Economy

Stop The Presses? Who Is To Blame For What Happened To Shirley Sherrod?

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Addresses The Firing Of USDA Worker Sherrod

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he is sorry his department fired Shirley Sherrod. Alex Wong/Getty Images North America hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

On Friday, as the fallout from the Shirley Sherrod scandal began to settle, Ruth Marcus, a columnist for The Washington Post, made the case for "the slow blogging movement," which she called the "cyber-cousin" of the slow food movement.

You can read her argument here, in a 350-word post, on PostPartisan, a blog to which she and her editorialist colleagues contribute.

Regrettably, the idea she advances isn't an original one. And the analogy she uses isn't either.

In 2008, Sharon Otterman wrote about slow blogging for The New York Times, noting "the practice is inspired by the slow food movement, which says that fast food is destroying local traditions and healthy eating habits."

Slow food advocates, like the chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., believe that food should be local, organic and seasonal; slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants — great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the long haul.

Marcus longs for those halcyon days of journalism, when "the people in [her] business spent time checking and rechecking facts and first impressions," and "opinion writers mulled things over." (To be fair, plenty of us do.)

I guess we should assume that, in this case, if Marcus had a longer deadline, she would've been able to do a simple Google search for "slow blogging," then give credit where it's due.

That quibble aside, let's look at the case Marcus makes:

Blogging is about speed: the early post catches the Google. It is about linking, which may sound like creating a community and encouraging diversity of views but which too often deteriorates into a closed circle of reinforced perceptions. It is about provocation. Shrillness sells. Even-handedness goes unclicked. Once the people in my business spent time checking and rechecking facts and first impressions. Opinion writers mulled things over. In the world of the blogosphere, mistakes can always be crossed through and corrected; seat-of-the-pants reactions refined.

Except: Shirley Sherrod.

Over the next few weeks, critics and journalists and bloggers will retrace the trajectory of this story from the edited video to the White House apology. In fact, they've already begun to do just that.

There is plenty of blame to go around, it seems.

CJR says "the story developed quickly and furiously online and on cable — and bloggers on the right and left continue with their takes."

That's an important point, which The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz also makes.

Sure, the Sherrod story fueled commentary on blogs, but most of that centered on how the story played out in the mainstream media and in the Obama administration. Kurtz quotes posts by Jonah Goldberg, Steve Benen, and David Frum, among others.

Frank Rich, of The New York Times, doesn't levy much blame at bloggers. In his estimation, Andrew Breitbart — "a racial provocateur, wielding a deceptively edited video," the White House, the N.A.A.C.P. and the news media are at fault.

On his program, Bill O'Reilly apologized to Sherrod "for not doing [his] homework," following in the footsteps of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and President Obama. (He aired the Breitbart footage on his FOX News show.)

The Sherrod story moved quickly, but reporters are supposed to keep up. More than that, they're supposed to get ahead. In this case, several journalists didn't. Instead of complaining about the pace of the news cycle, let's worry about that.

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