This had better be a trial balloon:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this afternoon took responsibility for firing an official, Shirley Sherrod, whose appearance on video recalling her behavior toward a white farmer drew charges of racism, and whose immediate firing drew suggestions that the administration had over-reacted to an edited video clip.
A White House official told me just now that the White House backs Vilsack's decision -- but that it was Vilsack's alone. The official said the White House -- contrary to the Sherrod's charge -- did not pressure the Department to fire her.
Unfortunately, Greg Sargent is hearing similar things. Sorry, but simultaneously saying it wasn't our call' and 'we support the decision' just won't cut it. Firing Shirley Sherrod was a bad decision, motivated by the wrong reasons, and it should be reversed. She should be reinstated, and it's not a close call.
If you're not familiar with the Shirley Sherrod story, MeMeMeMeMe's recommended diary explains what's going on. Until Monday, Sherrod was the rural development director for the US Department of Agriculture in Georgia. Andrew Breitbart released a heavily edited video purporting to show Sherrod saying that 24 years ago she refused to help a farmer because he was white. It turns out that Breitbart twisted Sherrod's words; Sherrod was actually telling a story designed to illustrate why all forms of racism are wrong and describing how she overcame racism in her life. Indeed, she not only helped the farmer, but according to the farmer's wife, Sherrod saved the farm.
Despite the fact that Sherrod did nothing wrong -- in fact, did everything right -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack fired her after Breitbart's video was released. As you can see in Ben Smith's article, the White House is trying to simultaneously support Vilsack's position and deny responsibility for it. Obviously, Vilsack fired her out of the misguided belief that Breitbart had turned her into a political liability. But not only is that immoral, it's stupid; the backlash against the unjustified dismissal of Shirley Sherrod will dwarf whatever teabagging nonsense Breitbart could have drummed up.
As both Digby and Greg Sargent argue, Vilsack's decision to fire Sherrod is appalling. Shirley Sherrod is a good woman who did nothing wrong and nobody should want to live in the kind of country where good people are fired because politicians are worried that they might become liabilities.
There's still enough time to make the situation right. President Obama should step up to the plate and reinstate Shirley Sherrod. Let this be a teaching moment, that in this country we don't let innocent bystanders become victims of political assassins like Andrew Breitbart. This is a time for leadership, but there isn't much time left to show it. The clock is running.