By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
NAACP president Ben Jealous caught holy hell from black bloggers for his astoundingly embarrassing rush to judgment applauding the curb toss of Department of Agriculture offical Shirley Sherrod. Jealous, of course, quickly reversed gear and admitted that he and the organization had been snookered by the rightwing attack hack Andrew Breitbart and Fox News.
But that begs the larger question, really two questions. Why was the NAACP snookered? And even after it realized it was conned, has it done enough to atone for its colossal blunder? The answers to both questions aren’t pretty. The group clearly had the Tea Party on its mind when it made the quick call on Sherrod. It did not want to be yelled at by Tea Party activists and the right-wing smear machine as hypocrites, for double dealing the race card, and for being soft on alleged Black racism.
The NAACP’s knee jerk overreaction and appeasement had everything to do with timing, as it turned out bad timing. It came on the heels of the blowback that the NAACP got for its convention resolution a week earlier blasting racist elements in the Tea Party. Breitbart made no bones about why he trotted out the lying tape when he did. He said that he wanted to hit back at the NAACP. The NAACP could have easily ignored it, or taken a few moments to check it out, and found it to be the fraud that the world now knows it be. It didn’t and for that it took the deserved heat. The NAACP, though, has done too much, and is still too valued an organization to be endlessly beat up on for its act. Just don’t let it happen again. But the second question is still crucial and that’s has it really made up for its flub to the person hurt the most by its rash action, and that’s Sherrod.
The answer is no. Start with the retraction. The statement it issued was weak, tepid and non-committal. It did not call for an apology. It did not issue a ringing call to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to immediately and fully reinstate her to her position. It did not criticize Vilsack for making his bonehead decision to fire her. It did not promise to do an internal review and soul search within the organization to find out why it rushed to hail Sherrod’s firing and to insure that hasty decisions won’t be made again. It did not pound the Tea Party and the right-wing attack machine. It covered itself by again repeating the patently unnecessary mea culpa that the NAACP has zero tolerance for discrimination. This is exactly the reason the organization gave for praising the swift kick to the curb of Sherrod. Unlike Vilsack and President Obama, it did not formally apologize to Sherrod for its act. It referred to the Sherrod debacle as the worn cliché teachable moment, but gave no hint that it learned the lesson, and that is to hit back and hit back hard against the right, and not just with a paper resolution.
Finally, the NAACP has not even demanded that Breitbart remove the offending video (it’s still on his site) calling Sherrod a racist. The NAACP, Instead, has clamped a wall of silence on the sorry episode preferring to simply move on.
Unfortuately, Sherrod can’t. The NAACP hasn’t done much to see that she can.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.