President Obama offered a personal apology Thursday to Shirley Sherrod, the former Agriculture Department worker who was fired this week after comments she made in a two-minute video clip sparked a media frenzy and a national debate over race, political correctness and the modern media.
The White House said Mr. Obama made the call one day after U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Mrs. Sherrod for deciding to fire her over the video clip without viewing the entire speech. In the remarks, made at an NAACP event in Georgia in March, Mrs. Sherrod, who is black, spoke of how she overcame her own personal prejudices against white farmers.
“The president expressed to Mrs. Sherrod his regret about the events of the last several days,” the White House said, noting that the phone call lasted seven minutes. “He emphasized that Secretary Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in his work to rid USDA of discrimination.”
Mr. Obama told Mrs. Sherrod that “this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so.”
In an excerpt of an ABC News interview broadcast Thursday, Mr. Obama said Mr. Vilsack was too quick to seek Mrs. Sherrod’s dismissal.
“He jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles,” Mr. Obama said.
The president said he instructed “my team” to make sure “that we’re focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment. We have to take our time and think these issues through.”
Mrs. Sherrod said Mr. Vilsack offered her another job, telling NBC’s “Today Show” that it was in “the Office of Outreach and dealing with discrimination within the agency.” She said that while she hasn’t received an official final offer or made a final decision, she would be inclined to refuse that.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs apologized on behalf of the administration but also levied criticism at the press for its role in the brouhaha.
The White House said Mr. Obama had tried twice Wednesday night to telephone her but she was out of pocket, traveling to New York to appear Thursday on all three major network weekday-morning talk shows.
Mrs. Sherrod remained in the media spotlight Thursday, permitting CNN, which had played a major role in vindicating her, to tape her in New York as she received the call from Mr. Obama.
The short video clip of Mrs. Sherrod’s remarks - which the entire speech shows were taken out of context - was first posted earlier this week on the Andrew Breitbart website Big Government. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People initially condemned Mrs. Sherrod but later said it was “snookered” by Fox News and Mr. Breitbart.
Mr. Breitbart made his postings, which also cited the laughter in the crowd to Mrs. Sherrod’s detailing her past prejudices against a white farmer, to illustrate how the NAACP tolerates racism while denouncing such prejudice in the “tea party” movement.
Mrs. Sherrod denounced Mr. Breitbart’s claim and said she had not received and did not expect an apology from him.
“As much as he’s saying it was about the NAACP, he had to know that it was about me. He was willing to destroy me … to try to destroy the NAACP,” she told CBS’ “Early Show.” “He had to know what he was doing. I’m certain he didn’t think the other side of the story would come out. But he knew he was misrepresenting the facts.”
• Kara Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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