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Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert, a public-interest attorney and journalist, is the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.

Let the media go hungry

Q: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acted too quickly in removing Shirley Sherrod from her USDA job. How can today's leaders assess when to move quickly and when to hang back?

In this instance Secretary Vilsack should have taken the time to get all of the information before making a snap decision that affects a person's livelihood and reputation. A politician like Vilsack should know that the ever-hungry media can wait to be fed.

Indeed, getting the decision wrong has been more damaging for Vilsack than waiting the extra day or two to see the full speech. Particularly where his own employee has warned him that the quotes were taken out of context, Vilsack's hastiness sends the wrong message to other employees who understandably want the boss to have their back. And he's now turned a small story into a week-long mea culpa. With a 24-hour news cycle, making sure the message is right is the first and best order of business.

By Kathryn Kolbert

 |  July 23, 2010; 6:52 AM ET
Category:  Failures Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It is a crime for any Civil Servant to play favorites. The President owes the Country an affirmation of that Constitutional principle.

More than 85% of the workforce has no employment contract. This incident proves more than any before that a re-examination of the unbalanced employer - hired labor relationship is in order. Lincoln freed the slaves and in doing so enslaved the poor and weak.

Posted by: gannon_dick | July 23, 2010 9:18 PM
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It was wrong for Secretary Vilsack to act without researching the facts and listening to her explanation. I don't see Ms. Sherrod as any kind of heroine though. Geesh- you shouldn't get accolades for admitting that you've made mistakes- who among us haven't. But reading through these posts and many others, and their tone, I think I am beginning to think that what is wrong with our country is 'us'. Until we see that many of our problems are 'us' and not 'them', things will not get better.

Posted by: tplakeup | July 23, 2010 8:37 PM
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Media is in the tank, completely without validity anymore. The way this story was handled was a complete farce.

Today I read this headline and wondered what this esteemed gentleman would have done with this story in particular. "Daniel Schorr, veteran broadcast reporter and news analyst, dead at 93." This man was a true Journalist, left leaning for sure; however, his credentials still stood on their own. One could read his work and believe it without hesitation.

Today, media is trashed, unbelievable and make believe in content. Too bad, they lose...

Posted by: prossers7 | July 23, 2010 8:18 PM
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Media jumped the gun. No one looked at the full transcript. No one. There are no standards anymore. No question, Fox News was most egregious, who did not even bother to apologize for getting it wrong..except Glenn Beck, of all people! Even Gingrich threw her under the bus, and has not apologized.

But why is everyone so upset? Fox News is entertainment and opinion journalism, not news, and they are accountable to no one, except Murdock, who only cares about ratings, and they are strong. After all Fox airs glee with a central homesexual character,airs Family Guy and American Dad and Fox News bashes any such behavior...isn't that great! Only in America.

Obama and his administration do not deserve a second term. They look like a bunch of neophytes. It will be a great teachable moment for them.

In the end, economic well off do not want to pay for the not so well off -- and absolutely hate wealth re-distribution of any sort. Racism happens to be mixed in it because one side is overweighed in one race vs. the other.

Posted by: Gumsah | July 23, 2010 8:04 PM
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It seems teabaggers have swamped wapo. The ultra racist fringe of the GOBP is hard at work again today.

Posted by: numbers28 | July 23, 2010 7:58 PM
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This broad is a media shuttlecock, and is no hero; a hero to whom, the lame stream media and leftist hacks. She played her hand, in her own words, on video even, and under great applause.

Posted by: hared | July 23, 2010 7:54 PM
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Now, for fairness and balance, we need some vidios of the ole white boy network at our Agriculture Department who, in theirrightness, whiteness, helped black farmers lose their farms and now, today, the ole boys in Congress who...ain't gonna' pay!

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | July 23, 2010 7:52 PM
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Good luck lady. You were doing a fine job. Those who are not doing theirs in Washington made a very bad mistake because they did not check things out before dropping the ax on you.

Posted by: truth1 | July 23, 2010 7:16 PM
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Would Obama have called a white woman who lost her government job because of an out of context video; hardly. He was quick to throw Sherrod under the bus when he saw her as a detriment, but then quickly reversed course once the entire video aired. Can you imagine if something critical like a nuclear threat landed on his desk. Hillary was right. Who would you call at 3:00 in the morning?

Obama and his team are in deed transparent. They don't know what they are doing and have only one goal in mind. The goal is to move along his socialist agenda, and transform America into a Communist country. They have made exceptional progress here.

Posted by: jemvbcnyc | July 23, 2010 7:10 PM
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Tom Vilsack is a RACIST and should resign or be fired by Obama.

Posted by: roguecowboy | July 23, 2010 7:04 PM
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And that in this instance, the Press controlled policy. This was an unfortunate knee-jerk to 24/7 News Entertainment. I don't even pay attention to that network anymore.

Speaking of lag time to action and not reaction (cough-cough) I think an event of global significance occurred last week yet has not been reported by any major news publications as yet to my knowledge.

We can test lag time on this one to see how long it takes entities to pick up on it. Or they may ignore it completely.

I am stupid, I was always unwilling to dissent by missed opportunity for capitalization which may never avail itself again.

Take our country back Americans, just say no to political contributions...


Posted by: truthhurts | July 23, 2010 7:00 PM
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I think what was informing was the reaction of the group she was speaking to. Listen to their reaction...they were a group of NAACP! How many others were discriminated against before she saw the "light"............

Posted by: Immanurse | July 23, 2010 7:00 PM
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Have a GOOD LOOK at Shirley's "heroics", and, the pathetic media cover-up:


Posted by: craigslsst | July 23, 2010 6:58 PM
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Gifted public servants who may have violated the Hatch Act.

Posted by: bobbo2 | July 23, 2010 6:57 PM
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What a lovely lady Shirley Sherrod is, if only America had more of her instead of trash like Andrew Breitbart and Faux talking heads.

Posted by: audrey2010 | July 23, 2010 6:54 PM
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Just the fact it was played up on Faux should have been a clue. The station of garbage and the clueless talking heads. The station that Comedy has a ball with. The station of never will be's. The no news station, the National Enquirer of T.V. The station of crazy women and of crazy so called men. Oh the list goes on.

Posted by: audrey2010 | July 23, 2010 6:51 PM
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Governor Vilsack is falling on his sword on this one. This country obviously is not post racial as evidenced by this incident and some of the teabaggers. But my sense is that everybody has to work real hard to make something racial. The administration and I am not a fan of theirs is in awkward postion frankly because I think the president is post racial and when incidents like this and Skip Gates occur, he overreacts But more importantly his first step is wrong on these and other issues because he doesn't get the facts and understand the indiviuals that are involved. Ms Sherrod is most likley a victim on this matter but she doesn't strike me in any way as a hero.

Posted by: marden08 | July 23, 2010 6:48 PM
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Just what did you expect from an administration flooded with Affirmative Action Graduates!!!!

Posted by: yojoe | July 23, 2010 6:27 PM
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Has anyone other than Ms Sherrod substantiated any of her narrative? I'm a little suspicious the too good to be true (about bad stuff) plot line: father killed by a white farmer, future husband pushed by sheriff and oh yes, a cross was set ablaze on her front yard. She's told different versions of these to different sources, to an oral history project at her college, her father died in 1963 when she was in college, the more recent version is she was 17 in 1965.

Are there any public records of these events? Admittedly, I've only used the internet and seen only her accounts (and learned all those sites out there copy the same material: another issue) but am wondering if the media, rushing from one stance of accusing her are now rushing to the opposite stance of beatifying her without...doing due diligence, learning nothing, making the same mistakes in the opposite direction.


Posted by: jhtlag1 | July 23, 2010 5:47 PM
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Ms.Sherrod was unfairly treated.However,she is no heroine.If you read her full speech to the NAACP and examine her litigious background,she still harbors some major issues.She alleges this week that the USDA is riddled with racism.Maybe she`s right... or maybe she is living in her own unique universe where she will always be a victim and racism lurks behind every corner.

Posted by: bowspray | July 23, 2010 5:28 PM
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OUVAN59 hit the nail on the head. Ms. Sherrod admitted her actions were racist when she failed to help a white farmer as much as she might have. She is no hero. However, her speech was designed to promote her as such. She wanted everyone to know that she had moved past race. That is commendable, of course and it is where we need to be. But she couldn't tell the story of how she moved past race without admitting she had been racist. Be that as it may, she should be congratulated for having gotten past a person being white. But the sensitivity to her, the desire to do right by her should also be extended to Mr. Vilsack. For he, too, was trying to do the right thing: stop racism. In a comedy of errors, we are speaking past one another. So to the rightwing: congratulations on finally getting passionate about the problem of racism. Now step up and own it in places like the Tea Party, your churches and your families. And to the NAACP and left wing: stop pretending you own this issue since obviously, there have been and continue to be racists in your organizations who applaud when your self-serving stereotypes of all white people promote your ideological agendas. Leadership would move us past accusations to affirmations of principles that reject racism and bigotry in all its forms wherever it is nurtured by white or black.

Posted by: medogsbstfrnd | July 23, 2010 5:06 PM
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Let me get this straight. A woman in power admits she acted in a racist manner, nevermind that it wasn't reported correctly, and she is now being hailed as a hero? The firing obviously was handled in an extremely idiotic fashion but this woman is hardly heroic. We are talking about someone who made a conscious decision to act in a racist manner and then changed her mind. If she were a white, male, Tea Partier who admitted that he had made a decision to let a black farmer swing in the breeze and then changed his mind, Ms. Kolbert would be calling for him to be hung from the nearest flagpole.

The partisan politics is getting out of hand from both sides. There are racist elements from both sides. Neither side is evil.

Posted by: ouvan59 | July 23, 2010 4:48 PM
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Secretary Vilsack, is clearly a Racists by the definitions of the DemocRats!

Posted by: theaz | July 23, 2010 3:03 PM
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I dont know what planet Ms Kathryn Kolbert is on, but if she thinks the secretary of Agriculture acted alone in firing Ms Sherrod, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell her. In my opinion President Obama not only ordered Mr Vilsak to fire Ms Sherrod but probably asked the NAACP to chime in despite the fact that they had her entire transcript to peruse. For Ms Kolbert to blame the "right wing media (notably Fox)is ludicrous.. They seem to be the bete noir for President Obama..

Posted by: wfirshein | July 23, 2010 3:03 PM
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I dont know what planet Ms Kathryn Kolbert is on, but if she thinks the secretary of Agriculture acted alone in firing Ms Sherrod, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell her. In my opinion President Obama not only ordered Mr Vilsak to fire Ms Sherrod but probably asked the NAACP to chime in despite the fact that they had her entire transcript to peruse. For Ms Kolbert to blame the "right wing media (notably Fox)is ludicrous.. They seem to be the bete noir for President Obama..

Posted by: wfirshein | July 23, 2010 3:02 PM
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Fox News was not the only news outlet to air the film; so did CNN and MSNBC. Do you find it disingenuous for them to to be running the story too or only the news agency you abhor, Fox News? CBS ran false stories about Pres. Bush's military record when he was in office, I'm sure you don't give pause to that news outlet. I blame the administration, they didn't give Miss Sherrod her due process before asking her to step aside strictly for political purposes.

Posted by: whineridentifier | July 23, 2010 2:45 PM
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There is no question that the extreme right-wing in this country could care less about facts (witness the Barack-Obama-isn't-really-an-American-citizen nonsense). Its bloggers and mouthpieces spout little more than rambling bits of incoherent, frothing babble, so great is their hatred for this Administration.

Given that, the real lesson here is not about hastiness, it's about how best to react in the face of cowardly attacks against your integrity. The hastiness sprang from the mistaken belief that if you give in to cravenness, it will somehow go away. That is not so, it never has been. Secretary Vilsack learned this lesson the hard way. But he also showed he had the integrity to eat crow while it was still warm.

Please, this is not about media, it's about political courage and integrity. Let's not lose sight of who has more of it, and who has less. The answer should be clear to everyone with a brain.

Posted by: cbl55 | July 23, 2010 2:35 PM
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Just the fact that it was coming from Fox "News" should have been enough to give him pause. The consistently air stories without properly vetting them first! And while I agree that both Vilsack and the White House were wrong for jumping the gun, I find it especially disengenious for Fox to be faulting them for reacting before they had all the facts, only a day afdter Fox was calling for them to react!

Posted by: drfunknsoul | July 23, 2010 2:13 PM
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