Now that Shirley Sherrod has sued Andrew Breitbart, will big media stop giving him a platform?
When I joined two other journalists to interview wrongly ousted USDA official Shirley Sherrod at a journalism convention in San Diego, the most newsworthy tidbit to come from our talk was her plan to sue blogger Andrew Breitbart for posting the doctored video which led to her ouster.
Sherrod was the official whose speech on the need to overcome personal prejudiced got turned into a hearty endorsement of racism by some pretty heavy-handed editing. Breitbart revealed the video on his website, blasting it as an example of the kind of "reverse racism" he was sure filled the modern day incarnations of civil rights organizations such as the NAACP.
The NAACP and the Obama administration reacted as if Sherrod was the nation's new Michael Richards -- until the civil rights group finally found a copy of the original video and realized how badly she had been misrepresented.
In the past, when mainstream journalists have been found to either manufacture stories or present stories so badly built they amount to professional malpractice, the result has been a loss of credibility and attention as information providers. But the opposite seems to have happened to Breitbart, who was briefly invited by ABC News to participate in their November election coverage (an invitation which was rescinded) and appeared as a guest on the very first episode of CNN's 8 p.m. news show, Parker/Spitzer.
Now Sherrod has made good on the promise she made at the National Association of Black Journalists convention seven months ago, filing a lawsuit against Breitbart which the New York Times said he was served notice of during the CPAC conference.
Breitbart, according to the newspaper, characterized the lawsuit as an attempt to chill his free speech; in a statement posted on his blog, Breitbart alleges the lawsuit is a response to his efforts to prove that a number of black farmers given settlements for discrimination were not legitimate claimants.
Sherrod issued her own statement through her attorney Monday, saying the lawsuit was about " how quickly, in today's internet media environment, a person's good name can become 'collateral damage' in an overheated political debate. " In other words, about what we who post information online do every day.
Breibart seems to have dedicated himself and his various media platforms to debunking the nation that racial discrimination exists now or requires current effort to overcome. His past "investigative" efforts targeted the voting rights advocacy group ACORN, and he either seems willing to manipulate the truth or has some pretty loose reporting standards. Some critics said Sherrod would open herself to more cutting attacks if she filed a lawsuit, but Breitbart has already tried to redeem himself by discrediting her, so perhaps she's already there.
Either way, it seems obvious the current lawsuit is a good excuse for news outlets to give a little less media juice to a guy with such a checkered journalism past. With any luck, the lawsuit will expose the guts of Breitbart's process enough to prove whether he deserves a seat at the national pundit table.
My hunch, is that it won't be pretty.