Rrrrrrring, it’s the President calling…
President Barack Obama called Shirley Sherrod at about 12:35 p.m. and they spoke for 7 minutes. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the White House operator unsuccessfully tried to reach her twice last night but was unable to leave a voicemail.
POTUS offered his regrets, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had been sincere in his apology yesterday, and hoped that she would see “this misfortune” as an opportunity to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need.
In just days, a charge of racism by a conservative led to Sherrod losing her Agriculture Department job and ended in a phone call from the president.
It seems that the more Shirley Sherrod talked this week, the clearer it became how badly the Obama administration handled her sacking as Georgia rural development director at USDA.
Sherrod was forced to resign Monday after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a clip online of a speech she gave in March to a Georgia local NAACP meeting.
The clip showed her talking about doing little to help a white farmer 20 years ago because of race.
It didn’t show her full remarks and the point of her story, in which she described having an epiphany when she realized no one else was helping the farmer, even his white attorney.
That was when she realized the issue wasn’t race, but poverty, and launched herself into the struggle that ultimately helped save his farm, Sherrod told her audience.
Her bosses didn’t heed her appeals to look at the full tape of her remarks. In a series of calls on Monday Sherrod was initially suspended and then sacked.
“The first call I received said, ‘We’re putting you on administrative leave.’ The next call was, ‘Shirley, we’re going to have to ask you to resign.’ And then, ‘The White House wants you to resign’,” Sherrod told NBC’s “Today” show.
Although the White House denied involvement in the decision, the hasty rush to judgment embarrassed the Obama administration, which found itself pilloried in the editorial pages on Thursday.
Sherrod has been working in rural development for years in Georgia. Her husband, Charles, was a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Georgia during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and is now a chaplain at a state prison.
Even a brief check should have prompted the administration to take a closer look at the facts.
“The Obama administration has been shamed by its rush to judgment,” The New York Times said. “Shirley Sherrod was sandbagged by a two-and-a-half-minute clip from a 45-minute speech in which the real message was reconciliation.”
The Washington Post said the administration put “panic before principle.”
House Republican leader John Boehner joined in, saying it was not the way to treat an American. “The whole episode has been unfortunate. I think this lady has been put through hell and back and I hope that she receives the appropriate apologies, and has an opportunity to return to her job.”
Sherrod had told ABC’s “Good Morning America” she wasn’t sure “that the president is fully behind me” and that she thought she deserved a call from Obama.
She said she wasn’t looking for another apology; that wasn’t the point.
“I’d like to talk to him a little about the experiences of people like me, people at the grassroot level, people who live out there in rural America, people who live in the South,” she said.
“I know he does not have that kind of experience. Let me help him a little bit with how we think, how we live and the things that are happening.”
Obama must have been listening. Thursday he made the call.
Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Gibbs answers questions about Sherrod at Wednesday’s briefing), Reuters/Jeff Haynes (Obama and
Vilsack in December 2008)