July 25, 2010

When Howard Dean appeared on Fox Sunday, he took the opportunity to tell the conservative network exactly what he thought of their coverage of the USDA worker who was forced to resign last week. Dean told Fox News' Chris Wallace that the network had behaved in a racist way when it came to the way they reported on the tape of Shirley Sherrod that was posted to Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com.

Breitbart posted a video clip that appeared to show Sherrod saying she had withheld help from a white farmer because of the color of his skin. The NAACP condemned Sherrod and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked for her resignation. After the unedited video surfaced, it was clear that Sherrod was actually telling a story about how she overcame racism. The NAACP and Vilsack both quickly apologized for their mistake.

Appearing alongside Newt Gingrich, Dean was blunt with his accusation. "I don't think Newt Gingrich is a racist and you're certainly not a racist but Fox News did something that was absolutely racist," said Dean.

"They had a obligation to find out what was really in the clip. They have been pushing a theme of black racism, phony Black Panther crap and this business and Sotomayor and all this other stuff. The Tea Party called out their racist fringe and I think the Republican Party has got to stop appealing to its racist fringe," Dean continued.

"And Fox News is what did that. You put that on," he said.

"Wait, wait, wait," interrupted Chris Wallace. "I know facts are inconvenient things but let's try to deal with the facts. The fact is that the Obama administration fired or forced Shirley Sherrod to quit before her name had ever been mentioned on Fox News Channel."

While it's true that the that Fox News Channel did not air the video until after Sherrod resigned, their websites did push the story before her resignation. The Los Angeles Times' James Rainey reports:

Too bad that message didn't reach the operators of Fox's websites and commentator Bill O'Reilly. FoxNews.com posted the story on Monday, and the FoxNation.com website followed with the video and the accusatory headline: "Caught on Tape: Obama Official Discriminates Against White Farmer." That night, O'Reilly called on Sherrod to resign. (She had already agreed to leave her post before the O'Reilly segment aired.)

O'Reilly at least apologized for proceeding without all the facts. (Though he then proceeded to backhand Sherrod for two days running, suggesting she might be too dangerously left wing for government service.)

The Fox corporate rep who took my phone call this week wouldn't explain why Fox's Web newsers made the same mistake — failing to recognize that the Breitbart video was a clip job or that Sherrod's story dated to a quarter-century ago, long before she worked for the feds.

"Fox News was not blameless during this," countered Dean. "I don't know if ever there was a clip of the white farmer saying 'Wait a minute, this woman helped us save the farm.' Did that ever appear on Fox News?"

"I don't know because I wasn't covering that part of the story but we certainly reported that part of the story," Wallace replied.

"Did Fox News play the clip that turned out to be inaccurate?" asked Dean.

"After she was fired," answered Wallace.

"Right. I don't think it matters whether it was before or after. The fact is you played it. You didn't do your job, said Dean. "There's been this ongoing theme [at Fox News] about black racism in America."

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