Andrew Breitbart deserves a rousing defense. He single-handedly managed to get President Obama, much of the media, conservatives, and a big body of the general public talking about race, but not just race in the usual drive-by, finger pointing divisive way, but race in which there's near universal sympathy for a black victim of racism. The raw deal Breitbart dealt Shirley Sherrod drew variously either an apology, condemnation of the doctored tape, or a loud demand that she get her job back, from everyone from Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly to President Obama. Some prominent conservatives even lashed out at the rightwing smear machine.
For a brief moment, there was renewed clamor that Obama frontally address the issue of race and racism and hold the much talked about racial dialogue. Breitbart said that he released the doctored tape of Sherrod's speech in part to hit back at the NAACP for having the temerity to call out the tea party for the racism of some, many, are most of its activists and leaders in part. And in part he released the lying tape to expose the NAACP for allegedly giving safe harbor to its own racists. Breitbart did a service on both counts. He again tossed the spotlight on the tea party and how it deals with or more accurately ducks dealing with the racists among them. The NAACP took full advantage of the reopened window and again reminded that the tea party has racist elements among them. That in turn stirred some talk about having a dialogue on race between the NAACP and tea party leaders. NAACP President Ben Jealous quickly said that he would look with favor on that.
As for the issue of racists within the NAACP, Sherrod debunked that. The full 43 minute unedited speech that she gave to the local NAACP banquet, showed a thoughtful, sincere, committed former civil rights worker, and someone who has spent decades championing the rights of farm owners and workers, giving a life affirming, morality lesson on her personal experiences with race and racism. Her experience showed the power of racial reconciliation and redemption. Millions saw that, got that, and praised her for that. She is the best calling card the NAACP, and by extension African-Americans, have to show that a black person who had every right to be hateful and embittered toward whites could forgive and move on.
Breitbart did yet another service. He spurred President Obama to use some of the strongest language to date to blast the rightwing spin doctor media for doing everything it can to bully, intimidate, and harass his administration. This put Obama on guard against the perennial danger of making a rushed even panic decision about anyone in his administration, or in a government agency, based on a hit attack by the likes of a Breitbart and Fox. Some even hope that this will embolden Obama to hit back, and hit back hard against the rightwing smear machine. We'll keep a watch on that.
Breitbart did a final service. He gave the rightwing smear machine a momentary black eye. He made news editors, producers, and executives, and that includes those at Fox, more cautious about what they dump on the airwaves to score a hit. The public is already deeply cynical about a media that has become virtually indistinguishable from the tabloids and has parlayed gossip, innuendo, rumor, half truths and outright lies into ratings and profits. The Sherrod doctored tape was a textbook example of how a lie can be turned into ratings. Breitbart deserves a defense for the many services he performed.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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