Newsweek's Alter: Fox News Led to Sherrod's Forced Resignation; Van Jones Was 'Aide of Little Importance'

July 22nd, 2010 4:13 PM

My colleagues Brad Wilmouth and Lachlan Markay have catalogued how Fox News hosts played no role in the forced resignation of former USDA bureaucrat Shirley Sherrod over perceived racist remarks.

But why let the truth get in the way of a good screed? Just ask Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who published a postmortem yesterday to the magazine's The Gaggle blog on "[h]ow the administration mishandled a manufactured scandal":

How could the White House have screwed up so badly in the case of Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia USDA official who Wednesday received an apology from the Obama administration (through Robert Gibbs and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack)?

Sherrod was the victim of a smear by the right-wing agent provocateur Andrew Breitbart and his fellow travelers at Fox News. (Yes, that side has adopted some Leninist tactics, as conservative antitax activist Grover Norquist has admitted over the years.) They took a two-and-a-half-minute clip from Sherrod's address to the NAACP and used it to depict her as a black racist who discriminated years ago against a white farmer. It turns out the farmer thought Sherrod had been a terrific help, and a full review of Sherrod's speech suggests that, far from being a racist, she had honestly (and successfully) worked through the complex racial preconceptions we all carry around in our heads.

Later in his post, Alter added more spin and half-truths by noting that:

To understand this story, you have to go back to the sacking of Van Jones, a midlevel White House aide of little importance (he worked on weatherizing inner-city homes) who was pilloried for days last year for signing a 2002 we-had-it-coming-on-9/11 petition. Fox made it seem as though this was the most critical issue facing America. The White House rightly concluded that Jones had to go and regretted having let the topic dominate Fox News and leach into the rest of the press.

For an "aide of little importance," the term "Van Jones" generates quite a few hits -- net total of 28 when you remove the hits about the "Jones Act" -- on the Web site, including Web chat discussions about the Obama administration's green jobs initiative.

Jones also sat on Obama's "Middle Class Task Force" with other low-level aides like "Vice President Biden (Chair of Task Force), Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, [and] US Trade Representative Ron Kirk."

What's more, Jones was not simply of the view that America "had it coming" on 9/11, there's evidence that he subscribed to conspiracy theories that the U.S. government, perhaps even President Bush, was complicit in the attacks that September morning. Wrote Charles Krauthammer in a September 11, 2009 op-ed:

You can no more have a truther in the White House than you can have a Holocaust denier -- a person who creates a hallucinatory alternative reality in the service of a fathomless malice.

But reality doesn't daunt Jones's defenders. One Obama administration source told ABC that Jones hadn't read the 2004 petition carefully enough, an excuse echoed by Howard Dean.

Carefully enough? It demanded the investigation of charges "that people within the current [Bush] administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war."

Where is the confusing fine print? Where is the syntactical complexity? Where is the perplexing ambiguity? An eighth-grader could tell you exactly what it means. A Yale Law School graduate could not?

So let's review, in the course of slamming Fox News for journalistic malfeasance and Andrew Breitbart for character assassination, Alter resorted to untruths, half-truths, and spin.

Stay classy, Jon.