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Shirley Sherrod: Web, cable drive reckless race story

Earlier today, I lamented the feverish, polarizing and dangerous conversation we are now having about race with the Internet and cable TV driving the discussion rather than legacy media. Exhibit A, I said, was the case of Shirley Sherrod, an African-American federal agriculture official denounced by the NAACP and forced to resign by the Obama administration within hours of a heavily-edited tape of her speaking to an NAACP gathering being posted online at the right-wing website breitbart.com. Read it here.

Now take a look at this video from Fox News on Tuesday night to see how utterly out of control this story and the conversation have become within one of the shortest news cycles I have ever seen. And note the way the NAACP and White House reacted with major statements and a firing to what at the time was essentially nothing more than a doctored videotape posted online. Amazing! Not only is the national media discourse dazed, compressed and confused in the world of new media, so is national policy to some extent. No time for independent deliberation, investigation or review.

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I am using this clip from Bret Baier's show on Fox News because I think he did one of the best jobs on TV Tuesday night of trying to sort this mess out, offering a snapshot timeline and having a mostly coherent discussion about it. I thought Juan Williams was especially on the money in trying to explain just how "screwed up" this sorry story had become. Just watch this one clip and you get a straight-up replay of what a dizzying discussion of race this was -- from Breitbart.com and the White House, to the screen in your house.

I also think Fox News deserves a chance to defend itself against the claim from NAACP President Ben Jealous that his organization was "snookered" by Fox News. This is an example of blaming a media outlet that in this case, at least, is not necessarily the party that deserves the heavy blame. Fox News reported nothing on air until Sherrod had already resigned as far as I can tell -- and a resignation like that is absolutely news. According to Sherrod, furthermore, the resignation was demanded by the Obama administration, which could have made a big difference by questioning the video and saying it was looking into the matter on its own.

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As for Breitbart's website, that's another story -- that's where all this madness appears to have started. And almost every major website in the country was playing Breitbart's video Tuesday -- many without questioning it or apparently caring what damage could be done to Sherrod's reputation.

Amid the cable and online madness, give CNN major credit for working all day through virtually every show Tuesday to try and sort the mess -- from Tony Harris, to John King and Anderson Cooper. At the end of the day, even Fox News was using CNN's interview with Sherrod in which she explained how she was ordered by the White House to resign.

There is much for everyone in the media to learn from this saga. Why do I think the big lessons about the dangerous ways the excesses of a media in transition are negatively affecting the culture will mainly be ignored -- again?

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