Thanks to the work of one Andrew Breitbart, the NAACP came under attack; a White House, fearful of all things racial, saw its week of policy success derailed; and segments of the media, needing to fill air time, were misled.

Most importantly, an innocent woman was smeared.

There is enough crow on the plates of nearly everyone in Washington to keep the high and mighty eating bird until fall, when it's time to carve the turkey.

Here's the story. Twenty-four years ago, Shirley Sherrod was a member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives /Land Assistance Fund, an organization that helped protect largely minority-owned farms. One day, a white farmer, Roger Spooner, appeared before her. He, too, needed to have his home saved from the mortgage lender. However, Sherrod was conflicted.

Sherrod was conflicted because so many black farmers needed help. Yet here she was, a black woman, expected to help a white farmer. It didn't feel right, helping this man when her own people needed her in far greater numbers.

In order to understand this feeling, you have to understand Sherrod's world. It was my world, too.

Sherrod grew up in the segregated South. When she was 17, a white man shot her father in the back. No charges were filed. That was just how things were.

So try to imagine Sherrod's struggle when she was approached by that white farmer. She wanted to get him off her hands. So she turned the farmer over to a white lawyer. Yet in her heart, she knew she had passed the buck. This action ("Because I took him to one of his own") revealed to her that she was in the wrong. She knew it.

Her own words speak best: "That's when it was revealed to me that it's about the poor versus those who have. (It is) not so much (about) white and black, it's not, you know -- it opened my eyes."

"I was blind, but now I see," "Amazing Grace's" lyrics say.

Sherrod had not, prior to this revelation, given the farmer "the full force of what I could do." That changed when she confronted herself about viewing a man's need through the corrosive lens of black versus white.

After that realization, Sherrod gave the farmer all she had. She saved his farm. She had worked hard, prior to her revelation, to get him a good lawyer. Roger Spooner told CNN "she stuck with me."

But this is not the story Fox News initially told. Andrew Breitbart supplied the media with a heavily edited video from an anonymous source. Skillfully cut, the video only showed Sherrod saying that, because the farmer was white, she considered withholding her best effort.

This deceptive video set off a mad scramble. The incompetence behind the reaction to this edited video resembled an old Keystone Kops movie where the cops all rush through the same doorway, wedging themselves in. However, this rush to judge wasn't funny.

There was a race to be the first to condemn Sherrod for racism. Fox News led the batting order. Conservative bloggers made it viral. Pundits salivated, and then the call was made to the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization to take a stand -- without even the facts.

The NAACP, nagged by Fox News for comment, quickly described Ms. Sherrod's actions as "shameful." The Department of Agriculture weighed in, demanding and receiving Sherrod's resignation. The White House supported the firing. Senior White House staffers, according to reporting done by Politico, congratulated themselves for their speed (read that "haste") in reacting to the story.

Sherrod appeared on several news programs, clearly stunned and numb from the avalanche of reprimands, reproaches and blame.

Sherrod thought she had told a story to demonstrate how she had overcome the bias of her own experience. Instead, she found herself the center of a national controversy, one clearly coordinated to divert the public's attention from a more serious and earnest conversation about racism.

"I could care less about Shirley Sherrod, to be honest with you," Andrew Breitbart said. Political veterans call this "hardball" politics, where the lust for power is so overpowering you can care less who you trample, even if they're innocent.

How and why this moral of her story in that speech was missed entirely by the news media, the Obama administration, the NAACP and others is beyond me. But what really angers me is a professional instigator out to get the NAACP.

 for calling on the leaders of the Tea Party to repudiate any and all forms of racist behavior or actions by their members was the driving force behind both the NAACP's and administration's reactions.

Shirley Sherrod and the Spooners may end up teaching us something yet. The man who smeared her and those who rushed to judge her certainly have a lot to learn. What we must not do is tear to shreds those who speak of that struggle within. To them, we must be willing to listen, and learn.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.


This Week's Circulars