July 21, 2010

Robert Gibbs opened up his daily briefing today with a frank confession that the administration had made a decision on Shirley Sherrod's speech without all of the facts, and offered an apology to her directly.

QUESTION: And to a lot of people trying to follow this story, they see a government employee who ends up losing her job because of comments posted on a videotape that appears to be taken out of context. It just looks bungled. Is that a fair way to put it?

GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think this is one -- I think this is a fair way to put it: members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on this, have all made determinations and judgments without a full set of facts. I think that 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 of the events.

When pressed on the reason for the rapid-fire response, Gibbs had a reply that should have made everyone in the room step back and offer their own apology, but instead it just fired up the machine louder, because if there's anything the mainstream White House press hates, it's being held accountable.

GIBBS: I can't speak for everybody involved. But I think we live in a -- I think we live in a culture that things whip around, people want fast responses, we want to give fast responses and I don't think there's any doubt that if we all look at this, I think the lesson -- one of the great lessons you take away from this is to ask all of the questions first and to come to that fuller understanding. I say that, again, from the perspective of this administration, I say that from the perspective of those that cover this administration, and those that are involved in the back-and-forth in the political theater of this country.

And more:

QUESTION: It does sound like you've spoken to the president about this. If so, does he think she was a victim of a rush to judgment?

GIBBS: Again, I don't think I'd be out here, Matt, giving you the answers that I just gave to Ben without having those reflect the feelings of the president and the feelings of the members of this administration.

True to form, questions revert back to the horserace mentality so pervasive in Washington DC:

QUESTION: What if any concern is there within the administration that this handling of Ms. Sherrod could hurt the president and the Democrats as well in the elections?

GIBBS: 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 owed. 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.

I'm no Robert Gibbs fan, but I don't think he could have done a better job keeping the message focused on the wrong done to Shirley Sherrod and the White House message of apology and conciliation, despite every effort to deflect it.

There's no question that the administration walks out of this one with the taint of a Breitbart/Fox punking on them, and while many argue that this instance is no different than others, I would say it very much is. Looking at the circumstances that led up to today's crescendo carefully, themes emerge:

  • Breitbart and Fox timed their lies precisely to deflect attention from racist elements inside the Tea Party. In typical form, they took aim at the NAACP, which had been under fire for a week for stepping up and pushing the Tea Party to renounce racism. Breitbart releases a snippet of a relatively low-ranking official's speech that appears to prove she's racist, and BAM! No more tea party talk. It's all about the Administration. (see digby's post here for more evidence of that)
  • The Administration was punked, yes. But so was the mainstream press. Like it or not, the reason Breitbart's video got any traction was because everyone in the mainstream press jumped on it. They owe the apology right alongside Gibbs and the administration.
  • No one really wants to deal with the elephant in the room. As Joan Walsh and digby both point out, the message in Sherrod's story is not about race. It's about class.


    Shirley Sherrod is right: A lot of people are spending a lot of energy to get folks like the Spooners and Sherrod to think they should be enemies, when the real issue is class. The left should remember that lesson, because the right is invested in making sure no one learns it.

Greg Sargent steps up with a volley for his peers:

Gibbs then described the media process. "You all see it, you all want reaction, we get reaction," Gibbs said. He lamented that news orgs then aired the two and a half minute snippet, as well as the White House reaction based on that snippet, without seeking fuller context themselves.

Gibbs then suggested that media orgs, too, should ask themselves if they handled this properly: "I dont think there's anybody involved in that chain that wouldn't think, from start to finish, that this shoudn't have been handled differently."

Translation: Maybe you all should stop using Breitbart as your assignment editor.

Over the next 24 hours the pundits will spin. O'Reilly will not apologize for his rush to judgment, nor will Roland Martin. Breitbart will be Breitbart, infused with an extra dose of unwarranted certitude served with a dash of bully. There will be endless speculation about a 'rush to judgment' on the part of the administration, but here's something you won't see any time soon: the press taking the time to fact-check a Breitbart hit job before they run with it. They'll just couch it with a question: "Is Andrew Breitbart onto something here?" Or "Could Andrew Breitbart be RIGHT about this or that?"

They'll keep missing the central point and they'll keep enabling the deflections away from the real issues, because if they were to do otherwise, they'd have to admit their own role in the farce.

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