A 'Teachable Moment'? What's The Lesson? : Tell Me More Host Michel Martin explores the lessons that can be learned from the Shirley Sherrod story -- by the president, by Fox News Channel and by all journalists -- about race, politics and the power of the truth.
NPR logo A 'Teachable Moment'? What's The Lesson?

A 'Teachable Moment'? What's The Lesson?

Former USDA official Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign last week after her comments about overcoming racial prejudice were taken out of context. Steve Cannon/AP hide caption

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Steve Cannon/AP

You might be sick of the whole Shirley Sherrod story — and I bet nobody is more sick of it than she is — but there remain a number of issues to ponder.

The question is, exactly which ones?

We’ve heard from a number of voices about the role of social media and about the cable networks, Fox News Channel, in particular. Blogger Richard Prince recently offered an interesting dissection of the role that Fox played in disseminating the story.

Does anybody really dispute that Fox News Channel has a deliberately conservative bent? But in this case, the cable network — like just about every other outlet — only went hard with the story after Shirley Sherrod had already resigned. That’s something Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz noted in his reporting on the story.

But Prince makes the point that Fox News Channel’s website actually seemed to take credit for Sherrod’s firing, and the cable network’s opinion programs repeated the claim that she had made anti-white remarks long after other news outlets, notably CNN, were trying to figure out a) if Sherrod actually did have anti-white sentiments and b) what the broader context was and how the tape was actually edited.

And it is also true that Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who posted the edited tape, along with other bloggers, has worked closely with Fox News Channel to "roll out" his previous offerings. But it is also worth noting that a number of the cable network's personalities have apologized for slamming Sherrod unfairly — host Bill O'Reilly among them.

So is this a story about Fox News and how it has worked? About the media, in general?

... About the White House?

... About race?

An interesting perspective was offered by our guest today, Van Jones. He is a former White House staffer who resigned after some rude comments he made about Republicans (before he joined the Obama administration) came to light. And he was also accused of adding his name to a petition that accused the Bush administration of "deliberately allowing 9-11 to happen," perhaps as a pretext for war. He says he never signed it, but it was too late. He has said since that a vulgarity he uttered about Republicans made him a distraction to the White House and he felt it was time to resign ... so he did. Many Obama supporters were furious and felt that Jones was thrown under the bus, and that it was an early warning of what they considered Obama's fecklessness when it comes to supporting those who have supported him.

Interestingly, Jones does not agree with any of that.

He says this is really about our need, as voters, to grow up and to learn to accept people in their complexity. Because if we don't, he says, the only people we'll have in government are people who have never taken any chances, never done anything hard, or even lived as normal people.

He shared more about this in a recent essay for The New York Times.

What do you think?