E-Mails Show Rush to Judgment on Sherrod
October 8th, 2010
10:44 AM ET
12 years ago

E-Mails Show Rush to Judgment on Sherrod

Updated 11:08 a.m. with statement from Sherrod after the jump

(CNN) - Newly released documents give the public its first look inside the Obama administration's internal deliberations over whether to fire Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod, and the hundreds of e-mails clearly confirm officials pushed her out for political reasons despite knowing they did not have the full context of the explosive video that thrust her into the national spotlight.

There is no smoking gun proving Sherrod's original allegation that the White House forced the Agriculture Department to fire her in order to contain any political damage. But the documents do show that top White House aides like then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel were keeping tabs on the matter as it unfolded, and in the initial hours after her firing other White House officials were thankful that Sherrod had been ousted so quickly.

"Just wanted you to know that this dismissal came up at our morning senior staff meeting today," Christopher Lu, who serves as the White House's liaison to the Cabinet, wrote to senior Agriculture officials on the morning of July 20, the day after Sherrod was fired.

"Everyone complimented USDA on how quickly you took this action," Lu wrote, noting that the swift move helped stop an "unpleasant story" from gaining any "traction" in the early hours of the flare-up.

"Thanks for the great efforts," Lu concluded to the Agriculture officials.

Another Agriculture Department e-mail later on July 20, as public outrage grew on the second day of the imbroglio, shows that Emanuel spoke at least once to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as the administration weighed whether to apologize to Sherrod and offer her a new job. "Rahm calling Secy now," the e-mail said.

The e-mails, obtained by CNN through a Freedom of Information Act request, also show that Vilsack pressured his staff to get rid of Sherrod even though officials within his department knew full well that there may have been more context to the video showing that in fact Sherrod was not racist.

The story first blew up on July 19, when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted online a brief video clip of Sherrod, who is African-American, delivering a speech to an NAACP convention earlier this year. Breitbart only posted the part of the speech where Sherrod recounted an episode where she decided to not help a white farmer who needed government aid to stay afloat.

Breitbart, however, did not include longer parts of the speech which showed that Sherrod explained to the audience that the incident occurred many years ago - not during the Obama administration - and that she eventually helped the white farmer. Her message in the speech was all about reconciliation and helping people of all races, a point that was drowned out in the selectively-edited clip that gave the impression that an Obama official had deliberately let a white farmer go belly up.

The e-mails show that after the Agriculture Department learned that the partial video had been posted, and that other media outlets like Fox News Channel might be following up on it, there was alarm within the Obama administration about potential fallout.

"I was just informed of a video of the Georgia State Director that was posted on the Internet earlier this afternoon," Agriculture Department official wrote at 1:56 p.m. on July 19. "It speaks for itself and you need to watch it right away."

But the e-mails also show that some Obama officials were cautious and urged that the full video be tracked down before there was a rash decision about Sherrod's fate.

"We need to make sure someone has seen the video," Agriculture official Krysta Harden wrote in an e-mail at 3:06 p.m. on July 19. "I am quick to jump to conclusions but want to be certain it is what it is said to be before I tell the Secy" she said in reference to Vilsack.

But another Agriculture official, Carol Jett, piped in otherwise: "We need to take immediate action."

Harden added that Vilsack "is absolutely sick and mad over the S Sherrod issue. He wants her immediately on [administrative] leave."

"Concur," wrote Agriculture official John Berge. "She should be fired."

Sherrod was eventually fired by top Vilsack aide Cheryl Cook. Sherrod repeatedly told CNN that Cook told her she had to step aside because the White House wanted her out, though the administration denied that was the reason.

Within two days of the firing, Vilsack acknowledged there should have been a fuller examination of the facts before she was fired. Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and offered her a new job.

Sherrod has still not accepted the post, and she did not return a call on Friday seeking reaction to the release of the emails.

Statement from Shirley Sherrod Regarding Chain of Emails Leading to Her Dismissal:

"While the newly reported details surrounding my dismissal from the United States Department of Agriculture shed light on decisions that were made within the Department, I have accepted the apologies of both President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

I do believe, however, that this incident is an undeniable teaching moment for this country. As we continue to examine the importance of diversity among all ranks of government and the private sector, we cannot forget that racism still exists. We need to combat it once and for all and I look forward to taking an active role in leading that national conversation.

I have always said that I support President Obama and I am available to him and his administration as we find a way to work together to eradicate racism and racial views that are dividing this nation and us as American citizens."

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. korwyn

    Fox News stinks at reporting. They dont care about the news. They only care about drama, glitz and glamour. And they lie too much. Most news now days cant realy be trusted

    October 8, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. WVLADY62

    Her fifteen minutes are up!!! Would somebody inform the press!

    October 8, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  3. Patsy, Texas

    Kinda like all those AGs Bush, Rove and puppet guy fired for political reasons. Get a grip Ticker, she accepted the
    apologies which is more than anybody got from Bush. You can push us to the voting machines, but you cannot
    push the button for us.

    October 8, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  4. Jude

    times they are a changin..todays technology allows for immediate information, allot of it wrong and politicians etc are needingif not required to make immmediate responses. positioning. and the audience demads it or your not decisive enough.

    October 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. Kevin

    Stir the pot again, just like Fox, just like MSNBC, just like everyone else whose income depends on making sure there is plenty of anger to keep attracting viewers.

    October 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  6. Adam

    Wow are we still on this? Or did I wake up a few months in the past this morning?

    October 8, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  7. FauxNews

    Why does this story keep coming back to the news?

    Gee, you'd think she's looking for Natalle Holloway or something.

    October 8, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  8. Bill

    This wasn't right and it wasn't fair to Ms. Sherrod. Let me pose this however. How many times has this happened to a white government employee? Why is Ms Sherrod's case getting a second look by anyone? I would suggest it's because she's african american. If she was caucasian then folks would right it off and just another racist white person.

    In neither a white employee's case, nor Ms. Sherrod's, should a rush to judgement be made about someone's motivations, nor should their words be taken out of context. It's happens all the time though, and there is a an unequal standard when it is minorities or women that are the party in question.

    Wouldn't it be great to live in a land of real racial equility.

    October 8, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  9. Murray

    It sure does show that all the politicians today are reactionary. They just don't take the time to verify the facts. Its all about the media impact. As my last company (fortune 50) it is easier to act and ask forgiveness later than to be sure of your facts beforehand. No wonder America is in the state its in 🙁

    October 8, 2010 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  10. Maureen Peltier

    I am very happy to see someone like Shirley Sherrod come on top of a political game. Too often we experience similar narrow minded supervisors that remain out of touch with their employees at a large scale, and end up never supporting them. It is good to see that light was shed on a case such as that. She shows a grace and integrity that no official; I mean NO official chose to conduct. They have clearly lost touch and continue to lose value in my eyes. For those that was hesitant and wished to seek more info, KUDOS! Those officials should be noted for their integrity and their colleagues need to learn from them. Slow down and think things through. Since when should the media reports be FULL proof of anything! 'The People' would not at all mind if such events reported where further looked into and truth be sought with no corruption to follow. Even if that slows the process down. It should not be prioritized as an emergency that anyone should have felt that they should react so quickly. Those types of actions need to be saved for live threatening events. Move as quick as that for things like Katrina, and we would all be better off. U.S. GOVERNMENT- WE ARE ASKING YOU TO PRIORITIZE! This is also a fine example of our government's priorities being so very backwards. This is a systemic problem in most if not ALL agencies....even I feel the pain of this childesh behavior.

    October 8, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  11. Chris Willett

    Is this administration made up of such spineless cowards that they'd knowingly throw one of their own under the bus without all the facts in order to avoid a potentially negative story on Fox News? This is not what I voted for.

    Is this what this country has come to? That my choice when I vote is between a party of cowards and a party of lunatics?

    October 8, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  12. OrangeCat

    Well who is surprised at that? There's a REASON unions want a process and procedure that protects them from this sort of thing happening. You think this is an isolated example? It's not. There's just a lot less of it making it to the news.

    I blame the people who gave into the news hysteria, but also the person who distorted the truth just to accomplish their own goals. Too bad none of them are likely to face punishment.

    October 8, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  13. CooperBSEd

    Ok, ok we get it already. This woman was obviously a victim of false judgement. This incident happened months ago. WHY is this still news? Why is this STILL relavant? She needs to get over herself quickly. I'm sure that she's rushed to judgement once or twice in her life. MOVE ON!

    October 8, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  14. John

    Seriously, Who cares?

    October 8, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  15. Night Wings

    II don't belive this woman one bit. She got everything she deserves. I heard the speech and thought is was reverse discrimination pure and simple. Her tone and words said everything. It's two street and she was wrong the way she talked about to the farmer.

    and the uneducated people in the crowd cherring was pure nonsense. and don't give me this crap that she's a victim. So what? so Im I..

    October 8, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  16. Mike Deville

    SHOCKING NEWS: behind-the-scene politics played a big role in her firing. Who knew...? Will administrator NEVER learn the lesson?At least try to get the facts before you drop the axe on someone's career.

    October 8, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  17. Corwin

    I found this part of the article somewhat amusing:

    “The e-mails show that after the Agriculture Department learned that the partial video had been posted, and that other media outlets like Fox News Channel might be following up on it, there was alarm within the Obama administration about potential fallout.”

    In other words, the administration would not do what it believed to be right, but rather base decisions on what some business like Fox News Channel might do. Please, don’t tell the administration that Iran might launch a nuke at Israel; Warren Buffet might pull all of his money out of the stock market; Christine O’Donnell might cast a spell causing all teleprompters to stop working.

    October 8, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  18. Chris

    Perfect example of how the Media has managed to become more powerful than our own government. Because of it's charades, weaving in and out of loopholes and twisting the truth until it's no longer managable for even the whte house. Sometimes I think you guys would sacrifice your first born for a story, even if it held very little genuine importance to anyone anywhere.

    October 8, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Amir Mostashari

    All I can say to Ms Sherrod is we love you!! Thank you for standing against hate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We are dissapointed at the Sec of Agriculture!! I am disappointed with CNN for bringing the moron Andrew Breitbar that started this mess on their show!!!!

    October 8, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  20. GoFaster58

    This fine lady had the rug pulled out from under her by the Obomber administration to save their hides. They cared nothing about Shirley. This administration has no management skills and they shoot first and then ask no questions.

    October 8, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  21. Video Vegetable

    There is quite a bit of this sort of rush to judgement behavior taking place more often nowadays than ever before. In my opinion, rushing to and lack of judgement only creates more opportunities for failure and is at the root of the worlds economic woes. We still need our representatives to have the ability for reasoned thought from seasoned wisdom from well rounded points of view and not the partison politics of which our goverment has become.

    October 8, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  22. FoolKiller

    The "teaching moment" was how the NAACP convention audience reacted when they thought Sherrod had destroyed a white farmer. This, while the TeaParty was being called racist at every opportunity. That was the point of posting the partial clip... nothing more was needed to make the hypocrisy of the NAACP clear. Everything since has been spin to distract from this fact...

    October 8, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  23. Adan

    Shirley Sherrod – Absolute class!

    Andrew Breitbart/Fox News-Hannity etc – Total waste of human skin, they flame hatred and worse through lies...flaming hatred using facts is itself horrible, but doing it with twisted/edited video lies is unforgivable.

    October 8, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  24. mtrought

    So the truth comes out slowly but surely. Again we see questionable characters popping up here and there and you wonder if they still have their jobs. Just as the were quick to fire they should have been quickly relieved of their post. Suppose this was a decision that would make or break a fortune 500 company. I now realise that Vilsack may not have been to blame totally has he had to depend on staff to provide the salient facts. For me, this was a simple judgement call: get the full tapes then make your decision why was that so hard with the resources at their disposal. I say this because the most important resource in any organisation is the people and when they fail all fails

    October 8, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
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