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Friday, 23 July 2010

Obama says sorry to Shirley Sherrod, wrongly accused of racism

SHIRLEY Sherrod has received the biggest "I'm sorry" of all from a contrite President Barack Obama, who personally appealed to the wrongly accused Agriculture Department worker to come back.

Ms Sherrod was forced to resign on Monday because of comments she made at a civil rights gathering.

Mr Obama has asked her to rejoin the federal government and transform "this misfortune" into a chance to use her life experiences to help people, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Mr Obama had stayed out of the public brouhaha that followed Ms Sherrod's ouster from the Agriculture Department after a conservative blogger posted a truncated clip of the black woman's comments and portrayed her as racist.
Once it became clear that the speech was advocating racial reconciliation, not racism, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologised to her and offered her a new job on Wednesday.
Mr Gibbs also apologised publicly "for the entire administration".

On Thursday morning, Mr Obama spoke by phone with Ms Sherrod and said he hoped she would accept Agriculture's offer of a new position, Mr Gibbs said. He added that Mr Obama thought Ms Sherrod was "very gracious".
Ms Sherrod said she had not decided whether to return, but she did accept the apologies.

In an excerpt of an ABC News interview broadcast on Thursday, Mr Obama said Mr Vilsack had been too quick to seek Ms 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 had 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."

As top government officials begged for her forgiveness, Ms Sherrod did not shy away from telling her story on television. She hopped from network to network, even chatting with the ladies of ABC's The View and letting CNN film part of her call with Mr Obama as she travelled the streets of New York City in a car.

Even the president of the United States had a hard time getting to Ms Sherrod while she did interviews.

Mr Obama had tried to reach her twice Wednesday night but could not, said a White House official. She was on a plane travelling from Atlanta to New York, where she appeared on several morning shows.

Ms Sherrod was forced to resign as director of rural development in the southern state of Georgia after the clip appeared on a blog of her speech to a local meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was talking of her initial reluctance 24 years ago to help a poor white farmer seeking government assistance. She worked for a non-government organisation at the time.

The full clip made clear that the vignette was setting the scene for her main point, that race must play no part in helping others.

The NAACP, which had at first condemned her remarks, then later apologised, posted the full 43-minute video showing the entire speech. The farmer in question also did interviews and said Ms Sherrod had helped him save his farm.

Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart said he had posted a portion of Ms Sherrod's remarks to illustrate that racism exists in the NAACP, an argument he was using to counter allegations by the civil rights organisation of racism in a conservative movement called the tea parties.

"He was willing to destroy me ... in order to try to destroy the NAACP," Ms Sherrod said. She said she might consider suing Mr Breitbart for defamation.

Mr Vilsack, offering his remorse on Wednesday, told reporters: "This is a good woman. She's been through hell. ... I could have done and should have done a better job."

Herald Sun