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U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, our former guv, has just been tapped to become the new U.S. Sec. of Misguided Knee-jerk Firings Sparked by Irresponsible Fake Journalism.
His swift confirmation is expected.
In case you missed it, Vilsack fired USDA official Shirley Sherrod after self-styled journotainment salesman Andrew Breitbart released a liberally edited video showing Sherrod telling an NAACP audience how she felt reluctant to help a white farmer years ago when she worked for a Georgia non-profit. Racism, for sure. Fox News went to hyperbole level orange.
But it turned out that, when her speech is viewed in its entirety, Sherrod was actually explaining passionately how she overcame personal prejudice to help the farmer and how the episode forged her commitment to fight poverty. By Tuesday evening, the farmer and his wife were on CNN, praising Sherrod for saving their farm.
So the Breitbart video turned out to be an unfair hit. Surprise. But before that could be made crystal clear, Vilsack had already sent Sherrod packing. He accepted her resignation, citing the USDA's zero tolerance of discrimination.
Even trumped up fake discrimination, evidently.
By this morning, Vilsack had announced the depatrtment would reconsider. But the blood was already in the water.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen took the gloves off:
From everything I've read, I'm told that the firing of Shirley Sherrod, the once and probably future Agriculture Department official in Georgia, is about race or dishonest journalism or the vagaries of the 24-hour, incessant news cycle. Permit me a dissent. It is mostly about cowardice.
The coward in question is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who, even though from Iowa, fired Sherrod in a New York minute, and by extension and tradition –“The buck stops here,” remember? – Barack Obama himself. Where do they get off treating anyone so shabbily?
Sherrod was caught on video supposedly telling an NAACP meeting last March that she had not given a certain farmer the service he deserved because he was white. A clip of that speech made the rounds of right wing blogs and media outlets -- Fox News, for instance -- and in no time Vilsack ordered the woman canned. He moved with what would have been commendable dispatch had he first heard her side of the story, viewed the entire video and asked what its source was. The answers should have stopped him in his tracks.
I sense coward becoming a theme. Salon's James Doty:
In the wake of the grievously unjust firing of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, it's clear that agency head Tom Vilsack might be a hack, and he's definitely a coward.
One day after Andrew Breitbart posted a truncated video of Sherrod's allegedly racist speech before the NAACP, she was out of a job. If the White House pushed for her exit, as Sherrod claims, then Vilsack appears to have served as a diligent functionary in carrying out the task. If the decision was entirely his own, as Vilsackand the White House maintain, then he's responsible for ending the career of a longtime farm-aid veteran based on an abbreviated video circulated by a discredited conservative provocateur. That level of rash gutlessness is not what you'd expect from a one-time presidential aspirant (even one who dropped out of the race 11 months before the Iowa caucuses).
If Vilsack's decision to fire Sherrod was misjudged, his rationale for the termination was downright dishonest.
He is a disgrace to the state of Iowa, where brave people legalized gay marriage because it was the right thing to do. And it is time for him to return to obscurity in his hometown of Mount Pleasant and enjoy his neighbors ignoring him.
I'm surprised Vilsack mishandled this so badly. He's a very smart guy with decent instincts. He clearly made some foolish calls on occasion as governor, but he was not a snap decision guy.
But in this case, he really blew it. No one should be fired without at least getting a chance to give their side. And why anyone would react in this manner to another fact-starved Breitbart smear is maddening.
Sherrod should be reinstated, fast, if she wants to come back. Vilsack and the administration should explain, in detail, how a decision this bad was made. Vilsack probably keeps his job, but he's damaged, at least short-term.
And at time when so many big issues important to Iowa agriculture are hanging in the balance, having a secretary with diminished clout is not good news.