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Tom Vilsack's classy apology

I’ve got a pre-existing soft spot for Tom Vilsack, but I thought that was a model apology to the un-fired Shirley Sherrod. Apologizing is hard for all of us; even more so, it seems, for politicial types. So many politicians -- and Vilsack was governor of Iowa before he was agriculture secretary -- have a bizarre, and self-defeating, inability to take blame when blame is due. They hedge. They deflect. They employ the passive voice. They use weasel words and weaselier phrases: they are sorry if anyone was offended, etc.

This is an episode in which almost no one has looked good, Vilsack prominent among them. On Wednesday afternoon, though, the secretary stepped up to the plate. Repeatedly.

“I've learned a lot of lessons from this experience in the last couple of days. And one of the lessons I learned is that these types of decisions require time. I didn't take the time. I should have. And as a result, a good woman has gone through a very difficult period. And I'll have to live with that for a long, long time.”

“I indicated to Shirley my personal regret and my responsibility for the fact that she received multiple phone calls. That's, again, a problem that I could have corrected if I had done this job properly.”

“This was something I decided. And I have to accept full responsibility for this.”

“I made a very hasty decision which I deeply regret.”

“This is a good woman. She's been put through hell. And I could have done and should have done a better job.”

“It should have been done in a much more personal way. It should have been done with far more thought. And it should have been done in far less haste. And all of those are my responsibility. And I accept that responsibility. And I asked for Shirley's forgiveness, and she was gracious enough to extend it to me. And for that, I am thankful.”

Say what you will about Vilsack’s decision to fire Sherrod. His apology was a class act.

By Ruth Marcus  | July 21, 2010; 9:25 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Next: Shirley Sherrod: 'Where are we headed?'

Comments

The only lasting swollen eyes here are on the part of the race-baiting conservative crowd, where entities like FoxNews and Breitbart will put forth any kind of distortion to try to stoke their racist Southern Strategy.

Vilsack and Obama jumped the gun, and have now made things right.

How can the conservative media ever make things right - when their dishonest, zero-integrity intentions have been again bared for all the world to see? (As if the ACORN hoax video wasn't enough.)

Posted by: B2O2 | July 21, 2010 10:54 PM | 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 3:22 AM | Report abuse

The events seems quite clear at this point:

- Right-wing, race-baiting character assassination (starting with Andrew Breitbart, and mindlessly echoed by the right-wing media) against a good and decent public servant, Shirley Sherrod, who has evidently helped a *lot* of family farmers (including the Spooners).

- The Administration, out of fear of the right-wing, race-baiting media (Glenn Beck in particular) is stampeded into summarily firing her.

- Ms. Sherrod, in addition to being fired, is hounded with abuse hate phone calls, etc. (Just put yourself in her shoes and think how you'd feel at this point.)

To the Administration's credit (White House and USDA), I will at least say that they took the blame for their error and sincerely apologized. I wish I could say for the right-wing media, starting with Andrew Breitbant, who is the *real* racist here (of the good-old-fashioned lynching variety). I hope that Ms. Sherrod comes out of this for the better; we need people like her.

+++

Time to more on to the more complex story:

How could this travesty of manufactured "news" ever have happened? How can irresponsible pseudo-journalists like Andrew Breitbart wield such political power over the White House?

I hope the American electorate speaks out on Nov. 2 against the race-baiting hate politics that unfortunately characterize so much of the Tea Party and today's GOP. However, given the experience of November 2004, I am not optimistic.

I can only hope that serious journalists direct attention to what happened here, investigate properly, and assign blame where it is due.

In addition, I hope that Andrew Breitbart is held financially accountable for his slanderous libel.

Posted by: PaulG2 | July 22, 2010 3:51 AM | Report abuse

Anybody who reads or watches Fox, Rush, Hannity, Beck,Breitbart, and the rest of those lieing weasels should be deported. Oh wait, no one would take them. Vilsack over reacted for sure. But the real fault belongs to the racist liars/repubs

Posted by: jimbobkalina | July 22, 2010 3:58 AM | Report abuse

Blacks keep playing the race card then can't understand why white won't vote for Obama in 2012.

Posted by: Jmacaco4 | July 22, 2010 4:05 AM | Report abuse

Hey, if I say I need a backhoe, will that offend anyone ?

Sorry to bust in on you Marcus...

Chelsea, I heard your mother ran off with Gates to Asia or somewhere. Geez, is there no fidelity in DC ?

We will not tell anyone for now. I will break the news to your dad gently.

You just stay focused on the wedding plans and hope that you know who can keep his mouth shut for a change.

Man, good luck.

Posted by: truthhurts | July 22, 2010 4:37 AM | Report abuse

Apology, shmapology, this shouldn't distract as from the fact that Vilsack failed miserably in his duties. To fall for a right wing attack pieve from a questionable source and to hasten to react on this by firing an innocent employee in good standing, without conducting anything even close to an investigation of the accusations, is so colosal a bunder that it should result in the firing of the department leader.

Vilsack knows that and desperately tries to make amends now. But is his apology really evidence that he has learned a lesson, and will change? Imho that's rather questionable, and at the very least the secretary should be put under probation. One more blunder, and he has to go! That's still much more fair than his initial treatment of Sherrod.

Posted by: Gray62 | July 22, 2010 5:46 AM | Report abuse

The apology may be classy, but what he apologized for was so dumb, if it was his idea, or unscrupulous, if it was the White House idea, that he should just resign and go back to Iowa, where he belongs.

Posted by: suegbic1 | July 22, 2010 7:02 AM | Report abuse

Shirley showed those racists at the NAACP that we can and need to put aside our differences and help ALL people. She is a role model for them to emulate. She should be given a Cabinet position, not tossed aside because the Obama Administration was afraid the speech would end up on Glen Beck. Wow...Glen really has them running scared.....and they should be..their incompetence shows more and more each day as they lose more and more potential voters.. all based on their disastrous policies and the clueless Obama in chief. Congrats to Shirley...unknowingly she has exposed the Obama Administration for even more failures and it will soon be time for them to exit the stage..

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | July 22, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

The Washington Post editorial board’s commentary surrounding Ms. Shirley Sherrod would have more meaning if The Washington Post editorial board actually believed it and operated under its principle. Ms. Katharine Weymouth, publisher, Mr. Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor, and Jo-Ann Armao are not in a strong position to serve as media defenders of truth and justice. They are not in a serene intellectual place to be leading conversations on ethics and doing what is right.

This editorial board, through the literary bloodstream of Ms. Armao attacked me in a previous editorial, “School Daze”, for filing a request for investigation of DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee for possible conflict of interest violations to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (as well as the federal Hatch Act). The issue is not the editorial attack on me, which was wrong and misinformed, but rather the action of the editorial to print a reply I did not write or approve over my name.

The editorial board of The Washington Post further aggravated the issue by failing to print a retraction or correction. The failure of the editorial board of The Washington Post to print an apology for attributing to me in print and on-line something I did not write attacks the principle of decency in journalism.

The editorial board of The Washington Post has printed numerous opinions questioning the integrity, veracity, ethics, and actions many people. It often writes to politicians to just admit the mistake, tell the truth, and the cover-up is worse than the original sin. Today, the editorial board is critical of President Obama and US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Too bad The Washington Post will not follow its own admonition. Too bad “reputable” journalists at The Washington Post have been silent on its own egregious violation of journalism ethics.

Ms. Katharine Weymouth, Mr. Fred Hiatt, Mr. Andrew Alexander, and Mr. Howard Kurtz, fail or refuse to hold The Washington Post to the same standard of judgment it criticizes in others.
Elsewhere within the pages of The Washington Post columnists are weighing in with their views. This collective intellectual hypocrisy of journalism, offers great weight to why District residents and readers of this newspaper have low expectations The Washington Post is a credible newspaper.

The editorial board’s indifference to my repeated requests for a retraction and correction speak volumes about the corporate culture of The Washington Post and its values.

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | July 22, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Why does every incident in the Obama administration boomerang back to Obama? Personnel actions are happening in every agency every day. Do you really think that Obama is overseeing every episode?

Posted by: randysbailin | July 22, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Oh, by the way....... Obama is not God, although the GOP thinks he is !!

Posted by: honeybee1 | July 22, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I can not agree with Ms. Marcus in her threadbare and fawning praise for Vilsack.
This sort of commentary only aids the obfuscation of the origin of anyone needing to apologize for anything: Vilsack went off half-cocked, never stopped to ascertain the facts in the matter and fired Ms. Sherrod by noxious remote control of an underling. He could have reached the victim by telephone himself and perhaps have saved all concerned some very unnecesssary negative publicity. He chose not to do so and in so doing lost any honor to which he might have been able
to lay claim.
It is rather Vilsack who need to resign. His incompetence, so clearly demonstated in his mishandling of this sordid event, is not something we need at so high a level of government.
Submitting his resignation to the President would have been the honorable thing to do. He is not honrable; he is incompetent; he has not submitted it.

Posted by: MichaelStrafford | July 22, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

FoxNews and Breitbart have created a new box.

AND

they are trapped

Time to burn the BOX..
with them in it..

Posted by: vettessman | July 22, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

The inside-the-beltway worldview continues to disgust. No matter how "classy" the Vilsack apology sounded, IT WAS A LIE!

Vilsack fired Sherrod at the direction of the White House. Vilsack would not have known or cared about an internet video (Fox had not aired the story at the time of the firing), unless the White House had prodded him.

Even then, he could have taken the time to review the facts, talk to Sherrod, and do th right thing - BUT NO! - his political masters told him to jump, so he jumped!

This apology like his actions is an act of cowardice in service to the Obama administration. If he had any courage, he would resign.

Marcus, as usual, is more wrong than right.

Posted by: pilsener | July 22, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

There's not an exec alive that hasn't made a bad mistake -- usually by pulling the trigger too quickly. Far too few accept their responsibility, as the Sec'y. did. As Ms. Marcus says, we can't defend his initial decision, but his handling thereafter show character to be admired.

Posted by: mrdooley | July 22, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Was there any reason given why Sherrod was not given her job back? They instead offer a position to monitor civil rights issues?

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | July 22, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I am sorry but this story gets the crucial fact wrong. Shirley Sherrod has not been "un-fired." She has been offered a "new job" but she has not been offered back the job she was fired from. Tom Vilsack has substituted tears and apologies for that. But he forced Shirley Sherrod to resign and the resignation stands. I believe that Ruth Marcus is unaware that Vilsack -- and Obama -- have not reversed the firing. She says that Vilsack's apology was a "class act." She is half right. His apology was an act. He needs to put his money where his mouth is.

Zapata

Posted by: voss | July 22, 2010 12:57 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 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I'll bet David Iglesias will never get an apology, of any fashion.

Posted by: Canary503 | July 22, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

"Anybody who reads or watches Fox, Rush, Hannity, Beck,Breitbart, and the rest of those lieing weasels should be deported. Oh wait, no one would take them. Vilsack over reacted for sure. But the real fault belongs to the racist liars/repubs"

First amendment be dammed, Liberal speed ahead!!!

(Apologies to Admiral Farragut)

Posted by: AmericanWithABrain | July 22, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Weigel, perhaps, rather than Iglesias?

Posted by: mattintx | July 22, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

It's quite interesting to notice that the administration who holds all the authority, power and majority of the main-stream-media blaming it on FOX for their stupid decision to fire the lady.

This is exactly what happens when you have an incompetent administration pretending to run this country and reacting to every little thing as if they're just out of kindergarten (though most of these geniouses are supposedly Ivy league educated). DOesn't it feel like you're just taken in for a royal ride my fellow citizens who voted for this in 2008?

Posted by: CJ123 | July 22, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

It's quite interesting to note that the administration who holds all the authority, power and majority of the main-stream-media blaming it on FOX for their stupid decision to fire the lady.

This is exactly what happens when you have an incompetent administration pretending to run this country while reacting to every little thing as if they're just out of kindergarten (though most of these geniouses are supposedly Ivy league educated).

Doesn't it feel like you're just taken in for a royal ride my fellow citizens who voted for this (myself included) in 2008?

Posted by: CJ123 | July 22, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

It's quite interesting to note that the Obama administration who holds all the authority, power and majority of the house, senate and the main-stream-media are blaming it on FOX for their stupid decision to fire the lady in the first place without knowing all the facts.

This is exactly what happens when you have an incompetent administration pretending to run this country and reacting to every little thing as if they're just out of kindergarten though most of these geniouses are supposedly Ivy league educated.

Doesn't it feel like you're just taken in for a royal ride my fellow citizens who voted for the 'hope and change' rhetoric in 2008?

Posted by: CJ123 | July 22, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Almost everyone who miss quoted or reported the doctored story out of context about Shirley Sherrod the USDA employee has apologized ,except the Fox news . I am hoping that the CEO and owners of the Fox news will take note of this outrageous behavior and take corrective actions including their biased and opinionated anchors .The Fox news should have some independent journalists as anchors . I would like to point out that after being a regular viewer for more than 13 years of the Fox news channel , after the ACORN story , I called my cable company and got rid off the FOX news . The Fox news in my experience are imposing their views and not reporting the news correctly for their viewers.

Posted by: dmfarooq | July 22, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I were both very moved by his apology. It is rare to see a politician do what he did. I would hope that most people see it that way. I further hope that people finally catch on to the filthy tactics applied by Fox News, Limbaugh, and the other scumbags of the extreme right.

Posted by: giltaylor | July 22, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Ruthie, the apology was well sold, but it was unprincipled rather than classy. Vilsack took a bullet for Obama is what happened. That is because had Vilsack taken the bait and rushed to judgement on his own, Obama would have had his head on a platter. If Vilsack had any principles at all, he would have resigned and hung Obama out to dry. How can you write a column if you are unable to think.........although if you don't think too well, maybe you shouldn't think too much.

Posted by: buggerianpaisley1 | July 22, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

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