Fallout From Sherrod Saga; Journolist Is Bad for Journalism

The following is a rush transcript of the July 20, 2010, edition of "Special Report With Bret Baier." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: Thi s type of decision first and foremost should have been communicated by me. It should have been done in a much more personal way. It should have been done with far more thought and it should have been done with far less haste. And all of those are my responsibility. I accept that responsibility.

And I ask for Shirley's forgiveness, and she was gracious enough to extend it to me.

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I had at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign. Sheryl Cook, the deputy undersecretary called me and said -- she called me and I said Sheryl, I have a three-and-a-half hour ride to get into Athens. She said Shirley, they want you to pull over to the side of the road and do it, because you are going to be on "Glenn Beck" tonight.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, there you see the agriculture secretary saying it was all his fault, saying the White House did not pressure him to essentially fire or force the resignation of Shirley Sherrod after that video clip surfaced. She was talking about a racial incident 24 years ago that she was telling moment of racial reconciliation. Now we understand she has been offered another job in the government. And the White House, this administration is very apologetic. What about all of this? Let's bring in our panel. We welcome Chris Stirewalt, political editor of the Washington Examiner, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Mara, first to you. You were in the White House briefing today with Robert Gibbs where a lot of the focus was on this very topic.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That's right. This was an extraordinary story. A kind of chain of mistakes starting from the very first person who put this piece of video on the air to every other person, the NAACP, the Agriculture Department, the White House, other members of the media who never bothered to find out what the full context was.

And she was wrong. I thought Secretary Vilsack admitted his mistake as fully and completely as he could have. And the White House took responsible for acting too quickly and not checking the facts, and now she going to be offered a job –- she has been offered a job, and I guess she's considering whether or not she's going to take it.

BAIER: The White House says they did not pressure Vilsack. Vilsack said there was a White House liaison in the Agriculture Department.

LIASSON: My understanding is they were informed of the decision but not consulted on it in advance.

However, what they didn't do at the time was double-check it and asked him, “Are you sure that’s what she said?” or let’s take look at the whole video or call her.

BAIER: Here is what the NAACP said about their decision to put out a statement initially that they were appalled, and a harsh statement from the NAACP at the first part.


BENJAMIN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT: In this line of work where we are called to respond to video evidence all the time, make very quick judgments, we had a quick set of calls at late at night, you may recall the statement came out at 1:00 a.m. that we were dealing with this.


BAIER: The NAACP then said they were essentially hoodwinked into doing what they did. Chris, what about that, the NAACP's explanation?

CHRIS STIREWALT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It's interesting. Blaming the media is important right now for everybody who had a bad day today. For the White House and for the NAACP, blaming the media, a certain network, particularly --

BAIER: This one.

STIREWALT: This very network. Talking about Fox and the evils of Fox and what Fox did to them.

And it's interesting to watch. In a day where one person was clearly the victim, you have this one woman who was clearly the victim of something that happened. Everybody wants to be the victim. NAACP wants to be a victim. All of these things happen. I wonder if Andrew Breitbart posting one video on his website can cause all of this to happen. I hope that it doesn't get more serious than that. What if Vladimir Putin had a website he could put video up? I guess everybody would be in a terrible tizzy then.

LIASSON: He didn't actually blame Fox. NAACP did.

STIREWALT: NAACP blamed Fox but, but what we heard from the White House was media reports, pushed on the media, media reports, media reports.

LIASSON: They blamed everybody including themselves. The media is to blame. You shouldn't put a little clip of something on the air. You should look at the whole thing.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Last night I was on Fox and I called for the administration, I said she was owed an apology, restitution, reinstatement. I think the panel agreed with me unanimously. So I think we were hardly wrong on that. I'm glad to see the administration followed suit.

BAIER: Glenn Beck essentially said the same thing on the show, on his show last night.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think what is interesting is that she herself the wronged person here, Miss Sherrod said it started when the NAACP attacked the tea party as having racist elements. I think that is important here.

For the last year-and-a-half with the first African-American president we have not had the kind of racial animosity as you might expect. We had heart-warming day on Obama’s election and tears in the eye of Jesse Jackson. It was a historic racial event at the time. For a year-and-a-half, we had a national debate on the scope and reach and power of the government, a real honest, refreshing debate. But what has happened is the left began losing that debate this year. It didn't happen the last year. It began attributing the opposition to racism. That happened in the press and parts of the media and in the NAACP. That is what triggered this incident in particular. And I think if there were less of that, if at least the other side would respect the honesty and ideological sincerity of the opponents of expansion of the government and not attribute it on the basis of race, we'd have less of this, fewer incidents, and the atmosphere would be a lot less poisoned.

BAIER: We invited Shirley Sherrod onto Fox News multiple times and she declined. She talked in an interview with Media Matters, and I don't often quote Media Matters on this show, but here's what she told them about Fox News, "They're after a bigger thing. They would love to take us back where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and be a whole person."

Miss Sherrod, that is just not true. It's not true. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: She was a victim, but that doesn't entitle her to victimize others and to use these kinds of attack. I think she is wrong, and even though she is a person who needs restitution on part of those who wronged her, this is not something anybody can endorse and part of this cycle which ought to stop.

BAIER: Because we are in, Mara, a cycle that the racial level, the explosiveness about this issue has ratcheted up a bit.

LIASSON: Sure. It is the most explosive issue in American society, and both sides exploit it. However, I don't think -- you say the NAACP did this in terms of, because they were trying to correct for the things they said about the tea party.

BAIER: She said --

LIASSON: How is it related?

KRAUTHAMMER: Shirley Sherrod said in the phone call that was on CNN yesterday, it began with the attack on the tea party.

LIASSON: Suggesting that the NAACP had to correct for that by jumping on this.

KRAUTHAMMER: And that's why she was swatted without any evidence on the part of the NAACP and ended up a victim of her own organization.

LIASSON: Just as -- Charles makes a point the left likes to call the right racist. It's also true that the right likes to point out any example of what they consider reverse racism whenever they can. That's how this thing started because that's what Andrew Breitbart said that this was, originally.

STIREWALT: Don't you think we have reached the point we need some sort of Brady bill for racism accusations? We need a three-day cooling off period before anybody is allowed to --

LIASSON: Or just to do some due diligence.

STIREWALT: And to think whether that's where you want to go.

I think Charles goes to the heart of this because this becomes a circular firing squad for all ideologies, this becomes a way that we have a less smart discussion.

We've been having a very smart discussion as a nation for quite a while about what we want Washington to do to the country or with the country. And talking about who is a racist, you're a racist, I'm a racist, it's not only counterproductive but deeply divisive.

BAIER: Log on to FoxNews.com/specialreport and get ready for tonight's online edition at 7:00 eastern. Much more online, on this topic, I'm sure.

Up next, the Journolist and what it says today about the media.



TUCKER CARLSON, FOUNDER, DAILYCALLER.COM: It's a group of about 400 journalists, some academics and some political activists, but a lot of people representing, quote/unquote, "mainstream media institutions." They were not acting as journalists, they were acting as political hacks, as consultants essentially on behalf of Barack Obama -- unpaid, but working for Barack Obama. That's dishonest by its nature and wrong.


BAIER: That's the cofounder of thedailycaller.com. The 400 liberal leaning reporters, producers, bloggers, columnists, and even educators exchanged ideas on this online community called Jounrolist. Now it's starting to come out, some of these emails, one about Reverend Jeremiah Wright in the 2008 campaign season, a lot of talk about how to take attention off of that scandal.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues according to his list to "deflect attention from Obama's relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of his conservative critics, Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares, call them racists."

Another incident we just learned about today, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative commentator, talk show host, a public radio producer with KCRW in Santa Monica Sarah Spits said she would haven't helped Rush Limbaugh if she witnessed him going in cardiac arrest and said, she wrote she would "laugh loudly like a maniac as Limbaugh's eyes bugged out and writhed in torment. I never knew I had this much hate in me," she writes, "but he deserves it."

What about this and the fallout from it? We're back with the panel. Chris?

STIREWALT: I was racking my brain to think of someone I hated so much I want to see them suffer that way, and I couldn't come up with anything. Not the worst bully that teased me in school, nobody. So obviously there is a lot of invective, a lot of hate and a lot of this stuff. But we should remember that for most of the folks, these are opinion people.

You don't go to Mother Jones or The Nation, for fair and balanced reporting. That's normal. What happened today, this is significant, and I think this carries forward is that you see today you have the mainstream outlet reporters, Ryan Donemeyr I believe the name is from Bloomberg, who’s their Capitol Hill reporter, this guy is on list with people who are radicalizing. And what he is talking about is how people who protest at healthcare town hall meetings are like brown shirts who led to the Nazi takeover of Germany. You say, wait a minute. This guy is writing for a wire service, writing for a business wire service. Should he be having the discussions? So I think this is now thanks to what the Daily Caller has been doing, this crossed over from being a clique of extreme journalists who are feeding into each other’s beliefs to something that has crossed over to the mainstream.

BAIER: Mara, this started with Dave Weigel. The Washington Post hired him to cover conservatives and he was busted in the postings, posting evil things about conservatives. Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Paul. What about the Journolist and what it means for journalism?

LIASSON: First of all, Journolist, thankfully I would say, is no longer in existence. The thought that there could be this 400-person off-the-record conversation is ridiculous. Everything you say online or in print is public, and those people should have understood this.

It's one thing to have opinion journalists. You know where they are coming from and you can read their columns, and another thing to have the people who supposedly are objective journalists laying their personal opinions, and they're quite extreme, out in public.

I think that completely undermines the credibility and undermines the credibility of the news organizations. That's one of the reasons that Weigel was fired. It's really bad. It's bad for journalism.

BAIER: There are also journalism professors in here from esteemed journalism schools.

KRAUTHAMMER: That’s what so remarkable, people of supposedly that high level, opinion-makers and teachers, speaking with unbelievable venom, never crediting the opposition with idea, sincerity, in evidence principle, talking about them as Nazis.

I was also impressed by the low level of the discussion of this and the writing. If this is the best liberal journalism can do, that is probably why our side is winning the argument.

BAIER: We'll leave it there.