SAN DIEGO - Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said today she will sue conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, praised CNN's coverage of her experience and dismissed Fox's protests that it was being unfairly criticized.
"I will not give Fox an interview, period. They had their chance to get the truth and they were not interested," she said at a plenary session at the National Association of Black Journalists' convention in San Diego. Fox maintains that it did not air Breitbart's truncated video, which was edited to make it seem as though Sherrod were a black bigot, until after she was fired.
"I don't know all that Fox was doing behind the scenes to get the effect they were looking for," which was to get her fired, she said to a question from Eric Deggans, media writer for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
"I got lots of hate mail on Monday," before she received the fateful cell phone call from her supervisor asking for her resignation before the Glenn Beck program aired on Fox News Channel that night.
When Deggans told Sherrod that Fox host Bill O'Reilly said she was injecting race into the conversation, she replied that having lived as a lack person, "I saw what Fox did and what Breitbart did. I knew it was racism and nobody had to tell me that."
Sherrod also said she received hate calls at two of her offices in Georgia, and fielded similar calls to her cell phone and messages to her e-mail account. "It wasn't just the video," she said. Moreover, they started the previous Thursday.
An audience questioner from the local Fox station told Sherrod, "I don't want you to hold it against me" and stressed that she was with the local, not national Fox operation.
As the Huffington Post reported, "The edited video posted by Andrew Breitbart led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ask Sherrod to resign, a decision he reconsidered after seeing the entire video of her March speech to a local NAACP group. In the full speech, Sherrod spoke of racial reconciliation and lessons she learned after initially hesitating to help a white farmer save his home.
"She said she doesn't want an apology from Breitbart for posting the video that took her comments out of context, but told a crowd at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention that she would 'definitely sue.' "
She also said that both President Obama and Vilsack could use more black advisers, and that too many continuing racial problems have been "pushed under the rug.
"If we try to get a job in these companies and larger media organizations and think we just have to be like them" in avoiding racial discussions, we're contributing to the problems that led to "situations like this," she said.
While Fox News pointed to CNN and others as having aired the truncated video, CNN anchor Don Lemon, one of Sherrod's three questioners at the NABJ event, said of his network, "we investigated the whole thing. We did not run the tape until we saw the whole tape."
Sherrod agreed. "I appreciate all that CNN did with me last week in helping to get the truth out."
Bob Butler, NABJ's vice president for broadcast, asked Sherrod whether she thought there was still a need for such organizations as NABJ. "You don't know what it's like for people in remote areas of rural Georgia who continue to have things happen to them," she replied. "We don't have the mass marches anymore. But if we continue to have these organizations, they know there is someone. All people — white and black — need" such places to turn to, she said.
The abuses fought during the civil rights movement "didn't end. Black farmers are still losing their land," she said. The nation is approaching the point "where we won't have any black farmland and no black farmers."
Sherrod's husband, Charles Sherrod, one of the original members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized in Georgia, was introduced from the stage. "My husband is the only one of the original SNCC people who stayed" in Georgia, and he's continuing to do that work, she said.
The plenary session was live streamed on the NABJ website and by cnn.com, among other Internet outlets.
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