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Shirley Sherrod: 'Where are we headed?'

Talk about luck. When “Morning Joe” asked me yesterday to be onset at 30 Rock today, they didn’t tell me that Shirley Sherrod would be appearing. I wasn’t part of the crew that got to talk to her on camera. But thanks to a very nice CNN documentary producer, who allowed me to ride with her, Sherrod and her husband Charles, I was able to talk with the gracious woman at the center of America’s latest dust-up over race.

Listen here to our conversation:

Hear Sherrod in her own voice talk about how she thinks President Obama should stop running away from discussions of race and use incidents like hers to facilitate a broader discussion. While Sherrod said she doesn't think he has a responsibility to her, he has a responsibility to the country. "If we don’t get this together," she told me, "if we don’t figure this out in this country, where are we headed?

“Could you meditate on race a bit?” I asked as Sherrod made her way from the MSNBC set. “What does this say about race in America in 2010? And do you think President Obama has a special responsibility to address issues of race when they pop up?” Here’s what she said as we traded the third-floor studios for the back of an SUV making its way to the TimeWarner Center in midtown Manhattan.

"I was part of the civil rights movement starting in 1965," Sherrod said. My husband was one of the original founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC]. So we’ve been in this struggle for years. And you would hope that after all of these years racism wouldn’t be so prevalent today. But we know, especially those of us living in the South, that it just moved under the surface a little and came out in a different way. No, you don’t have the Lester Maddox and others like him with axes handles....

"The president, if he could actually look at this in the way that he should, he could help bring this front-and-center and do a lot to help at least start the process. I don’t think he can solve it by himself. But being in the position he’s in, he could do a lot to help this nation get to the point where we can deal with it."

“What, exactly, do you think the president should do,” I asked.

“He could facilitate some major discussions with mixed groups. He could use it more rather than run away from it. And I think what happened to me was an attempt to run away from it.”

“So you think over and over again the president has had opportunities to address issues of race but he’s run away from them?”

“Yes.... I can’t think of any specific examples but this is one....You know, I’m a nothing, so it’s easy to snap a finger and get me out of the way. [unintelligible]...That’s exactly what happened. That’s an example of a time when he could have moved the discussion forward. But the thing was to just get me out of the way, and then it’s going to go away.

“So what responsibility do you think he has to you now?”

“Well, you know, he’s the president of the United States. He doesn’t have a responsibility to me. I think he has a responsibility to this country. If we don’t get this together, if we don’t figure this out in this country, where are we headed? 'Cause we have more and more ethnic groups, and they project a time in this country when white people won’t be the majority. As I’ve said, you know, when I’ve been placed in some positions, I think white people expected me to do to them what they did to me and to others. But I didn’t do that. Never would do that. If we don’t facilitate some of the discussions that need to happen so that when we get to the point where they are no longer in the majority and no longer in these key positions, who knows what’s going to happen? Everybody won’t think like I think. I think we have to prepare ourselves for that day.”

By Jonathan Capehart  | July 22, 2010; 10:49 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

Capehart is the early frontrunner to win my Obama Parrot of the Week, the dubious award I hand out on my local TV show to the media member most wantonly toeing the White House line.

On today's Morning Joe, the WaPo editorialist, trying to suggest the White House was not involved in the firing of Shirley Sherrod, offered a strained theory of how Sherrod misunderstood what she was being told by a USDA official about the White House wanting her gone.

But when Willie Geist asked the obvious question, Capehart's house of cards largely crumbled, forcing Jonathan to beat a quick tactical retreat. It's actually quite amusing: do check out the video

CAPEHART: Willie, I just want to push back a little bit on the conspiracy theories that there's some cabal in the White House that pushed Vilsack to push this woman out. Greg Sargent at Plum Line at the Washington Post, the last post he had yesterday was about what is it about these phone calls she got where they were saying "the White House wants you out."

Through his reporting and through my own reporting, sources say the thinking was that the White House liaison at the Agriculture Department was in the room with this Deputy Undersecretary when she was on the phone with Shirley Sherrod. Apparently that is standard procedure when you're dealing with political appointments. The White House liaison is only there to manage the political appointments for that department. So when Shirley Sherrod is on the phone, she heard "I have the White House liaison with me," and you can understand how someone might think that the White House is in the room, but that's not the case.

So I think we just need to pull back a little bit and try to move back from trying to make this --

Willie Geist then asked the question that was all the more devastating for being so obvious.

WILLIE GEIST: Is the liaison not bringing a message from the West Wing, though?

CAPEHART: That's a good question. Um, I don't think so, but that's a good question that I'll have to ask.

Appearing in a subsequent segment, old Washington hand Larry O'Donnell emphatically asserted it was "inconceivable" that the White House was not involved in the decision to fire Sherrod.

After having made the rounds of all the morning broadcast shows, Shirley Sherrod appeared during one of Morning Joe's later segments. Willie was clearly interested in pinning down the matter of what Ms. Sherrod was told about the White House's involvement. He started to sketch a timeline with her, but never had a chance to explore her statement that she was told by a USDA Undersecretary that "the White House wanted me to resign."

Mark Finkelstein

Posted by: kohnfjerry | July 22, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

You know this Shirley Sherrod thing, is just one part of a larger strategy. It's obvious. It is almost the smae thing everytime. The far-right has an agenda and they want Obama gone and the best way to do that is to bring up race, check out this article I just came across that looks at the big picture:

http://apleblog.com/2010/07/22/the-conservative-strategy-obama-is-a-racist/

Posted by: republicanblack | July 22, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm a bit confused here. Was Sherrod fired or was she pressured to resign? If it's the former, doesn't she have civil service protection? I assume USDA is unionized. What is the union doing?

Posted by: sjpatejak | July 22, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

She was "pressured" to resign....
From being forced to pull over on the side of the road in her car, and typing out the resignation on her blackberry!!
How pathetic is that? There IS a special place in hell for Andrew Breitbart.

Posted by: gr8bigguy | July 22, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Great article republicanblack.
Next question. Being a black republican, how do you feel about the link to the article you posted?

Posted by: gr8bigguy | July 22, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Do you tnink Breitbart deserves a call from the Justice Department for 'attempting to influence a public servant', a class-four felony? Vote here - http://wp.me/pNmlT-io

Posted by: dh1976 | July 22, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Do you think Breitbart deserves a call from the Justice Department for 'attempting to influence a public servant', a class-four felony? Vote here - http://wp.me/pNmlT-io

Posted by: dh1976 | July 22, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

She was "pressured" to resign....
From being forced to pull over on the side of the road in her car, and typing out the resignation on her blackberry!!
How pathetic is that? There IS a special place in hell for Andrew Breitbart.
========================================
I missed the part of the story where Andrew Breitbart called her up to fire her. The version I heard was that it was the Whitehouse. Damn corrupt media!

Posted by: peterg73 | July 22, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

@gr8bigguy thanks. I feel like there is a point there. I feel that the strategy will only work if the american people allow themselves to be deceived by this racial divide. Its a good strategy but it harms the fabric of the nation.

Posted by: republicanblack | July 22, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

My biggest complaint with Obama is he is always dragging the presidency into non issues that dont rate a presidential intervention let alone even a presidential mention. When a president opens his mouth and gets involved in an issue it becomes a mega issue and then hes judge judy instead of the president of 300+ million people.

He needs to get back to being the president and stop trying to be everybodies uncle. Not everybody is going to love you no matter how much you try. This president has a real complex with trying to get everyone to like him, and he gets stuck in so many non issues that just cheapen the office.

The beer summit over a cop arresting a man who was acting the fool.

Moving the state of the union address to accomodate the season premier of lost...yeah in case you forget he did that.

Even being foolish enough to publicly speculate on where lebron james would play next season...then having to backtrack and try to make cleveland like him again after he recomended Chicago.

Now this non issue of a minor official being fired because of a knee jerk reaction in the first 5 minutes of a news cycle.

The right wants him to act like this so it gives them fodder, and the left loves it because he gets involved in trivial issues that they can milk to further their conspiracy theories that racism is everywhere and just waiting to strike.

I didnt vote for obama but i was at least willing to give him a fair chance to see what he could do and judge him later. But I'm really getting tired of the cheapening of his office with his everybody has to love me insecurity that drags him into every neighborhood dispute...well as long as there is at least one black person involved...gotta root out all that racism. I saw a white guy take a parking spot that a black woman was heading for...the president should get on that dispute immediately.

Posted by: ajshannon | July 22, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The tape came from the NAACP, who tried and successfully set-up Breitbart. That's what most people think.
So, the NAACP is responsible for Sharrod getting fired and fueling the racist fires.

Posted by: ohioan | July 22, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

How is Obama going to improve race relations? Obama went to a racist black church for 20 years. The sickest part is he isn't even really black. He's half white and grew up in Hawaii.

Posted by: peterg73 | July 22, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

ohioan, listen. i'm a WASP and have never posted here before. I took the time to register just so that I could say you're a genius man! I wish i knew you personally, you roc.

Posted by: spikeyjohnso | July 22, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Shirley Sherrod is an excellent person and a godly Christian. I am a white lady and I am in my fifties. This was a really sad smear for such a kind, good public servant like Sherrod to have to go through.

Posted by: thirdpartyvote | July 22, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

everyone knows if a liberal can't win at their own race card...they then get out the 'poor me victim card....all these liberals want is a handout..someone to feel sorry for them and another glass of koolaid....I can't wait until we get a purple president...the liberals will be calling him the 'grape soda' god.

Posted by: JWx2 | July 22, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Humm...Let me see, If you are white and tell a black farmer, can't help you, so see your own people for help that is racism. If you are a black and tell a white farmer can't help you, go see your own people for help that is OK.
Please some one define racism for me.
Or are there two different standard...just let me know the rules.

Posted by: mjhubbard_1105 | July 22, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Humm...Let me see, If you are white and tell a black farmer, can't help you, so see your own people for help that is racism. If you are a black and tell a white farmer can't help you, go see your own people for help that is OK.
Please some one define racism for me.
Or are there two different standard...just let me know the rules.

==========================================

What happened to Sherrod was wrong but let's not kid ourselves. If Sherrod was white she sure as hell would not be getting an apology and her job back.

Posted by: bbface21 | July 22, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

She was "pressured" to resign....
From being forced to pull over on the side of the road in her car, and typing out the resignation on her blackberry!!
How pathetic is that? There IS a special place in hell for Andrew Breitbart.
___________________________________________
If were Breitbart on the other end of line ordering her to do all that crap you might have a point.

But as it was rather Obama and/or his White House calling those shots, you don't.


Posted by: Bjartur | July 22, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I hope she sue's the daylights out of Breitbart. The purpose of his site is to defame people he doesn't like. If the victims of the defamation machines at Drudge, Limbaugh, Fox, Breitbart, et. al. start suing them right and left they might well be out of business. They can preach all the hate they wish but their victims should sue them for every act of defamation.

Posted by: orange31 | July 22, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I work at a private black college located in Florida and I am a white female. I have black friends and work with black men and women. The race issue is the secondary emotional response and the PRIMARY issue is economic. Talk with ANY black person in America today and they strive for money FIRST because they honestly believe if they have money and control of it - they have 'beat whitey'. Sorry haters but I know this for a fact. No one - white or black need be mislead here - this is a run for economic power.

Posted by: revealing40 | July 25, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

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