Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who is Wrong?

As this week has slipped by in a haze of diaper changes and late-nights, the world has continued to be a stupid place to hold a debate.

I've tried to keep up with the faux-scandal revolving around ex-USDA official Shirley Sherrod.

If this one slipped by you, here's a play by play:
* Sherrod gave a speech in which she spoke about racism.
* The right-leaning blog Big Government posted a portion of her speech, which out of context made Sherrod look racist.
Edit - I had placed the Fox report here. Fox did not report the story until after Sherrod resigned.
* The NAACP condemned Sherrod.
* Sherrod was pressured to resign her post - despite her protests that the comments were taken out of context.
* The "main stream" media picked up the story and suggested Sherrod is a racist... Well, Fox picked up the story and suggested as much.
* When the NAACP the took the time to view the whole speech, they realized that the speech was anything but racist. It was actually the story of a woman overcoming her own racist ideas.

This story has taken up a lot of space in the news world.
When that occurs, I stop and ask, "What happened?"
As far as I can tell, the answer to that question is this:
A polemic blog took a person's words out of context.

That's all that happened.
The blog Big Government twisted the truth for its readers, and in doing so they diverted the public's attention from real news and they hurt the career of a woman who helps farmers.

The news and the blogs are still trying to parse who was wrong, who over reacted, and who are the real racists here. What they have failed to realize is this: Nothing important happened.

Someone walked into the room and yelled "Racist!" and we all panicked.

I hope students of critical thought and writing can glean something from this story.
If I had a course in session today I'd use this as a teaching moment:
1) People don't always argue using respectable tactics.
2) You can gauge a writer's respect for their readers by the quality of the writer's evidence.
3) Buzz words and hot topics need to be handled with care.

The blog Big Government has once again sullied the reputation of right-wing blogs. Perhaps we can all stop paying attention to that particular blog. They are useless.