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The forced resignation of U.S. Department of Agriculture worker Shirley Sherrod after a video purporting to show her making racist comments appeared on conservative media outlets this week raises any number of questions about the Obama administration's apparent willingness to jump to conclusions before getting all the facts. And officials ought be ashamed of themselves for the unseemly rush to judgment that suggested they put a higher premium on limiting political damage to themselves than on ferreting out the truth.

The two-minute snippet of video, posted by right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart and broadcast by Fox News, deliberately took remarks out of context from a much longer talk Ms. Sherrod gave in March to an NAACP group in Georgia.

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Mr. Breitbart's excerpt made it appear that Ms. Sherrod, who is African-American, had boasted of refusing to help a farmer threatened with foreclosure during the 1980s simply because he was white.

In fact, as the complete transcript of her speech revealed, she actually said just the opposite: That her work with farmer Roger Spooner had convinced her that "we are all alike" and equally deserving of help, and that the experience working with Mr. Spooner had forced her to recognize and overcome her own prejudices.

After the full story came out, Mr. Spooner and his wife, Eloise, both appeared on CNN to praise Ms. Sherrod's efforts on their behalf, which they credited with helping them save their property.

There's no mystery to why conservative Fox commentator Sean Hannity immediately jumped on the Breitbart video to demand Ms. Sherrod's resignation. As a partisan ideologue he's under no obligation to check his facts before publishing them.

But what's the Obama administration's excuse? Ms. Sherrod says that within hours of the video surfacing on Fox a USDA official contacted her on her Blackberry to demand her resignation. Higher-ups at the agency were so preoccupied with insulating themselves from any political fallout from the episode that it apparently never even occurred to them to check out whether allegations were true.

That the administration cravenly caved to Mr. Breitbart's provocation is unnerving to say the least. If the government is ready to panic over every real or imagined public relations blip generated by the 24-hour news cycle, no matter how baseless or absurd, how is it ever going to stand up for the principles of fairness, decency and common sense on the issues that really matter?

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