SAN DIEGO – Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted a video edited in a way that made her appear racist.
Sherrod was forced to resign last week as director of rural development in Georgia after Andrew Breitbart posted the edited video online. In the full video, Sherrod, who is black, spoke to a local NAACP group about racial reconciliation and overcoming her initial reluctance to help a white farmer.
Speaking Thursday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Sherrod said she would definitely sue over the video that took her remarks out of context. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since offered Sherrod a new job in the department. She has not decided whether to accept.
Sherrod said she had not received an apology from Breitbart and no longer wanted one. "He had to know that he was targeting me," she said.
Breitbart did not immediately respond to a call or e-mails seeking comment. He has said he posted the portion of the speech where she expresses reservations about helping the white farmer to prove that racism exists in the NAACP, which had just demanded that the tea party movement renounce any bigoted elements.
Some members of the NAACP audience responded approvingly when Sherrod described her reluctance to help the farmer.
The farmer came forward after Sherrod resigned, saying she ended up helping save his farm.
Vilsack and President Barack Obama later called Sherrod to apologize for her hasty ouster. Obama said Thursday that Sherrod "deserves better than what happened last week."
Addressing the National Urban League, he said the full story Sherrod was trying to tell "is exactly the kind of story we need to hear in America."
Obama has acknowledged that people in his administration overreacted without having full information, and says part of the blame lies with a media culture that seeks conflict but not all the facts.
At the journalists convention, Sherrod was asked what could be done to ensure accurate coverage as conservatives like Breitbart attack the NAACP and other liberal groups.
Sherrod, 62, responded that members of her generation who were in the civil rights movement "tried too much to shield that hurt and pain from younger people. We have to do a better job of helping those individuals who get these positions, in the media, in educational institutions, in the presidency, we have to make sure they understand the history so they can do a better job."
She said Obama is one of those who need a history lesson.
"That's why I invited him to southwest Georgia. I need to take him around and show him some of that history," Sherrod said.
Sherrod said the description of the new job she has been offered in the office of advocacy and outreach was a "draft," and she questioned whether any money had been budgeted for its programs.
"I have many, many questions before I can make a decision," she said.
Despite her experience, Sherrod said she believes the country can heal its racial divisions — if people are willing to confront the issue.
"Young African-Americans, young whites, too, we've done such a job of trying to be mainstream that we push things under the rug that we need to talk about. And then we get to situations like this," she said.
"I truly believe that we can come together in this country. But you don't (come together) by not talking to each other. You don't get there by pushing things under the rug."
Sherrod said her faulty firing should not be blamed on all media.
Before the full video was released, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said Sherrod should be fired, and others called her speech racist. O'Reilly later apologized.
"They had a chance to get the facts out, and they weren't interested," Sherrod said.
She said she declined to give Fox an interview because she believed they were not interested in pursuing the truth. "They would have twisted it," she said.
A Fox News spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at jwashington(at)ap.org.
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