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


RobertMarble 3 years, 8 months ago

outrage eh? can anyone say "tawana brawley"?


jaywalker 3 years, 8 months ago


What happened to this string?


TrooGrit 3 years, 8 months ago

I think one thing I find distasteful about the edited video, and the entire video (both available on youtube). is not so much that "baiting" was done (and that is particularly distasteful, in and of itself), is the reaction of the audience to Sherrod's speech. If you listen closely, you can hear comments about "rich white against poor blacks", and a lot of applause in the portions of the story where she relates how "she didn't do all she could". The audience applauded her, and she seemed to enjoy that.

I guess what I am trying to say is, if you are telling a "parable" to illustrate a point, maybe in the part of the story where the "bad behavior" is being described, it might be reasonable to apologize, or otherwise indicate that you have remorse for that behavior. The sad thing is, I believe very racist behavior was exhibited by the members of that audience, yet no one seems to want to talk about that! Shameful, all the way around.


jaywalker 3 years, 8 months ago

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


retardicanfodder 3 years, 8 months ago

Various Retardicans..... Way to change the subject. We're all too dumb to catch on to your shiftiness in deflecting the story at hand. So, how does Rangel compare to having the terrorists family over at the ranch while bombing the USA? Or stealing an election (you know the basis of the democracy)? Or spying on US citizens? Or lying about starting a war or two? Or ruining the World's economy? Torture? Firing US attys?.....Moving no-bid contracted war mongering business overseas to dodge taxes and laws? No comparison is there? I'd like to say stfu, but maybe you can help tom and other Retardicans post one accomplishment of the Shrub/Dick admin. NO ONE has been able to for weeks and weeks. Or do you to wish to go back to the ruined economy and starting unwinnable wars? What's the point of that? Or is that the point. All Retardicans live pointless lives?


retardicanfodder 3 years, 8 months ago

WOW TOM, are you defending a racist for calling someone who should be a racist (but not a racist) a racist. OR are you just trying to change the subject and deflect the truth stick once again. You need to quit "Reacting" to what you hear and read and start "THINKING" about what you hear and read....The anger will subside and freedom of thought and Liberty will follow. When will you realize that "believing" in what you 'know" is not true is living a lie? And trying to force those lies on other peoples lives is evil. By the way I'm still waiting for you to post anywhere and any time just one accomplishment of the Shrub/Dick admn. If there are no accomplishments to offer other than the utter destruction of the world's ecomony and two unwinnable wars...why the big rush to get back to that? Post some substance not reactions. It makes you too predictable...and kinda embarassingly easy target for rational thought and reason....


Ray Parker 3 years, 8 months ago

Conservatives didn't jump out and fire this biased black bureaucrat, the Mombasa Marxist's regime did, before any NAACP speech excerpt even aired. And no consulting with the presumed guilty or assumed victim of bigotry til after the firing, either. Where was the beer summit this time?


Pepito 3 years, 8 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."

What I find amazing is Obama's Outrage Machine is used to attack America and beatrice's pure fiction.

""White House backed release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi

Jason Allardyce and Tony Allen-Mills From: The Australian July 26, 2010 12:00AM

THE US government secretly advised Scottish ministers it would be "far preferable" to free the Lockerbie bomber than jail him in Libya. Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more palatable than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison.

The intervention, which has angered US relatives of those who died in the attack, was made by Richard LeBaron, deputy head of the US embassy in London, a week before Megrahi was freed in August last year on grounds that he had terminal cancer.

The document, acquired by a well-placed US source, threatens to undermine US President Barack Obama's claim last week that all Americans were "surprised, disappointed and angry" to learn of Megrahi's release.

Scottish ministers viewed the level of US resistance to compassionate release as "half-hearted" and a sign it would be accepted.

The US has tried to keep the letter secret, refusing to give permission to the Scottish authorities to publish it on the grounds it would prevent future "frank and open communications" with other governments"""


beatrice 3 years, 8 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.


EasyTiger 3 years, 8 months ago

My God, some of you people are truly disgusting. The "right" in this country has become completely despicable and it sickens me as an American citizen to watch it.


Flap Doodle 3 years, 8 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.)..."


tange 3 years, 8 months ago

Hey, guys, is there a chance I might get a turn on the running wheel? Needing some of that endless loop exercise to perpetuate my apoplexy.

( Don't take too long, I'm almost lucid. )


monkfellow 3 years, 8 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 3 years, 8 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.


independant1 3 years, 8 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.


jaywalker 3 years, 8 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?" 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.


MacHeath 3 years, 8 months ago

I tell ya is unfrigginforgivable, Tom. Taking this women's story out-of-context, and trying to make it seem like she was anti-white. Witch is exactly what you and your kind tried to do. You have to see that this was the very least, a small error in judgement. If not, you are hopeless. You spite and vitrol have eaten you up until you are nothing but misguided and meaningless words on a page.


rbwaa 3 years, 8 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


Verdad 3 years, 8 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.


AppleJack 3 years, 8 months ago

It was inevitable...just a matter of when Pitts would spew his vitriole at the conservatives. Naturally, he avoids this administration's proven ability to act on incomplete or faulty information. They do it over and over and over.....


newmedia 3 years, 8 months ago

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


grammaddy 3 years, 8 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!


kefarris 3 years, 8 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.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 8 months ago

Really, is this guy for real? Wow!

"Specifically, for stories that depict the God-fearing white conservative as a victim of oppression."

He either can not or will not hide his hatred for whites. Unfriggingbelievable.

Wow! Mr. Pitts, you blow me away with your stuff!


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 8 months ago

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


Flap Doodle 3 years, 8 months ago

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


cato_the_elder 3 years, 8 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.


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