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A Libel Lawsuit Waiting to Happen

Media Research Center chief Brent Bozell acts recklessly by smearing Shirley Sherrod as a racist based only on Andrew Breitbart's misleadingly edited videos. Not only won't he apologize, the rest of the MRC is trying to change the subject.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/29/2010

Media Research Center president Brent Bozell has never been big on telling the truth -- pushing his right-wing agenda has always been more important than the facts.

This disregard for truth-telling occasionally gets Bozell in trouble. Most notoriously, under the aegis of the Parents Television Council, which he founded and headed until 2007, Bozell made false claims about the World Wrestling Federation -- now World Wrestling Entertainment, which had long been a target of the PTC -- in connection with a case in which a boy purported killed a girl in acting out wrestling moves. Before the case could be decided in court, the PTC settled with WWE by paying it $3.5 million and issuing a retraction that had to remain posted on the PTC website for six months. (ConWebWatch has a copy.)

That very costly shooting off of Bozell's mouth ought to have taught him to temper his words in public. It didn't.

On July 19, right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a pair of selectively edited videos which portrayed Shirley Sherrod, Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Agriculture Department, "describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer" and " admits that she doesn’t do everything she can for him, because he is white."

By the morning of June 20 -- after she had been forced to resign her job and denounced by the NAACP -- Sherrod had told CNN that Breitbart's video clip was taken out of context; it was a part of an anecdote from 24 years ago in which she demonstrated how she got over race, learned that poor people need to be helped no matter their color, and ended up helping the white farmer save his farm.

After Sherrod told her side of the story on CNN, Bozell let loose with a hateful tirade in an MRC press release demanding that the media smear Sherrod without having the full video:
"The liberal media are deliberately spiking the shocking video that reveals an NAACP banquet speaker admitting her racist views and actions. We’ve waited a full 24 hours to see if any coverage of this exposé would surface. So far, nothing but crickets. The ABC, CBS and NBC evening and morning ‘news’ shows have all failed to even mention the damning video admission that is dripping with disdain for white people and that caused the official to tender her resignation.

Worse yet, it comes from the NAACP, the same organization that has feverishly accused the Tea Parties of racism. The thoroughly untrue accusation against the Tea Parties has been propped up and propelled by the incessant reporting of these same networks. Yet they decide to thwart this story about the NAACP.

The only thing more newsworthy than the charges of racism are the hypocritical charges of racism. The media must report this scandal."

The full video, released by the NAACP later on July 20, made it clear that Sherrod was telling the truth and that Bozell was falsely smearing her as a racist.

Nevertheless, Bozell compounded his error by repeating the smear in his July 21 syndicated column:

Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website revealed video of a NAACP banquet where U.S. Department of Agriculture appointee Shirley Sherrod talked about how she didn’t want to help a white farmer because he should be helped by “his own kind.” The contempt in her voice, in her face, and in the audience’s laughter is unmistakable.

So where are all those news outlets which dutifully covered the NAACP’s attacks on the Tea Party now? The network evening news and morning news shows avoided this racist video entirely on the first day.

Nevertheless, the cable news networks picked it up, and within hours, Shirley Sherrod had resigned from the Agriculture Department. Sherrod was clearly furious that her racist remarks were exposed.

Having thus been exposed making a clearly false attack on Sherrod, and acting in reckless disregard in doing so by refusing to wait until the full video was released before issuing his smear -- and, thus, opening himself up to another libel lawsuit -- you'd think that Bozell would issue a correction and apology, or at least an update explaining that Sherrod's remarks aren't racist. Again, you'd be wrong -- both the press release and column stand uncorrected.

Meanwhile, contrary to Bozell's assertion, actual media outlets were "deliberately spiking" the Sherrod video -- just not for the reason Bozell accused them of.

CNN's Rick Sanchez pointed out that the network "had the story ... Monday before noon, and we decided not to go with the story because we didn't have a chance to verify it, because we hadn't seen the speech ourselves, because we weren't sure if part of the speech had been edited, because we hadn't had a chance to reach out to Shirley Sherrod. So because we didn't have those things, we here at CNN did not do this story." Fox News' Shepard Smith said that he didn't run the story on his show because "we didn't who shot it, we didn't know when it was shot, we didn't know the context of the statement, and because of the history of videos on the site where it was posted. In short, we did not and do not trust the source."

Are these standards too high for Bozell? It appears so -- after all, he had no problem promoting misleadingly edited videos whose source he did not know and whose context he made no effort to learn.

Bozell's blind hatred thus exposed, the MRC moved into high gear to distract from it.

A July 21 MRC item by Brent Baker complained that evening newscasts were portraying Sherrod "as a victim of distorted editing of the video of her remarks." Baker didn't mention that his boss was among those who victimized Sherrod by falsely smearing her as a racist on the basis of that "distorted editing." A July 21 NewsBusters post by Rich Noyes uncritically repeated the false claim by Fox News' Steve Doocy that his network "never mentioned the story until after Sherrod had quit"; in fact, reported the story before Sherrod resigned.

Neither Baker nor Noyes mentioned the existence of Breitbart, who first posted the distorted video that Bozell and Co. based their false smears on, and without whom Sherrod would not have been victimized. If Baker and Noyes are not going to mention Breitbart, they certainly aren't going to admit that the MRC did, in fact, falsely smear Sherrod as a racist, let alone issue the apology and retraction she deserves.

A July 21 NewsBusters post by Brad Wilmouth went into full Fox News defense mode, complaining that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow "suggested that FNC would never show [Sherrod's] side of the story even though, by that time Tuesday night, several FNC shows had already informed viewers of some of the details in Sherrod’s favor." Wilmouth added that "Maddow’s show even chose to only present to her viewers clips from FNC that ran Monday and Tuesday morning which portrayed Sherrod’s comments as racist, without airing any of the clips from shows later Tuesday which showed FNC personalities conveying more of her side of the story." Wilmouth didn't explain why Fox News' later coverage excused its falsely smearing Sherrod as a racist or its initial lack of interest in telling the full story.

Bozell, for his part, doubled down on the lie that Sherrod is a racist, saying it even more emphatically on the July 21 edition of Mark Levin's radio show:

BOZELL: I watched the full tape. It gets worse, it doesn't get better. It's not that Andrew Breitbart took out something that was going to somehow get her off the hook. She hangs herself later on with footage that Andrew Breitbart, I believe, did not have on his.


She goes on to say, "Some of the racism we thought was buried, didn't it resurface?" The audience applauds. "We endured eight years of the Bushes, and didn't do the stuff these Republicans are doing because we have a black president." Here is a woman who is herself inserting racism into the debate, and conservatives somehow have to apologize?


I thought that what we were leading to was her saying that she had come to the realization it wasn't about racism, that it was about poverty. That was the theme of her speech. Until you listen to it carefully, and what's she saying is it's racism and poverty. She's inserting racism and class warfare into this debate. I mean, this is what we're up against.

Bozell was trying to change the subject from the fact he falsely smeared her as a racist by throwing more cherry-picked, out-of-context quotes around to disguise his own libelous behavior. Given that he has already embraced cherry-picked, out-of-context quotes to falsely smear Sherrod as a racist, there's no reason to believe that more cherry-picked quotes will make his point.

And if Bozell will not apologize for his false and libelous smear, he is certainly not going to hold Breitbart accountable for his irresponsibility in posting the cherry-picked clips in the first place.

At NewsBusters, the misdirection continued -- Noel Sheppard used a a July 25 post to mount a bogus defense of Fox News and falsely attack former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.

Responding to Dean's statement on "Fox News Sunday" regarding the Shirley Sherrod story, "I think Fox News did something that was absolutely racist. They took a, they had an obligation to find out what was really within the clip," Sheppard highlighted "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace's retort that Sherrod had been forced out of her job before Fox News started playing the out-of-context clip of her that Fox News host then used to falsely portray Sherrod as a racist. "Wallace of course was correct," Sheppard wrote. "But facts weren't stopping Dean on Sunday as they NEVER do."

But Wallace's answer was irrelevant. Dean never claimed that Fox News got Sherrod fired -- he claimed that it hyped the deceptively edited tapes without bothering to seek out the full story beforehand, which it most certainly did.

Sheppard wasn't the only one to deceive about what Fox News did; Accuracy in Media's Don Irvine did a similar bogus defense.

This episode is yet another reminder that Bozell and the Media Research Center care absolutely nothing about actual researchers would call media research -- it's all about partisan politics, which may very well violate its current tax-exempt status. And, it would appear, libel laws.

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