Anonymous/United States Department of Agriculture
An undated photo of ex-USDA official Shirley Sherrod provided by the department.
Shirley Sherrod, perhaps the nation's most famous ex-USDA official, made the rounds on the morning news shows Friday morning.
In was kind of a victory lap after she received apologies from the White House and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for being wrongly forced to resign her job in rural development because of racial comments she made in a speech earlier this year that looked indefensible when taken out of context.
Sherrod told her interviewers that she hadn't made up her mind about accepting a job offer from Vilsack. She didn't want to be a token, a symbol of the department's ostensible effort to fix discrimination within the agency without a real institutional commitment to the problem.
She also said she didn't believe there was any need for President Barack Obama to apologize to her himself though she did indicate that she would love to speak with him.
In short, Sherrod appeared keenly aware that she has maximum leverage right now and she appeared inclined to use it.
Speaking with ABC News' George Stephanapoulos about Vilsack's offer, she said:
MS. SHERROD ... I know he talked about discrimination in the agency and after all these years that's still happening. I would not want to be the one person in the agency that everyone is looking at to clear up discrimination in the Department of Agriculture.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It seems to me that you're saying that, at this point, it's not your personal situation that bothers you so much.
You want to know that there's an institutional commitment to fight this discrimination? You want to know that there's an institutional commitment to fight this discrimination?
MS. SHERROD: Right. Because if there is, there are some other things that would need to happen within the agency that have not happened to this date.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But don't you think that President Obama is committed to that?
MS. SHERROD: I would hope that he is.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You were quite harsh on the White House in the early days as this story unfolded. Are you satisfied now that they've done everything they can, that the president's done everything he can and that he's fully behind you?
MS. SHERROD: You know, I can't say that the president is fully behind me. I would hope that he is. I have not talked to him. He is my president though, so I —
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you want to talk to him?
MS. SHERROD: I would love to talk to him, but I respect him as the president of this great nation and he is my president.
One of the most fascinating parts of Sherrod's interviews, is that she tapped into something that was heard a lot in the early days of Obama's presidential campaign in 2007 and early 2008. That is that the president isn't black enough because of his unusual background.
His birth to a black African father and white American mother, his being raised in Indonesia by his mother and Indonesian stepfather, then in Hawaii by white grandparents, all contributed to questions among many African Americans as to whether Obama was really one of them.
Listening to Sherrod, it appeared that question was still out there:
MS. SHERROD: I'd like for him — he's not someone who has experienced some of the things I've experienced through life being a person of color. He might need to hear some of what I could say to him. I don't know whether that would guide him in the way that he deals with others like me, but I'd at least like to have the opportunity to talk to him about it.
If she does talk with the president, she won't be necessarily looking for an apology, she said. It's hard to imagine him not offering one if he does talk with her, however.
An excerpt from her interview with NBC's Meredith Viera:
MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk about that. I want to talk about that ina minute, but first of all, do you think that you deserve a phone callfrom President Obama?
MS. SHERROD: I think I do.
MS. VIEIRA: You do.
MS. SHERROD: Mmm-hmm.
MS. VIEIRA: An apology?
MS. SHERROD: Well, you know, he's the president of the United States of America. I've received the apologies that are important. I really would not want the president to apologize to me. I would love to have a conversation with him, though.
One more thing. On CBS she told Erica Hill she hadn't ruled out a lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart who placed an edited video of her March 2010 speech on his www.biggovernmment.com web site.
MS. HILL: Has he apologized to you?
MS. SHERROD: No, he hasn't.
MS. HILL: Do you expect an apology?
MS. SHERROD: No, I don't. That's — from what I — you know, I don't know him; never heard of him before this happened. But from what I think he is, I don't think I would ever receive an apology.
MS. HILL: Would you consider legal action against him?
MS. SHERROD: Yes.
MS. HILL: Is that something you're actively talking about, or —
MS. SHERROD: I haven't talked about it actively, but I woulddefinitely consider it.