One would think that the right would want to move past the Shirley Sherrod story.
For those living under a rock last week, the story in a nutshell is this: Right wing provocateur Andrew Brietbart, pissed that the NAACP had accused the Tea Party movement of racism, fired back on his blog magazine by posting a video of a low-level Department of Agriculture employee named Shirley Sherrod. In the video, Ms. Sherrod was giving a speech to a Douglas County Georgia chapter of the NAACP. The video was from March of this year.
In the video, Ms. Sherrod — a black woman — is telling a story of how she did the barest amount possible to help out a white farmer who was losing his farm. "RACISM" cried Breitbart, followed by the cries of "RACISM" from Fox News. (In an embarrassing sidenote, both the NAACP and the Obama Administration quickly condemned Ms. Sherrod, and by the end of the day, she was sacked).
The problem, not surprisingly, was that the video was taken out of context. When the full video was released, we learned that Ms. Sherrod was telling a personal account of something that happened to her 26 years ago, and the reason she was telling the story was to convey to her audience a very personal "learning experience" from her own life. Specifically, she wanted to tell the audience how she realized that the issues facing farmers aren't issues about black or white, but about poverty… and how important it is that we all transcend race, as she did 26 years ago. (She actually did help out the white farmer a great deal, and he came forward to say so. Both the NAACP and Obama apologized to Ms. Sherrod, and she was offered her job back).
After last week, you would think the conservative media would drop the issue in embarrassment, wipe the egg from their collective face, and move on.
But nope. Now they really have to put the screws to Shirley Sherrod. Smear her they must, even though this woman has done nothing to them.
To that end, the American Spectator has a piece today accusing Sherrod of lying about sheriff Claude Screws lynching Bobby Hall, a Sherrod relative (a story she conveys in the unedited version of her speech).
If you're unfamiliar with the case, it originated in Baker County, in rural southwest Georgia, where Sherrod is from. In 1943, Screws, the white sheriff, arrested a black man, Hall, who was accused of theft and taken to the local courthouse in handcuffs. Upon their arrival, Screws and his two white deputies mercilessly beat Hall, by some accounts for as long as 30 minutes. Screws then dragged Hall's unconscious body, feet first, through the courthouse square. Hall died soon after.
Screws was convicted on federal charges, but the Supreme Court ultimately overturned the conviction over inaccurate jury instructions.
In her speech, Sherrod explained, "Claude Screws lynched a black man." The American Spectator wants readers to believe she was lying — i.e., Screws didn't "lynch" Hall, because Screws didn't use a rope. Hall was beaten to death, but to writer Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan political aide, that apparently doesn't count.
And that's the "gotcha". Sherrod, screams the American Spector headline, is a liar.
Unfortunately, that's just B.S. A lynching is an extrajudicial mob killing — not necessarily by rope — the murder of Emmit Till is probably the most famous example. As Adam Serwer (among others) has pointed out:
No one who worked to document the practice of lynching in the South limited the definition of the term to solely include those lynchings that occurred using a rope. Don't believe me? Here's the definition of lynching as described in the 1922 anti-lynching bill introduced by Republican Rep.L.C. Dyer that Lord pretends to know something about:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the phrase "mob or riotous assemblage," when used in this act, shall mean an assemblage composed of three or more persons acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life without authority of law as a punishment for or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offense.
So now the right's second attempt to smear this woman has failed (and honestly, what do they have against her??)
Fortunately, some at The American Spectator are distancing themselves from Lord's piece. John Tobin writes:
What on Earth is Jeffrey Lord talking about on the mainpage? He says that the sentence "Claude Screws lynched a black man" is untrue. Lynching is defined as an extrajudicial killing by a mob (which can be as few as two people). The fatal beating of Bobby Hall most certainly qualifies.
Philip Klein writes in The American Spectator:
I am rendered speechless by a 4,000-word article that is based around the suggestion that somebody is a liar for saying that a black man was lynched, when he was merely beaten to death by a white sheriff who evidence suggests had previously threatened to "get him."
One is reminded of the old "have you no sense of decency, at long last, sir" quote. Sadly, I think uttering that to the conservative "media" would have no effect at all.
UPDATE: E.J. Dionne has some thoughts about Sherrod and the right-wing smear machine that are well worth reading, e.g.:
The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its propaganda to be accepted as news by convincing traditional journalists that "fairness" requires treating extremist rants as "one side of the story." And there can be no more shilly-shallying about the fact that racial backlash politics is becoming an important component of the campaign against President Obama and against progressives in this year's election.