James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Vilsack’

Right-wing lies lead to Vil-sacking

Posted by James McPherson on July 21, 2010

With the amazingly speedy news cycle we now have, it’s already old news that a right-wing blogger lied about an Obama administration official, that the lie was spread by Fox News, and that the official was wrongly forced to resign because her bosses were too lazy or cowardly or paranoid to check out the truth and stand up to the liars.

Fox then gained the added benefit of being able to then suggest that Shirley Sherrod had been railroaded by the administration, despite the fact that with this runaway train it was Fox News was among those pouring on the coal. (Sherrod apparently may have been fired even before the story appeared on Fox, though with the apparent knowledge that it would appear there.)

Today Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack accepted full responsibility for the mess, publicly apologized to Sherrod, and offered her another job.

“I didn’t take the time I should have,” said Vilsack, who was portrayed by himself and others as the villain in the case. And there’s no doubt that Vilsack blew it, though of course he had help. And others were equally quick to react badly, including the NAACP.

It’s no surprise that Fox would turn bad information from a questionable source into a biased story designed to make the administration look bad, of course–that’s what the network does. This is at least twice from the same Matt Drudge spinoff; the first was the much more widespread lying about ACORN. Sadly, also not surprising is that Bill O’Reilly thinks the false stories should get even more coverage from other media–perhaps so his employer won’t so often stand alone among major networks in its stupidity.

Nor should we be surprised that a multitude of kneejerk bloggers quickly relayed the bad info (sometimes adding their own obnoxious comments or misstatements); for examples, see here, here, here, herehere, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. At this writing, only the last two of those had offered a full correction or apology.

This case provides further evidence that you cannot fully trust video unless you shot it yourself. Another sad but probably true reminder comes from Bob Cesca at Huffington Post: “This will all happen again. Why? Because the traditional news media and, to a certain extent, the Democrats including the president, are too easily cowed by right-wing freakouts.”

Same-day update: Thanks to Poynter’s Jim Romenesko, I just came across this excellent summary of the case and some the media issues involved.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »