On the 15th of October, 1894, a fervently patriotic, almost jingoistic French man stepped into the office of the Minister of War, in Paris. He had been told he was simply attending a review and he was still not suspicious even as another man slammed a hand on his shoulder and arrested him for treason. Just 82 days later he was convicted, stripped of his military rank, sentenced to life imprisonment, and sent to a fortress in Guiana.
He was, of course, utterly and totally innocent. All of the evidence against him had been fabricated, some of it literally stitched together, with the parts that would have exonerated him, edited out.
But religious fervor and xenophobia had gripped his country, and his ethnic group was in the minority, at a time when the majority was trying to paint that minority as evil and subversive and bigoted beyond all reason against the majority.
Those in government who knew his innocence stayed silent in a foolish and ill-fated attempt to govern on behalf of all of the people, even the irrational and the hateful and the prejudiced. Those in the press who did not grab at the circulation and the profits, that the hatred and the scapegoating would bring them, were literally chased out of the country.
Thus would it be just under five years before the man was pardoned, nearly eleven before he was fully exonerated and restored to active service. His name, of course, was Captain Alfred Dreyfus, and the fortress in Guiana was Devil's Island.
Well we need to congratulate ourselves. How far we have come! We can pull a Dreyfus faster than the French could in 1894. Eighty-two days until they sent him to Devil's Island? We did it to Shirley Sherrod in 48 hours.
We — the howling fools of the far right, the stand-aside pathetic bureaucrats of the Department of Agriculture, the whole of the cowering media, this network included, the whole of the government, this self-defeatingly above-it-all president, included.
It is a merciful by-product of the swiftness with which we can ruin somebody's life, that the real truth will also emerge at nearly the same lightning-speed. But, no matter how much of a stretch it is to compare Shirley Sherrod to Alfred Dreyfus, mistake it not: Shirley Sherrod has been to her own Devil's Island, and thanks to the perpetual fraud machine that is Fox News, and the scum that is this assassin Breitbart, there will be a portion of this country - the mindless, the hateful, the reactionary, the racist - to whom she is forever convicted and ever imprisoned.
I have sat behind this desk for seven years and pushed back at these counterfeit journalists, as a man might stand at the shore and try to push back the tide. I have been branded an ideologue and a profiteer and a mirror of image of that which I assail. I have said it in every way I could think of, and been told I have been over-the-top because I have mocked and shouted and repeated.
And today the proof lies in front of you, bleeding: the reputation of Shirley Sherrod, a woman who 24 years ago saw and overcame the vengeance in her own heart and achieved the kind of true greatness the rest of us can only hope we might express for one moment in the whole of our lives. Assassinated by Fox News! Assassinated by that scum Breitbart! Assassinated by all their meager-brained imitators on other channels and other sites, their limp fellow travelers who never asked questions first, but simply shot, and shot, and shot, and shot and laughed!
Let me make this utterly clear: What you see on Fox News, what you read on Right Wing websites, is the utter and complete perversion of journalism, and it can have no place in a civilized society. It is words crashed together, never to inform, only to inflame. It is a political guillotine. It is the manipulation of reality to make the racist seem benevolent, and to convict the benevolent as racist — even if her words must be edited, filleted, stripped of all context, rearranged, fabricated, and falsified, to do so.
What you see on Fox News, what you read on Right Wing websites… is a manipulation. Not just of a story, not just on behalf of a political philosophy. Manipulation of a society, its intentional redirection from reality and progress, to a paranoid delusion and the fomenting of hatred of Americans by Americans. And nearly every last word of it is never, in any tangible sense, true. Ask Shirley Sherrod.
But this evil has not become institutionalized just because of the hard, soul-less work of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes and the scum Breitbart. Our society has not bought into the premise of this 24-hour parade of feces dressed up as news just because of a clever marketing plan. The assassins of the Right have been enabled on the Left.
The legitimate media didn't first look at the whole videotape. We didn't first ask if the doctored clip perverted by the scum Breitbart didn't seem to be leading up to a "however." We didn't, even today, when even this network let this pornographer of propaganda Breitbart come on and spew his lies and his venom and his fraudulent self-defense like a quack doctor attending a life-or-death surgery, we didn't once…consider the source.
"We are appalled by her actions" said the head of the NAACP. "She mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race." Benjamin Jealous didn't first look at the whole videotape, didn't first ask the farmer if, as proved true, Ms. Sherrod had saved his farm. "We have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA," said the Secretary of Agriculture. "This controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices."
Tom Vilsack didn't first look at the whole videotape, didn't first ask if the event took place when Ms. Sherrod worked for USDA, and not 24 years ago."We could have waited all day, we could have had a media circus," said the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House. "But we took decisive action and it's a good example of how to respond in this atmosphere."
Jim Messina didn't first look at the whole videotape, didn't first ask if the "decisive action" might not have really been like sending Dreyfus to Devil's Island. "It's a good example of how to respond in this atmosphere." This atmosphere. This atmosphere exists because the people around him have let this president be dumbed down.
The question used to be "fired up?" - and the answer: "Ready to go!" The question now is "fired up?" - the answer now is: "Not ready, because we cannot afford the impression of not looking sufficiently presidential and neutral and inviting a media circus in this atmosphere."
To paraphrase President Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt — Mr. Messina, and Mr. Emanuel, and everybody else in this White House who is gradually remodeling this President into something generic and safe and electable in 2012 by the slimmest of margins on the strength of being as media-circus-free and better suited to "this atmosphere" as possible.
Let Obama be Obama! And that advice must be heeded by one man above all others. "Can you give us some, specifically, some things that he said that would help us?," Mr. Gibbs was asked at this afternoon's press briefing. "Well again," Mr. Gibbs replied, "I think he, he talked about the fact that, that, that a disservice had been done here and an injustice had happened."
He was quoting you Mr. President. Fired up!? "A disservice has been done." Fired up!? "An injustice had happened." Mr. President, it is beyond admirable that in your position, and at this time of fearful division in this country, that you view yourself as President of everyone, not – as your predecessor did – only as President just of those who voted for you.
But you must, at long last, Sir, come to terms with the fact that while you have spent these first 18 months and one day of your presidency bending over backwards for those others, they have spent this time insisting you are not actually president, or you are a communist, or you are bent on destroying whatever is starring this week in the paranoid fantasies churned out by Fox News and the farcical Breitbart.
If only for the arrogance of the irony - that this Crusade to prove you a foreign influence is led by an Australian named Murdoch and his sons who pretend to be British, and his second largest shareholder Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud of Saudi Arabia — you, Sir, must stand up to this attack on you, and on this nation. Their game-plan is transparent:
They can strand together all the forces of anti-black racism in this country, direct them at you and all for which you and this nation stand, and convince the great unwashed and unthinking out there that not only are they not racists, but you, you Barack Obama, and Van Jones, and Shirley Sherrod, you are the real racists, and so in opposing you they are not expressing the worst vestige of our past, but are actually standing up against it.
As you stay silent and neutral and everybody's President, they are gradually convincing racists that they are civil rights leaders and you are Police Chief Bull Connor. And then some idiot at Fox news barks, and your people throw an honorable public servant under the nearest bus, just for the sake of 'decisive action' and the correct way to respond in this atmosphere.
Mr. President, please stop trying to act, every minute, like some noble, neutral figure, chairing a government of equal and dispassionate minds, and contemplative scholars. It is a freaking war out here, and the imagined consensus you seek is years in the future, if ever it is to be re-discovered.
This false consensus has gotten us only the crucifixion of Van Jones, and a racist gold-shilling buffoon speaking from the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th Anniversary of Dr. King's speech, and now it has gotten us Shirley Sherrod. And your answer is to note a "disservice" and an "injustice."
Sir, get a copy of the Michael Douglas movie "The American President." When you get to the line where he says "I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job" — hit the rewind button. Twenty times. "Fired up?" "Fired up?" Anybody? Anybody? Lastly. Ms. Sherrod?
I've got no business speaking on behalf of the people of the United States, that's the President's job. But frankly I don't know why he hasn't done this yet, so I'm going to.
We all would like to apologize to you, and ask you to return to work. Or if they want to make you Secretary of Agriculture, or especially White House Deputy Chief of Staff. The President could use somebody like you in there. Tonight!
But mostly I want to thank you for being, honorably, quietly, and until these last few days, anonymously, such an outstanding American. Long ago, there was harm done to you and you responded as nearly all of us would. And one day, 24 years ago, you realized that you were not ending that harm, you were just passing it along through vengeance and blindness. And you stopped. You stopped not with fanfare nor with self-aggrandizing tears nor in publicized rehab nor on a political stage.
You just stopped and you re-joined the righteous who occupy every corner of our great nation, and indeed every corner of our politics. And even in this hour of undeserved trial and abuse, in your 'Devil's Island of the mind,' you have maintained your dignity and your honor.
Only one of us in all of this, from the mountebanks to the presidential advisors to the unchallenging reporters, only one of us in all this, has done her job correctly. You, Ms. Sherrod, know what "decisive action" is and "how to respond in this atmosphere." And, thank God, somebody does.
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