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The news cycle has become the enemy of justice

A news cycle that operates at warp speed has become the enemy of simple justice. This has happened because politicians worry more about the next minute in that news cycle than basic fairness. And if the internet makes the spread of news and information faster than ever, it does exactly the same for lies and half-truths.

Those are the obvious lessons from the firing of Shirley Sherrod, for which the White House has now apologized. I broadly agree with what my colleagues Richard Cohen and Greg Sargent have already written. I am especially glad that Greg has pushed for more understanding of the White House’s role in this -- I find it very hard to believe that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acted entirely on his own. And Greg was also right in saying this: “As for whether the White House learned anything from this disaster, the real tell will be how it handles itself the next time the right-wing media gins up a fake controversy ‘proving’ the Obama administration is riddled with rampant anti-white racism.” Exactly.

The problem in our dealing with these instant scandals -- including completely fabricated “scandals” -- is that politicians and other public actors are so alarmed at the prospect of even a few bad hours in the news cycle that they act precipitously from self-protection without any thought of decency toward others. As my friend Bill Galston (who happens to be a philosopher) said today, the daily life version of “Innocent until proven guilty” is “Start by giving someone the benefit of the doubt.” That instinct should not be obliterated by sheer terror over what Glenn Beck might say.

By E.J. Dionne  | July 21, 2010; 5:22 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Next: After Shirley Sherrod, who needs context?


The NAACP denounced Sherrod, and the White House fired her. Glenn Beck spoke out in support of her.

And Dionne tries to spin this as the fault of the right-wing media? Nice try.

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 21, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

It's not just the news cycle _per se_ that's the problem here, although Dionne's point is valid. It's also the grossly devalued notion of what even constitutes news. When we demand soundbites instead of real analysis, allow bloviating entertainers to hawk thought-, truth-, and fact-free commentary as news, and in general care more about celebrity than actual merit, we're obviously not after news, whatever the "cycle" with which it's pitched at us. We're simply seeking to have our own prejudices reinforced.

Sucks, huh?

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | July 21, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne, why do you believe this kind of self-interested, politicized reaction is confined to the faux controversies ginned up by the 24 hour news cycle?

As your colleagues Karen Tumulty, Krissah Thompson and Ed O'Keefe wrote, "Washington's political culture is driven these days by impulse and self interest, rather than judgment." That applies pretty much across the board.

These "fake" controversies are merely the tip of the iceberg. It was the rest of the thing that sunk the Titanic.

Posted by: Itzajob | July 21, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Although I sometimes disagree with Peggy Noonan on the particulars, her piece this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal was prescient. She argued that the Obama administration (which I support) and, for that matter, our political culture generally, is sorely lacking in grown ups, sage advisers of whatever age (but usually of a certain age) who see a situation with depth and clarity and foster a leavened response. The only sage advice given in the entire Sherrod episode resides in the tale Sherrod told on tape that got this mess rolling, which means Sherrod was ridiculed by the political right and eventually fired by the political left for being the only grown up in the room. Strange times we live in.

Posted by: OakParkLawyer | July 21, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

All true, but as for the swipe at bloggers: yes, the Internet has allowed bloggers like Breitbart to fabricate smears -- because the mainstream media will credulously run with it.

I found skepticism regarding the video on Talkingpointsmemo long before I found it on the very outlets running with Breitbart's story.

Posted by: memekiller | July 21, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Good grief. Now Dionne and Cohen are trying to crucify Obama for jumping the gun on this, even though he's already made it right AND apologized?

Need I remind you of the context here? The guy, thanks to the right wing's RELENTLESS Southern Strategy onslaught - wherein they are daily working to convince every white person in America that African Americans are hellbent on subjugating them (talk about projected guilt there...) - has to be in CONSTANT Jackie Robinson mode (review your baseball history of 1947 if you're having trouble recalling that reference). Thanks the improved but still sad state of race relations, Obama has to be meticulously evenhanded in dealing with race. The slightest hiccup - while he's busy with all these other daily, historic fires he had plopped on his plate - is evidence of utter failure.

Horrible Uncle Barack didn't placate everyone's egos again today. Time to roast the man. Never mind that this "crisis" was started and stoked by dishonest and meanspirited conservative journalists. No, it's all Obama's fault. Not that he's got any other more important issues to be tending to right now (some trivial stuff about the economy, two wars and runaway climate change). Let's just crucify him again. Maybe it will sell a few papers.

Posted by: B2O2 | July 21, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Exactly which is the greater evil:

Breibart using edited video designed to take her message of racial tolerance and warp it into a racist aside mercilessly smearing an innocent and fine person.

Faux news who were head and shoulders above the rest of the msm sheep in pouncing on the now totally discredited tape and asking "Is Obama appointing scary black racists to discriminate against whites?"

[UPDATE! Now the fauxies are blaming the obama administration for taking their fradulent reporting seriously enough to act on it. REALLY???

You can't make this stuff up!]

The MSM sheeple who did their best monkey see monkey do imitation and pointed to the video without:

Contacting the speaker and asking about the context of that 2.5 minute remark

Asking why anyone should take video spewed by Breibart seriously after the savaging of ACORN that Breibart orchestrated with heavily edited video, the attempted tampering with the phones in fla also to be recorded and edited into a story, and the general truthiness of most of the post on his site.

Contacting the subjects of the story to find out if they were indeed victims of discrimination by Ms Sherrod.

in other words, the MSM acted as stenographers dancing to the faux news pied piper and not reporters.

The obama administration that over reacted to a relentlessly hyped story and tried to get out in front of the inevitable tornado from farringtwingnutistan, and has since come to its senses and apologized for its thoughtless actions.

Which angle will get the most play in tomorrows news cycle? Somehow the media as stenographer thread I think will end up on the editing room floor.

Posted by: srw3 | July 22, 2010 1:16 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing to me that the headline out of this story is Obama. Rather, it should serve as a wakeup call to those who watch and rely on right wing news sources.

Ms. Sherrod will have her job back, I have no doubt. I apologize to her, myself, for the way today's headline- driven society briefly affected her life.

I apologize to the President for how it has forced his administration to act so swiftly that it cannot consider all points before making a decision or a comment. The public requires the Obama Administration to act like computers with rapid-fire output. If a second or two is donated to "research," the response is rabid criticism. Too professorial! He never was anything but a community activist! Blah, blah, blah. The man cannot win!!!!

All of us have a chance, now, to stop and think about the lessons this news cycle has taught us.

Posted by: smartgirl312 | July 22, 2010 3:30 AM | Report abuse

I disagree: the problem is not the 'news cycle'. The problem is that 'journalists' have made themselves mouthpieces of the loudest voices. There is hardly any investigation or verification of the claims made. There is only a repetition of the words by the loudest voices.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | July 22, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Exactly right, E.J. Exactly right. Thanks for being another rational voice.

Posted by: wpreader2007 | July 22, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

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