Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.


Don't rush to judgment

Q: One day, the U.S. agriculture secretary forced an official to resign after she was portrayed as treating whites worse than blacks. The next day, Tom Vilsack apologized and offered to rehire Shirley Sherrod, saying he had acted in haste as the result of an out-of-context video. What lessons can be learned here? And when you try to reverse course, are you more likely to look like a flip-flopper, or come out looking good because you admitted a mistake?

The facts in the "Sherrod affair" seem clear enough to bring about a teachable moment for managers, workers and human relations specialists. When an individual or institution rushes to judgment, errors are the likely result. Once an error has been made, the institution has to figure out how to right the wrong and get out of the mess it created.

While Shirley Sherrod was being accused of discriminating against white people based on a snippet of a speech she made, she was in fact not acting in such a manner, nor was she inclined to use her official position to discriminate against people of other races. When the full speech was viewed, it was clear she was speaking about not discriminating against anyone who needed her help.

Newt Gingrich assailed the destructive irresponsibility of the administration for firing the woman. President Obama called her up to apologize. Some African-American activists postulate that the administration moved and erred so quickly because it is scared silly of giving an issue to America's conservative media. The path of least resistance was foolish: firing her quickly to show how even-handed the administration is before thoroughly investigating the situation.

Issues like this give people with varied agendas a chance to vent their anger on television networks. But, if the posturing on this incident gets any more pretentious, America may have a collective Sherrod overdose.

News producers give these little "dustups" far too much air time. I think I have seen about 10 times more coverage of this matter than I have of a nuclear-armed nation in Asia that is actually threatening to use atomic weapons in the next week or so. (The nation is North Korea, in case you have not seen the story.)

Threatened nuclear attacks and a staggering national deficit must bore people half to death. Hours of coverage of the Sherrod story -- a non-event -- has done a great job of getting me to turn off my television. It is pretty easy to catch up on stories like this by turning on one's computer, in the unlikely event someone actually asks you to write about it!

By Jan Scruggs  |  July 26, 2010; 9:52 AM ET  | Category:  Success and controversy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: A textbook case | Next: Mistakes


Please report offensive comments below.

Of course you're right. We should not rush to judgment about anything on the radio, Internet, etc. because 85% of the information is false, misleading or exploitative. That's easy to say, but hard to live up to. I'd like to think that it's only the "other side" that distorts.

Posted by: bobsnodgrass | July 28, 2010 1:59 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I totally agree that the more important issue was on the North Korean threat to use nuclear weapons against a military game. To me, it was a real threat, but also a sign that North Korea is super-scared of having its military observe how powerful the West is compared to them.

I wish China would start cooperating with pulling luxury items from NK, so that their leaders / military can feel the pain that their own people feel.

Posted by: Pete_from_nyc | July 28, 2010 10:58 AM
Report Offensive Comment

That because the GOP is evil, the President is Spineless and we are a Nation of Morons for putting up with both.

Posted by: question-guy | July 28, 2010 10:50 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Even though I don't like American news coverage (too sensationalized, to domestic focused), I happened to have the early morning news channels on the morning this story brik. This "coverage" (read: news making and not news coverage) was on every station, before the news recap for the morning, for 10 to 15 minutes. I could not believe it, this is not a big story for anyone outside of this woman's household. I wish her the best, but I also don't think this should provide her with a higher position in civil rights. She is owed a private apology, and it is up to het on whether she would like to accept.

Posted by: blackandgreen | July 28, 2010 9:56 AM
Report Offensive Comment

NOT a non-event, a demonstration of lack of integrity on one side and lack of a spine on the other side.

Posted by: dotellen | July 26, 2010 8:23 PM
Report Offensive Comment


Posted by: oswald_r | July 26, 2010 5:28 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company