Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA official forced to resign Monday because of an overreaction to racially tinged remarks she made in a video taped speech, got a White House apology Wednesday.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said:
Members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on both sides of this have all made determinations and judgments without a full set of facts. I thinkthat is — that is wholly and completely accurate.
I think without a doubt, Ms. Sherrod is owed an apology. I would do so certainly on behalf of this administration. I think if we learn— if we look back and decide what we want to learn out of this, I think it is, as I said, everybody involved made determinations without knowing all the facts and all the events.
Gibbs said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was attempting to reach Sherrod who was to convey his apology directly. It was Vilsack who forced Sherrod out of her job as the USDA's rural development director in Georgia.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — Secretary Vilsack is — has tried andis trying to reach Ms. Sherrod. When the secretary reaches her, he will apologize for the events of the last few days, and they will talk about their next steps. I think it is — I think, clearly, that a lot of people involved in this situation, from the government's perspective on through, acted without all the facts.
Now — as you saw Secretary Vilsack's statement from last evening— now that we have greater knowledge and a broader fact set, he is going to review all of those facts, and that's what he'll talk to Ms. Sherrod about today.
REPORTER: So does the secretary plan to offer her her job back?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that's something that — thesecretary and Ms. Sherrod are going to talk through those next steps.
Vilsack acted after a radically edited version of Sherrod's remarks made during a March 2010 speech at a local NAACP chapter dinner was publicized on conservative media outlets like biggovernment.com.
In the abridged version, Sherrod, an African American, told a story about how 24 years ago, because of her racial feelings long before she worked for the federal government, she didn't do as much as she could have to help a white farmer facing foreclosure as she could have.
But it was clear in the longer version of the recording that her larger point was she overcame her initial feelings and went on to help the farmer keep his farm. The farmer and his wife both credited Sherrod on national TV for helping to save their farm. She said she realized the issue was economic class, not race. It was a story of redemption that had been misunderstood.
At one point during Gibbs' briefing, he was told by reporters in the White House press briefing room that Sherrod was actually watching him then and there.
REPORTER: She's watching. She's watching you.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand. Let — I — and let me — thesecretary is trying to reach her. I hope that the secretary reachesher soon and they have an opportunity to talk.
REPORTER: Do you —
MR. GIBBS: The secretary will apologize for the actions that have taken place over the past 24 to 36 hours. And on behalf of the administration, I offer our apologies. Again, I — this is more directed at everybody writ large here: I think — I think everybody has to go back — we have; we will continue to — and look at what has happened over the past 24 to 36 hours and ask ourselves how we got into this.
Gibbs appeared to have a theory about how the situation happened. He appeared to blame the political hothouse of the nation's capital which has existed since the start of the Republic but has become unceasing because of the 24-7 news cycle.
Gibbs appeared to be blaming the media in part for the ruckus. But Jake Tapper of ABC News threw what in baseball would be called a brush-back pitch and Gibbs did appear to back off his blame-the-media approach.
MR. GIBBS: How did we get into — how did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions? How did other people not ask the right questions? And go from there.
REPORTER: — A follow-up?
JAKE TAPPER: Well, I asked the right questions. I actually called her before we reported on this to find out what her end of the story is, so I — you can fault the media if you want, but —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I'm not faulting the media, Jake. But I — no, no, hold on. I'm not here to fault the media. I've apologized on behalf of the administration. I will say, I — a number of people called quite quickly after these comments aired and wanted to know what our response was. I don't know — I don't know who else called. I don't know — I don't know who made calls trying to seek a greater understanding. We made a mistake on that.
Gibbs rejected out of hand the implication that the White House might be now acting out of fear of negative political fallout from Vilsack forcing Sherrod out of the USDA.
REPORTER: And what if any concern is there within the administration that the mishandling of this with Ms. Sherrod up there could hurt the president and the Democrats as well in the — in an election year?
MR. GIBBS: I — (inaudible) — your question encapsulates a little bit of what I was talking about a minute ago. I know there is a — we have this society and this culture now, that's pervasive in this town, where everything is viewed through the lens of who wins, who loses, how fast, by what margin.
You know, look, a disservice was done. An apology is — that's what we've done. This administration has never looked at — I think if you go well back into the campaign, never looked at a scoreboard at the end of each day to figure out where we stood.