Commentary Magazine


Using Sherrod to Undermine the New Black Panther Case

While Andrew Breitbart’s release of a misleading edited version of the now-famous Shirley Sherrod speech on race has led him to rightly note that he has become “public enemy number one,” the left is using the controversy he engendered to knock down a wide array of right-wing targets. Not surprising, they hope to drown the outrage over the New Black Panther Party case along with Breitbart.

That’s the not-so-subtle message of a New York Times feature published yesterday, which claims, as its headline insists, “When Race Is the Issue, Misleading Coverage Sets Off an Uproar.” Though the piece leads with Breitbart’s on-target charge that the left is seeking to brand everyone on the right as racist no matter what the facts of the case might be, the subject quickly changes to one the paper is more comfortable with: the idea that accusations of reverse racism (as the Sherrod speech was initially and wrongly thought to be) are all false. As reporter Brian Stelter puts it: “It is an open question whether conservative media outlets risk damage to their credibility when obscure or misleading stories are blown out of proportion.”

And what, other than the Breitbart/Sherrod fiasco, can the Times produce to prove this thesis? None other than the New Black Panther case, in which an African-American hate group engaged in voter intimidation at the polls on Election Day in 2008. The fact that Fox News pursued the story of this crime, which went unpunished by local Philadelphia authorities and which the Justice Department has been reluctant to take up as a violation of civil rights, is presented by the Times as proof that Fox and its news anchor Megyn Kelly engaged in racist coverage.

As Jennifer has written, the mainstream media has been painfully slow to cover this story, which, as many others have said, would have been front-page news if, say, the equally small remnants of the Ku Klux Klan had stood outside of voting places threatening poll watchers and voters with sticks. But despite the fact that the Times itself did eventually get around to printing a story about the case and the allegations that a reluctance to prosecute a black group for offenses that were once solely the avocation of white racists is the reason why the crime is still unpunished, Stelter merely repeats without demurral the dismissal of the entire topic by liberal ideologues like Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Whatever one may think about whether the Justice Department has grounds to take on the New Black Panthers and those who have protected them from prosecution, there is nothing “obscure and misleading” about the uproar over what appears to be an outrageous miscarriage of justice.

While Breitbart is still taking a drubbing for his role in the Sherrod story, with Stelter’s piece, the Times more or less proves his point — that the liberal media’s goal is not truth or responsible journalism but rather the advancement of their own brand of partisan smear mongering.