Posted: Jul 22, 2010 2:05 PM by Melissa Canone
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Thursday apologized
to former federal official Shirley Sherrod over her ouster in the
midst of a racially tinged firestorm that ensnared the White House,
Agriculture Department, NAACP and a blogger.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president expressed
his regret, and told Sherrod he hoped she would accept the
Agriculture Department's offer of a new position, saying she could
parlay "this misfortune" into an opportunity to use her life
experiences to help people. Gibbs said the president thought
Sherrod was "very gracious."
She was forced to resign earlier this week after a conservative
blogger posted an edited video of her recalling her reluctance 24
years ago to help a poor white farmer seeking government
assistance. She said a video posting on the Internet took out of
context a talk she gave advocating racial reconciliation.
The White House released a statement describing Obama's call at
midday Thursday following her appearance on a host of nationally
broadcast interviews. From network to network, she said she wanted
to talk to Obama about her wretched week. But also said she felt
there was no need for him to apologize, as Gibbs and Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack had earlier.
Sherrod, in an interview with CNN, called her talk with Obama
"a very good conversation" and said she was pleased with it.
"I've been dealing with some of the same issues he's been
dealing with, especially for the last five years," she said.
Earlier, she said in a network interview that she viewed the
president as "not someone who has experienced some of the things
I've experienced in life."
Sherrod said she still wasn't uncertain whether she would accept
Vilsack's invitation to come back to his department, saying she
wanted to think it over.
"The president expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret about events
of the last several days," the White House said. "He emphasized
that Secretary Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in
his work to rid USDA of discrimination."
A White House official said that Sherrod did not indicate to the
president whether she would accept the job she has been offered at
the Agriculture Department. The president tried to reach her twice
on Wednesday night but was unable to leave a message, said the
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss
White House staff were trying to reach Sherrod this morning, and
when she called back to the White House, the president spoke with
her from his private office.
The furor centered on a videotape on the Internet of Sherrod's
remarks, recalling her reluctance 24 years ago to help a white
farmer seeking government assistance. Blogger Andrew Breitbart said
he posted it to illustrate that racism exists in the NAACP, an
argument he was using to counter allegations by the civil rights
organization of racism in the tea party.
"He was willing to destroy me ... in order to try to destroy
the NAACP," Sherrod said Thursday of Breitbart, saying she still
hasn't heard an apology from him. She had argued from the start
that her talk was about racial moderation and reconciliation, and
that the Internet posting took her speech out of context.
Meanwhile, the conservative activist who originally posted the
video on the internet has offered a narrow correction on his
Andrew Breitbart, who has not responded to requests for comment
from The Associated Press, acknowledges in the correction that
Sherrod's remarks about hesitating to help a white farmer
referenced something that took place before she worked for the
The site - which previously said Sherrod's comments were about
her work as a USDA employee - has not backed off its claim that
Sherrod's remarks were racist, however. The site still labels the
Sherrod posting with the heading, "Video Proof - The NAACP Rewards
Sherrod says Breitbart appears to have intentionally
misconstrued her speech to a Georgia NAACP group, and she said in a
series of broadcast interviews recently that she might consider
suing him for defamation.
Sherrod also reiterated she isn't certain she'll return to
government, even though the administration acknowledged she was
done a disservice by being forced out, invited out, and then
rendered cross-government apologies.
Obama has said nothing publicly about the controversy.
Sherrod said of Obama: "I'd like to help him see some of the
things that he could do in the future."
"I really regret what they did. But as I said before, he's my
president," Sherrod said. "When you get it down to where the
rubber meets the road, I think you need to understand a little more
what life is like. I'd love to talk to him, though, or people in
his administration ... to help them understand."
In offering a public apology Wednesday, Vilsack told reporters:
"This is a good woman. She's been through hell. ... I could have
done and should have done a better job." He addressed the media
after speaking to her by phone.
Sherrod accepted Vilsack's apology.
And a new job offer was put on the table as the administration
sought to keep the embarrassing events of this week from being more
than a three-day distraction.
But will Sherrod want to return to the Agriculture Department?
"They did make an offer. I just told him I need to think about
it," said Sherrod in a telephone interview with The Associated
How much involvement was there from the White House? Was there
White House pressure last Monday to push Sherrod out, when the
snippet of remarks incorrectly suggested a racist bias?
"No," insisted Vilsack. He said he made the decision without
knowing all the facts and regretted it. "I am accepting the
responsibility with deep regret," Vilsack told a news conference.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also insisted the
decision was one made at the Agriculture Department and he denied
White House pressure for Sherrod's immediate resignation. He
apologized to Sherrod "for the entire administration."
The president had been briefed, Gibbs said, and "he talked
about the fact that a disservice had been done, an injustice had
happened and, because the facts had changed, a review of the
decision based on those facts should be taken."
Sherrod appeared Thursday morning on CNN, ABC's "Good Morning
America," CBS's "The Early Show" and NBC's "Today" show and on