Video: Sherrod: I would love to speak to Obama

  1. Closed captioning of: Sherrod: I would love to speak to Obama

    >> is with us again this morning. ms. sherrod , thank you so much for joining us.

    >> thank you.

    >> you have now received apologies from the usda , the white house and the naacp for their rush to judgment. you've accepted those apologies. you really are a woman, as the secretary put it, who has been through hell. how are you feeling right now?

    >> you know, i've gone from being at such a low on monday, as this was unfolding, and thinking, this is so unreal, to feeling so great about the support i've received from around the country. it's encouraging. it makes me feel that there are many others out there who think like i do, and so many who do not think like the individual who started this in the first place.

    >> let's talk about that. i want to talk about it in a minute. but first of all, do you think that you deserve a phone call from president obama ?

    >> i think i do.

    >> you do?

    >> mm-hmm.

    >> an apology?

    >> well, you know, he is the president of the united states of america . i received the apologies that are important. i really would not want the president to apologize to me. i'd love to have a conversation with him, though.

    >> and what would you say to him?

    >> you know, i'd like to talk to him a little bit about the experience of people like me. people at the grassroots level. people who live out there in rural america , people who live in the south. i know he does not have that kind of experience. let me help him a little bit with how we think, how we live, and the things that are happening.

    >> what do you think he doesn't understand and a lot of the rest of the country doesn't understand about people like you and the way you live and what you're faced with?

    >> you know, we are people who struggle every day, who do the best we can in our community. who love this country. we love him. we want him to be successful, because we feel thinks, in some ways, like we do. and we think that's good for the country. yes, there are issues out there that we are faced with. issues of poverty. issues that i worked so hard on these last 11 months at rural development to try to really have an impact on, mainly because that's me. but the other thing, i want everything to reflect, i want a good reflection for him as the first black president .

    >> but why do you think when it comes to this topic of race, it just presses people's buttons? people are so quick to react without thinking. you're in the center of a storm here. why do you think that is?

    >> you know, this has gone on for years and years, and i thought we were getting to a place where we really could talk about it. but we can't deal with it until we can face each other. that's the whole point i make when i talk. the things that are being done by the gentleman who started this, and i can't even think of his name --

    >> andrew breitbart .

    >> yes. i didn't know of him before this happened. but the things he's doing, being done more to divide us so we can't move on.

    >> but i guess his point was that this is not him versus you. he was trying to point out racism within the membership of the naacp . that when you told that story about being reluctant to help a white farmer, before he realized this was about poverty, that there was acceptance within the crowd, people who are yeah, you're right, what he was trying to say was there's racism in the naacp , the same way they claim there might be racism within the tea party . is there room for debate, for discussion about that?

    >> you know, there's always room for debate and discussion. because that's what will get us to a point where we can tolerate each other. people were not laughing in that audience. and he knew that his actions would take shirley sherrod down. he didn't mind doing that. he thought, i think, he probably hoped, it would also deal with the naacp . but what he did was getting me. and that, i cannot -- well, he's never offered to apologize for what he's done. but that, you know, it would be hard for me to forgive him at this point.

    >> but at some point the white house could have checked and seen the whole video, the usda could have seen the whole video, the naacp could have seen the whole video before going on the attack with you. the white house has said they had nothing to do with your ouster. you have said that you had three phone calls on monday from your superiors saying that the white house was behind it, they wanted you to resign. do you stand by that?

    >> i stand by that. because i asked what has happened? you know, i just couldn't -- it was so -- you know, the first call i received said we're putting you on administrative leave . i had to explain to my leadership staff that we were quite a ways from the office, in a meeting, that i explained what happened, and i told them, i have to leave and go turn this government car in and get my car and go home. you know, i asked -- so first they were putting me on administrative leave . the next call was shirley, we're going to have to ask you to resign. and then the white house wants you to resign. because i'm asking them, what happened? this is just so unbelievable. it was one thing for them to put me an administrative leave and then look into it. but they went from administrative leave directly into asking me to resign.

    >> so obviously you still feel the white house has some explaining to do. meanwhile the usda , the secretary of agriculture has offered you a new job that you're thinking about. what can you tell us about this job?

    >> you know, it's -- it's discrimination happens in the usda . that's why there are lawsuits by black farmers, hispanic farmers, native american farmers, women farmers. and they're because the agency that never deals with the people who call it. no one lost their job because they're discriminated against a black farmer or a native american farmer or a hispanic farmer or a female farmer. those individuals, many of them, some have retired, but many of them are still there. i would not want to be that individual that the department and everyone is looking to to solve the issue of racism in usda . it takes a lot more to get that job done.

    >> so i'm just asking very quickly, what is the job exactly that they'd like you to do?

    >> they talked about the office about me dealing with discrimination within the agency.

    >> and you're inclined to say no to that?

    >> at this moment, i would think i would be.

    >> so as far as you're concerned at this point you're out of the usda for good?

    >> yeah. i haven't seen the offer, you know. the secretary said he would e-mail it to me. i have not seen it yet. so before i say no totally, i would like to look at that to weigh in.

    >> ms. sherrod we appreciate very much you coming in.

    >> thank you.

    >> thank you for everything.

    >> thank you.

    >> best of luck to you.

    >> thanks.

updated 7/22/2010 12:33:17 PM ET 2010-07-22T16:33:17

The Obama White House is back to a teaching moment on race, once again playing the student.

This time, it tried so hard to steer clear of a black-white controversy that it wound up planting itself firmly in just that kind of a spectacle.

Now, President Barack Obama is trying to fix things with a mea culpa — offered through his spokesman — to ousted Agriculture Department worker Shirley Sherrod. But the incident proves that nearly halfway through his term as the nation's first black president, Obama is still struggling to strike the right balance between taking a stand on race and leading the country past it.

The Sherrod firestorm dragged Obama into an ill-timed debate this week that overshadowed what was supposed to be a high moment for him: signing a significant legislative accomplishment, Wall Street reform, into law. And the incident reinforced the damaging perception that his White House caves too quickly to criticism from the political right.

Sherrod certainly thinks so. She accused the administration of losing its backbone in pushing her out of her job, and hinted she may not come back.

Obama so far has refused to directly address Sherrod's plight, contrary to his own statements encouraging people to speak more openly about race. His silence leaves unclear whether this flap will fade or continue to steal focus from his message.

Will Obama step in and offer his voice?

"I wouldn't rule it out," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

But Gibbs didn't rule it in either.

Perhaps that's because a year ago — almost to the day — Obama was burned by his own misstep on race, wading into the uproar surrounding the arrest of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates outside his home by Sgt. James Crowley, a white police officer.

In that case, Obama admitted "I don't know all the facts," then proceeded to indict the Cambridge, Mass., police for acting "stupidly."

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That rare, undisciplined gaffe created a backlash that also distracted attention from his signature proposal at the time, health care reform. Obama acknowledged he should have chosen his words better, and he convened his famous beer summit in an effort to turn the incident into a "teachable moment."

The latest uproar began when the flame-throwing conservative website posted a two-and-a-half-minute video clip of Sherrod's speech to a rural south Georgia NAACP banquet. The website's owner, Andrew Breitbart, said it showed that the NAACP condones racist elements, just as the civil rights group accuses the tea party movement of doing.

The full speech shows Sherrod was really talking about racial unity and redemption — about how she came to learn that whites were struggling just like so many blacks she knew.

In the Internet age, that context was lost. And with lightning speed, so was Sherrod's job.

Administration officials were so eager to keep the story off cable TV's round-the-clock news cycle that they had Sherrod pull her car over to the side of the road Monday and submit her resignation on her Blackberry.

Bedeviled by right-wing attacks of favoritism toward blacks, Obama's administration was in a hurry to deny his critics any more ammunition.

"That's the kind of thing the White House is certainly sensitive to," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "I think the desire to avoid conflict and accusations of racial insensitivity actually walked them into the very problem they were trying to avoid."

Even the NAACP jumped to conclusions, condemning Sherrod's remarks and supporting her resignation.

When the full story came out, they both had egg on their faces.

The NAACP quickly reversed itself, saying it was "snookered" by Breitbart — even though the speech happened at one of its own events.

The White House was slower to face reality. Still, less than a day after saying the president was not involved in Sherrod's ouster but supported it, the administration was apologizing to her effusively and trying to make amends with the offer of a new job. After having a little trouble reaching her, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered his personal apology and said he should have done his own job better.

Speaking Wednesday about why Sherrod lost her job for no good cause, Gibbs had to come forward and say that "everybody involved made determinations without knowing all the facts."

Sound familiar?

Gibbs largely blamed that on a culture in which "things whip around. People want fast responses. We want to give fast responses."

And he added, "I think this is one of those teachable moments."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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