In the ongoing story of Shirley Sherrod, the one thing that is broadly agreed upon by everyone from Ann Coulter to Barack Obama is that the two-minute version of Ms. Sherrod’s speech, as published by Andrew Breitbart, casts her in a significantly more negative light than the full, unedited version of her forty plus minute remarks. That is the only conclusion that can be reached by a person of sound judgment who watches the full video.
But imagine that you’re not someone who gets their news reading stuff on the Internet. You’re an American who heard someone discussing this story at the office, found your interest piqued, and tuned into the radio on the way home in hopes of learning more.
If you listened to this radio show — and a lot of people do — here is the version of events that was presented to you:
By the way, I have to make a comment. I’m watching this relentless assault on my friend Andrew Breitbart. It’s disgusting to me. He got a video. He made it public. Turns out the video was edited. The full video was always available at the NAACP because it was at their event. And they took the video. They could’ve released it immediately. And all this attack on Breitbart because he didn’t have the full video.
And yet I’ve now watched the full video. My buddy Brent Bozell watched the full video. We broke the story here about what the rest of the video actually shows, and what the audio says.
And she’s a race-baiter.
In other words, it hurts her cause, it doesn’t help it.
Stunning, isn’t it? The host tells his trusting audience that if you watch the whole video of Ms. Sherrod’s speech — a story he claims to have broken! — she comes off looking worse.
He says this too:
And I watch some people in the conservative media just, just – it’s pathetic. You can make your point about being accurate. We get that. What about the rest of the video. ‘Well, she has a story to tell.’ SO WHAT!? That doesn’t justify her attacks on millions of other Americans who also have stories, by the way. Black, white, brown and in between. Some of whom have been discriminated against, some of whom have been Holocaust victims, or had all kinds of challenges that they’ve overcome. They’re not racists because they oppose government run health care. They have stories to, you know. This is sickening to me.
Now that we have the whole video, nobody wants to talk about the whole video. Instead they want to trash Breitbart.
Stunning, isn’t it? He tells his audience that now that we have the whole video, “nobody wants to talk about the whole video.” I ask you, people of the Internet, is that true in the reality where you live? It seems to me that people are pretty keen to discuss the whole video! Are the listeners of that man — especially the ones who rely on him as a primary source to stay informed — well-served by being told “no one” is talking about the full video, because it does more harm to Ms. Sherrod than it helps her?
I try the patience of some readers by regularly writing about talk radio hosts. It isn’t a fun beat, for all the obvious reasons (hate mail, gratuitous insults, having to listen to their shows), and an additional one too: there’s precious little opportunity for inventive prose — I’d much rather write about beers I like or the Marquis de Lafayette’s return visit to America or places I’ve traveled (and I swear, I’m going to do more of that, especially since I post for free on this time-consuming subject far more often than I sell magazine pieces).
It is nevertheless important to engage prominent talk radio show hosts by setting down their words on blogs, because otherwise their most indefensible nonsense just drifts off into the air unchallenged, a convenience that allows them to grow lazy in their call-screener-maintained cocoon while retaining more respect than is deserved from their ideologically friendly colleagues outside of it. The good folks at National Review or The Weekly Standard, which have covered this story well from various perspectives, might read Liberty and Tyranny, and being people that work a lot during the day, assume without ever thoroughly checking that the quality of argument on Mark Levin’s radio show is comparable.
Given the discussion at The Corner over the last several days, however, it’s unlikely that they’ll see the talk radio host say that the full video makes Ms. Sherrod look worse, that since its release no one wants to talk about it, and even that conservatives (like many of them) who covered Sherrod sympathetically are being “pathetic” — and to take his judgment quite as seriously as they once did, or not worry just a little bit that his audience of loyal conservatives are being given bad information
It isn’t that they’re the victims of lies. But they are being misled by an intellectually arrogant man too think-skinned to accurately gauge when his critics are making sense, incapable of self-correcting, and unable to persuasively defend his work in any medium except one where he has call screeners and a mute button.
If nothing else, I hope I am making it increasingly untenable to retain stature as a serious thought leader while simultaneously saying things on the air that cannot be persuasively defended online — which isn’t to say that all Web outlets are created equal:
In closing, I dare Mark Levin to engage in a written online debate with Slate’s Will Saletan on the Sherry Sherrod story.
UPDATE: Incidentally, even Andrew Breitbart himself now says, “I grant her that she had her redemptive transformation.”