole story from Breitbart was a shabby attempt to discredit President Obama because he was angry over recent actions by the NAACP. Another idiot white guy mad at the country for electing a Black man. He just can't stand that the door has been opened, and there my be another in the not-so-distant future. I saw the interview with Ms. Sherrod after all was said and done. Tell it like it is Leonard!

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

How in God's name could Breitbart "discredit President Obama" with a pared video of a USDA employee? Give us a break.

MBH12 7 years, 9 months ago

He was attempting to discredit the president when he referred to Sherrod as "an Obama appointee speaking at an NAACP meeting." When she gave that speech, she was NOT an Obama appointee...

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Aha! Thank you, MB, and I stand corrected. I hadn't heard nor read that nugget.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

These sorts of ploys offer the republicans (in the short term anyway) a win-win situation. If Obama fails to condemn the apparent outrage shown in the video, then the right wing propaganda machine pounces and accuses him of his supposed hatred of whites. If he does react, then when the deceptive video is inevitably discovered, as we are witnessing, the right wing propaganda machine works to make the story about Obama's faulty decision making. Either way several news cycles of negative press for the Obama administration.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Spot on, scott. Seems like nearly everything in politics is the proverbial Catch-22 these days. Couldn't agree with your point more, nor condemn such politics less. Makes me sick to my stomach, particularly since these yahoos so obviously believe the populace is wholly unintelligent and won't care to look past the McNuggets they feed us.
Great post.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

Based on events of the last 20-30 years, I'd have to say the evaluation of the populace may not be inaccurate. The scoundrels of both the Democratic and republican parties have had a field day.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Sad to say, taken as whole you may be right. Sadder still is in this day of immediate retrieval of facts and information that intellectual discourse seems to be weakening. Why would that be? Are people too apathetic, too lazy, or just getting dumber due to 1000 tv channels and video games?

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

The only person in the Obama administration that was involved in Ms. Sherrod's firing was Vilsak. Do you really think he has the time to oversee the hiring or firing of every person in every department of his administration? Vilsak has apologized, I'm waiting for Breitbart and Fox news( not Hannity or Beck) to do the same. I'd like to see Breitbart disciplined in the same fashion as Don Imus. His credibility is shot.

beatrice 7 years, 9 months ago

So you won't vote for someone in the future because of the color of their skin? Stunning. If you didn't like Bush, does that mean you won't vote for anymore white candidates either? What exactly does the color of their skin have to do with either president's performance, Bush or Obama, and how is this a sign of how it will effect the actions of future presidents? Please take the time to explain.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Can't remember.... is this the same yahoo that posted virtually the same nonsense the other day?

newmedia 7 years, 9 months ago

Is Leonard Pitts Jr. really Earl Pitts half brother? Meaning no disrespect to Earl..

MBH12 7 years, 9 months ago

Hmmm An administration which acts on incomplete or faulty information...? Sounds vaguely familiar... I would guess that jumping the gun and having someone fired is slightly better than getting 4413 soldiers killed...

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

"use the financial crisis created by this administration"...What planet have you been on for the last 10 years?

jafs 7 years, 9 months ago

A single payer insurance plan is not socialism.

Socialism is defined as the government owning the means of production.

jafs 7 years, 9 months ago


A "socialist" health plan would be one in which the government owns the healh care delivery system - doctor's offices, pharmacies, etc.

jafs 7 years, 9 months ago

Not true.

See my response to AppleJack.

jafs 7 years, 9 months ago

The definition of socialism is that government owns the means of production.

jafs 7 years, 9 months ago

Then your boss owns you?

And insurance companies own the health care system?

Let's assume for a minute that Medicare for all is instituted. That means that everyone would pay into the system, and the government would offer everyone a government-administered health insurance program (although they are often actually administered by private companies).

Nothing in that set-up would eliminate the possibility of private insurance for those that want it, and can afford it.

All of the health care delivery systems would still be privately owned and operated.

That's quite different from a health care system that is owned by the government, with no other options available.

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 9 months ago

Wow, why does that make me think of Karl Rove?

MBH12 7 years, 9 months ago

Nowhere was Bush accused of any wrongdoing in this instance. The choice of words used to describe the current administration simply resonated with the actions of the previous administration... Unless the reference was to the soldier's deaths, and then, yes, it was/is/and will be Bush's fault.

Verdad 7 years, 9 months ago

For a supposedly intelligent administration to make such a knee jerk reaction and be fooled by this leads one to question how they reach other decisions.

barlowtl 7 years, 9 months ago

The beer summit seems a success, the police officer & the Professor have since connected privately several times & have become friends, at least according to the officer in an interview.

rbwaa 7 years, 9 months ago

i know it doesn't make any difference to any of the vitriol spouted here but i would be passive aggressive to any person who was condescending to me, regardless of race

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Pitts' column is a good one as it pertains to Sherrod, but his projections fail in two areas:

First, categorizing conservatives as harboring an "outrage machine" is tunnel-visioned since there's no shortage of such from the left. 'Course, if the "outrage" is perpetual, perhaps it's more difficult to discern.

Second, this statement: " isn’t it telling how often conservatives will discover their burning concern over race just when it becomes useful to them?"

...is foolish, intellectually void, and not a little prejudiced on its' face. For a person who makes his chops wallowing in all matters 'racial', by now he should know that ... A.) Smearing an entire political party or any group of people in a blanket accusation is exactly the kind of thing he supposedly champions the movement against B.) Continuously asserting ALL conservatives aren't really concerned with racism, particularly when (I think) that party makes up the majority of the citizens in this country, will be counter-productive to the improvement of race relations and intelligent discourse on the matter. Keep throwing an accusation in someone's face when that person might actually hold your same opinion is bound to breed resentment. C.) Even he has warned against the hazards of crying "Wolf! (Racist!) (Racism!)" at every drop of the hat. That hat does not always fit and it's a dangerous, disingenuous, and again - counter-productive game that too many involve themselves in these days.

I knew that race was going to be an issue after his election, but I believe that instead of being a positive thing with the lunatic fringe being more exposed, it seems the left has pumped the issue with Middle Ages' steroids, when the cry of "Witch!" immediately led to the fiery immolation of so many innocent women. Racism isn't dead, never will be. Too many morons walking around (ever been to the DMV?). But pumping the issue up like it's still the '50's and shouting "Witch!" at anyone who dares speak against the President or doesn't see blatant racism in the most innocuous of incidences isn't gonna help squat. But it will breed resentment and work against what should be one of the noblest of causes.

uncleandyt 7 years, 9 months ago

The only people saying that ALL Conswervatives are racists, are the defensive, change-the-subject, Right-wing cheerleaders.

independant1 7 years, 9 months ago

Correction, Last week, all mainstream media outrage machines tried to chew up Shirley Sherrod, bar none.

It's our favorite singularly american political media sport.

Gotcha quotes out of context journalism at it's finest.

Whoever finds and broadcasts/publishes first and most wins.

Boosh 7 years, 9 months ago

+1 independant1

The Fourth Estate has, I believe, sunk to an all time low.

jackpot 7 years, 9 months ago

Sorry CNN did not "run" with the story. They looked into it and found it was not what was reported. They started showing the full 41 mins. not the 3 mins. the "mainstream media outrage machines" were showing.

weeslicket 7 years, 9 months ago

"But Sherrod is pondering a defamation suit, and a judgment in her favor might help him fix that defect."

set all the blustering aside, and this is exactly what sherrod should do. breitbart should clearly be held accountable for his actions.

tomatogrower 7 years, 9 months ago

Then hopefully it will make other bloggers, right and left, think twice about posting misinformation. You know those things we used to call lies?

Michael Throop 7 years, 9 months ago

I have read other ultra left commentators cheering for Sherrod to try to sue Breitbart for defamation or whatever. I suspect that even the cadre of liberals at Harvard Law who might otherwise be beating down Sherrod's door to volunteer their time to try and take down a conservative might actually have acted like adults and backed off. While the excerpt may have cast Sherrod in a bad light, it did NOT cast her in a "false" light. Simply pulling out a statement and using it out of context is not illegal, could be immoral, and goes on all the time. The mainstream media have done it for decades to people they don't like. They may publish a clarification later, but it's literally old news by that time. To prove lbel or slander, you must prove "actual malice"-context doesn't count. The truth is the absolute defense in these cases and the truth is she spoke those words. It's a piece of the speech, yes, but it's not made up..there's no shadow voice mouthing something entirely different over her video. Yes, anyone can sue anyone else for any reason at any time at any place for the price of a filing fee, but that doesn't mean a legal action will see the light of day. Sherrod ought to move on.

weeslicket 7 years, 9 months ago


no doubt malice/libel are hard to prove.
mr. breitbart has put himself in quite a pickle.

Steve Clark 7 years, 9 months ago

Having seen then interviews with Mr. Video expert I'm not sure how you can say there was no malice...and the out of context cuts were delfinately purposeful. Not arguing for a lawsuit, but don't understand how it wouldn't be more warranted than you suggest.

Michael Throop 7 years, 9 months ago

well, I am not a libel expert by any means, but my understanding has been that words count..she did say what she did, and whether she speaks of "redemption" later is not of consequence here. She also spoke as an official of the USDA in this forum, and under "Sullivan" public officials have higher standards to meet to be able to pursue libel.

Jimo 7 years, 9 months ago

"The truth is the absolute defense in these cases and the truth is she spoke those words."

You don't understand the tort of false light and are intermixing this tort with defamation (unsurprising given their similarity).

While this tort varies somewhat state to state, one must show only that the publication was made with malice, was misleading, and would be embarrassing and hurtful to a reasonable person's feelings to be so portrayed.

Your contention that if someone slivers off pieces and parts of a person's actual words that a defense of "truth" is thereby constructed is a false statement of the law. Maliciously publishing false information can bring about a false light lawsuit but so can maliciously publishing truthful information if done so in a misleading manner that injures the subject's emotional peace.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

Speaking of outrages: "Charlie Rangel, oleaginous octogenarian extraordinaire, put on a press conference at lunchtime on Friday that was such a master class in shifty-eyed flimflam that no one who watched it can have left its Harlem venue (or their TV screens) unconvinced that he is, by some great distance, the most knavish congressman in Washington. There can be little doubt that Rangel—who has served a mind-boggling, and, for those concerned with standards of official conduct, depressing, 20 terms—is not going to be able to run for a 21st term. His career is now over. I predict that he will resign by, or on, Thursday of next week, the day on which the House Ethics Committee lays formal charges against him, charges which—if he contests them—will go to public trial. (The charges are, by now, so well known that they scarcely bear repeating: undeclared taxes on income from a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic; the securing of four luxury apartments at a heftily subsidized rent; and the granting of lucrative favors to a donor. Read a detailed account here. (Rangel has, predictably enough, protested his innocence all along.)..."


Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

After I've posted the same set of links over 100 times, I'll be taking merrill's mantel. Until then, not so much.

beatrice 7 years, 9 months ago

What I find amazing is how often people will claim that anyone who dares to criticize President Obama will bring charges of racism in return. Talk about an unsupportable statement of pure fiction. It simply doesn't happen, but many will say it does and it is nothing but a cheap defense for many who wish to attack Obama and his administration. This is a tactic meant to minimize any defenders of Obama, as they are apparently the ones who will call others "racist" when unwarranted.

However, when someone does point out racist statements, it often isn't the racism that is attacked, it is the messenger. I believe this stems from the reality that some people just don't want to see or admit to racism unless it is of the most blatant, cross burning on the lawn variety. Racism? Why, that is something that was a problem in the past. Oh sure it exists, but it isn't so bad now, they like to claim.

If it isn't on the level of lynchings or torching churches, then some people would just as well ignore it. If it doesn't amp up to the level of hatred our nation experienced in the 1950s or '60s (or even a century earlier), then they want to pretend it isn't real. Just isolated incidents by single individuals, but never a sign of a deeper problem, they like to claim.

This attitude of blissful ignorance helps explain why Pitts is so often called a racist around here.

Yes, Pitts writes quite often on racism. It is part of what he hopes to eradicate and so he writes about it, but that doesn't make him a racist any more than people who write about crime should be called a criminal. Yet it is the easy attack on Pitts, to call him the racist so we don't really have to take what he says seriously. The truth is, some people just prefer to live with their heads in the sand and they really don't like it when they are presented an opportunity to consider the reality of the racism that still exists in America. As the famous movie line goes, some people can't handle the truth.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

"Talk about an unsupportable statement of pure fiction."

That pretty much sums up this entire post. I sure would love you to PROVE the very first sentence, bea, but I know not to hold my breath. But I will say you win the award for over-generalization with your first paragraph: "people" "anyone" "many" "many"(again) "any" "they" and "others".

Herein lies your actual (imagined) premise: " However, when someone does point out racist statements, it often isn't the racism that is attacked, it is the messenger". Sounds more like a touch of personal defensiveness from a knee-jerk finger pointer.

(Cue the same ol' tired rhetoric)

beatrice 7 years, 9 months ago

Jay, so you want proof of my statement that "people will claim that anyone who dares to criticize President Obama will bring charges of racism in return."

Are you serious? Do you read your own posts?

Okay, without hunting down posts where people have said that they are called racist for criticizing Obama, I'll just look at your comment from earlier today as your proof. At 9:10 this am you wrote: "But pumping the issue up like it's still the '50's and shouting "Witch!" at anyone who dares speak against the President or doesn't see blatant racism in the most innocuous of incidences isn't gonna help squat."

"...shouting 'Witch!' at anyone who dares speak against the President..."

"... at anyone who dares speak against the President..." Anyone.

By "Witch!," given the context of this discussion, it is pretty clear you mean "racist" or "racism." Clearly, you are suggesting that there are people who are doing this, otherwise, why make such a claim?

That is EXACTLY what I am referring to. You just claimed that it is of no use when people shout racism at "anyone who dares speak against the President." While I agree with that sentiment, I don't agree that there are people who are calling any criticism of Obama "racist." That is your fiction tale.

Also, if you don't believe it is the messenger who is attacked, how often do you read comments calling Pitts a racist? I saw at least one on this thread, where someone wrote, ""He either can not or will not hide his hatred for whites," in reference to Pitts. I read similar responses to his other columns with regularity. Isn't that not an example of attacking the messenger? Care to defend that nonsense as well?

Now, since you proved how silly you can be in our last exchange by ignoring the obvious (denying that people associated with the Tea Party denied racism at Tea Party events), feel free to write whatever you wish to / about me here. I won't be responding in kind. This is a one and done argument as far as I'm concerned. You can have the last word.

I am just curious to see if you even know how to be civil enough for it not to be removed (again).

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Be removed again? Sorry, kiddo, that's your wheelhouse.

As to your first sentence and what I've posted, I would never generalize with "anyone", as if it happens each and every time.
To the rest of what you responded with, again, sorry, but I didn't bother reading it.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

"It is part of what he hopes to eradicate..." Racism is Lenny's meat and drink.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

Rational thought and reason? Are you referring to yourself? With a user name of 'retardican' and referring to the former Prez and Veep as 'Shrub/Dick'? Riiiiight.

As for accomplishments of the former administration, a "rational, reasoned" person would.. 1) Look up such things themselves if they really didn't know them and were interested 2) Would already know through common sense and rationality that there must be a number of positive things done after 8 years in the WH, since, as a "rational, reasoned" person, they'd already know that the former President was not the Great Satan.

Since these things don't seem to describe yourself:

-Emergency plans for AIDS relief -(PEPFAR) is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history. Since the President launched this initiative in 2003, PEPFAR has supported life-saving treatment for more than 2.1 million people and care for more than 10.1 million people worldwide.

-The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) is on track to reduce malaria deaths by half in 15 targeted countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007 alone, the PMI reached more than 25 million people with lifesaving treatment and prevention services President Bush enacted the largest tax relief in a generation. For only the third time in history, Americans received across-the-board tax relief. Tax rates fell for everyone who pays income taxes, and more than 13 million Americans saw their income taxes eliminated altogether. The President worked with Congress to double the child tax credit, reduce the marriage penalty, and put the death tax on the road to extinction.

-When President Bush took office in 2001, the United States had free trade agreements (FTAs) in force with only three countries. Today, America has agreements in force with 14 countries, and Congress has approved FTAs with another three. These agreements have benefited American farmers, workers, and small business owners.

-The federal government has increased its investment in research and development to a record $143 billion – an increase of 57 percent from 2001.

For more: http://newsburglar.com/2009/01/14/george-bushs-accomplishments/

That was real tough to Google, fodder.

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago

What happened to this string, moderators? Seems like at least half the comments have just disappeared?

jaywalker 7 years, 9 months ago


What happened to this string?

Robert Marble 7 years, 9 months ago

outrage eh? can anyone say "tawana brawley"?

beatrice 7 years, 9 months ago

Yes. We can also say "1987." We can also say "Susan Smith" too. None will be of much use, however, regarding this story.

Just curious, what does a story of a sad and mentally ill girl telling a lie about being attacked by whites a quarter century ago, or even that of a white woman who killed her children and blamed it on blacks 15 years ago, have to do with anything?

Are you even aware of Susan Smith, or just the story of Tawana?

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