- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on Sunday accused Fox News of racism for airing without verification a videotape of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod apparently making racist remarks, which led to her dismissal.

“I think Fox News did something that was absolutely racist,” Mr. Dean on “Fox News Sunday.” He said the reporting by the conservative-leaning cable network on the Justice Department investigation of New Black Panther Party members outside a Philadelphia voting station during the 2008 elections also had racist undertones.

Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace quickly interrupted Mr. Dean, saying that his network did not air the out-of-context video clip or mention Mrs. Sherrod’s name until after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack forced her to resign.

But Mr. Dean, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, insisted that Fox News still “was not blameless” for having “played it up” after the firing.

“We ought to stop being afraid of Glenn Beck and the racist fringe of the Republican Party,” he said, adding that while “I think that was a mistake on the part of the Obama administration” to force Mrs. Sherrod out, “I’m not going to let the right-wing press off the hook on this.”

Only Mr. Dean made an accusation of racism Sunday regarding the Sherrod issue as other political leaders, pundits and scholars on morning talk shows spread the blame largely among bloggers, the mainstream media and the Obama administration.

“As we said this past week, some people such as the failed candidate Dean reflexively blame Fox for almost anything,” said Michael Clemente, a senior vice president for Fox News.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called the events that led to the dismissal of Mrs. Sherrod, a “calamity of errors.”

Those events began when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an excerpt from a speech Mrs. Sherrod gave this spring at an NAACP meeting in Georgia in which she talks about not helping a white farmer because of his race. But the entire tape showed the anecdote from more than 20 years ago sets up a change of heart later in the speech, during which she acknowledges wrongdoing and says she and everyone else needs to get beyond race.

Mr. Breitbart denies doctoring the tape to mislead, saying he posted all the footage he had.

Mr. Jackson said the Obama administration was “wrong” to cave in amid the intense media coverage that followed and for not acquiring a full version of the tape, which the NAACP had.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, who also appeared on the Fox show, was unapologetic about his having immediately applauded Mrs. Sherrod’s dismissal early last week, saying Mr. Vilsack’s actions at the time meant “there was no reason to disbelieve the clip.”

He also said, “I think it’s a fair case to be made that this administration acted with destructive irresponsibility in the way that they fired her.”

Mr. Obama and Mr. Vilsack have since apologized.

Mr. Gingrich also suggested that the firing, which Mrs. Sherrod has said was because the clip was “going to be on Glenn Beck,” shows that the Obama administration is too easily pushed around and by much weaker parties than it must handle in foreign policy.

“All I’m suggesting, and I think it’s very worrisome to people, if the Obama administration is this afraid of Glenn Beck, how do they deal with the Iranians?” he said. “If they’re that frightened by an American TV show, how do they deal with the real world?”

Much of the debate focused on whether race relations have improved recently in the United States, especially after the country in 2008 elected its first black president in Mr. Obama, who also mishandled the aftermath of a 2009 incident between Sgt. James Crowley, a white Cambridge, Mass., police officer, and black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Mr. Obama originally took sides by saying the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly,” but then invited Sgt. Crowley and Mr. Gates to join him at the White House for a “beer summit.”

Marc Morial, National Urban League president, suggested on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the administration should have a team of outside advisers to help with national issues about race.