Archive for July, 2010

The Sherrod Debacle – who is at fault?

July 23, 2010

I’ve been trying to figure out how to address this issue for my blog, and I’ve been avoiding it because I didn’t want to get caught into a potential maelstrom of insults, back fighting and cat calling, but I can’t avoid it any longer.
I assume most people are aware of the Sherrod interview and controversy. She’s the US Agriculture official who found herself out of a job after a portion of a speech she gave years ago was taken out of context.
It started with a blogger who lifted a short clip from a speech she recently gave where she talked about her own internal battle with racism and how she worked to overcome it. Her story involved a white farmer. Oh, yes, Sherrod is an African-American. So now you see where it really starts rolling here.
But the blogger only used the portion where she talked about the white farmer and questioned why she should help them when some many blacks had lost their land.
Now the media starts to fan the flames.
In addition to the blogger, Fox News Channel now adds fuel to the fire. (I know, now I’ve opened the gates, but bear with me.)
Basically Fox challenges her and challenges how the administration lead by an African-American President could allow this to happen. You could almost feel the panic rolling through the administration as they worked as fast as they could to throw her under the bus and separate themselves from her.
In fact, when she was fired, she was driving her car and was told to pull over to the side of the road to get the official word. No investigation. No asking what happened. Not asking for the video or audio tape. Just summarily fired.
Now the NAACP is just as guilty. They condemned her in a knee jerk reaction. Again without checking the facts, the context or the cause of all this – honestly there are several culprits.
The web is great.
It’s a great resource, but many people don’t know how to filter what they read. Please, don’t assume everything you read on the web or in Wikipedia is fact. To quote James Watt, “A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”
Cable news channels are voracious media animals always looking for content and something to talk about. They run 24/7/365 days a year and when there isn’t breaking news or real news, they need to create something to talk about and it starts feeding on itself. It doesn’t matter what cable channel – they all do the same thing, but a couple of them will take a political stance appealing to certain demographics or political ideologues– it’s all part of marketing to get viewers and attract eyeballs.
As journalists, we are all also responsible for what looks like an injustice to this woman. In this high speed world, we need to all do a better job as journalists at stepping back and vetting the story. We should note that many of the folks on cable talk shows are not journalists, but pundits espousing their
views. That’s ok. But it would be wonderful if a couple of them stood up and said mea culpa and maybe next time did a little more research before they started their rants.
As journalists we should always be asking:
What do we really know as fact? Who is our source? What’s the agenda? What is the context?
Be transparent.
What happened to Sherrod is sad. Honestly, it’s not one person’s fault. It’s all of our faults. In this highly charged bipartisan world where we as the media rush content to the web, twitter and text and instantly react to someone’s comments – especially when they apply to race – we all need to take a breath.
We’ve talked about this in our morning editorial news meetings. It’s incumbent upon us in this hyper-media world to make sure we vet our stories, not make assumptions, seek the full story and seek the truth. It’s not uncommon that at times we start on stories that we think are “amazing, unique and astounding” and after we research it we find the person or source we got it from provided bad information, rumors or innuendos.
Now I know this next part will get me in trouble – even with my parents.
When you watch cable news channels hours upon hours, understand that, to a large degree, they’re filling time. They have to feed the monster. The best viewers should feel free to ask questions: How do you know that? Is this your opinion or fact? If you watch a particular channel because you like their view point, understand they may have an agenda, an agenda not always based in fact.
To Ms. Sherrod – I’m sorry this happened to you. I do hope you get your job back and we all learn a lesson from what you went through.
Steve Schwaid
Director of News and Digital Content
CBS Atlanta News and