Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sherrod to Sue Breitbart

Sherrod v. Breitbart could be an interesting case, for it surely raises questions of defamation, libel, and the worth of one's personal reputation, as well as the responsibility of a blogger to correct mistakes on the record--provided they were mistakes. It would also be interesting from a freedom of the press point-of-view, insofar as Shirley Sherrod's status as a "public figure" who gave a public speech would probably become an issue.
SAN DIEGO — Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted a video edited in a way that made her appear racist.

Sherrod was forced to resign last week as director of rural development in Georgia after Andrew Breitbart posted the edited video online. In the full video, Sherrod, who is black, spoke to a local NAACP group about racial reconciliation and overcoming her initial reluctance to help a white farmer.

Speaking Thursday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Sherrod said she would definitely sue over the video that took her remarks out of context. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since offered Sherrod a new job in the department. She has not decided whether to accept.

Sherrod said she had not received an apology from Breitbart and no longer wanted one. "He had to know that he was targeting me," she said.

Breitbart did not immediately respond to a call or e-mails seeking comment. He has said he posted the portion of the speech where she expresses reservations about helping the white farmer to prove that racism exists in the NAACP, which had just demanded that the tea party movement renounce any bigoted elements. Some members of the NAACP audience appeared to approve when Sherrod described her reluctance to help the farmer.

The farmer came forward after Sherrod resigned, saying she ended up helping save his farm.

Vilsack and President Barack Obama later called Sherrod to apologize for her hasty ouster. Obama said Thursday that Sherrod "deserves better than what happened last week."
I'm looking forward to the trial, and think it might become a bellwether libel and press freedom case...unless it is settled out of court and sealed by a non-disclosure agreement. The libel case represents a coming of age, of sorts, for bloggers. Plenty of mainstream news outlets get sued for damages. For example, Vicki Iseman, a former aide to Sen. John McCain, sued The New York Times for libel. She settled the case in 2009.