Albany’s Shirley Sherrod has sued Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger whose craftily edited video resulted in Sherrod’s ouster from her U.S. Department of Agriculture post amid allegations of racism.
Sherrod filed suit in District of Columbia Superior Court, accusing Breitbart of “defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress.”
“This lawsuit is not about politics or race,” Sherrod said in the statement. “It is not about right versus left, the NAACP or the Tea Party. It is about how quickly, in today’s internet media environment, a person’s good name can become ‘collateral damage’ in an overheated political debate.
“I strongly believe in a free press and a full discussion of public issues, but not in deliberate distortions of the truth. Mr. Breitbart has never apologized for what he did to me and continues — to this day — to make the same slurs about my character.”
Breitbart responded in a statement that he “categorically rejects the transparent effort to chill his constitutionally protected free speech and … looks forward to exercising his full and broad discovery rites.”
Sherrod resigned as Georgia’s director of rural development in July 2010 after edited video footage of a speech she gave was posted by Breitbart on BigGovernment.com. Sherrod is black and Breitbart is white. In the speech, Sherrod spoke of not offering her full help to a white farmer in 1986, but the full video shows that Sherrod was making a point that she has moved beyond racial motivation in her advocacy work.
Breitbart says it’s “no coincidence” that Sherrod filed suit a day after he called for a congressional investigation into the settlement of Pigford v. Glickman, a 1997 case that resulted in the U.S. Senate approving $1.15 billion in payments to farmers victimized by racial bias.
Sherrod is represented by powerhouse Washington, D.C., corporate attorney Tom Clare. The suit names Breitbart, producer Larry O’Connor and an unknown “John Doe,” who, according to the lawsuit, “was involved in the deceptive editing of the video clip and encouraged its publication with the intent to defame Mrs. Sherrod.”
“Mrs. Sherrod was forced to resign from her job after defendants ignited a media firestorm by publishing false and defamatory statements that Mrs. Sherrod ‘discriminates’ against people due to their race in performing her official duties,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants drew false support for their claims from a speech given by Mrs. Sherrod that they edited, deceptively, to create the appearance that Mrs. Sherrod was admitting present-day racism. In fact, Mrs. Sherrod was describing events that happened 23 years before she held her federal position and, in fact, was encouraging people not to discriminate on the basis of race.”
In the video clip, Sherrod told her audience that a white farmer she was working with “took a long time … trying to show me he was superior to me.” As a result, she said, she “didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough” by taking him to a white lawyer because “I figured that if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him.”
The white farmer, Roger Spooner, later said Sherrod’s efforts were beneficial by helping him save his family’s farm. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and offered to rehire her, but she declined.
In addition to litigation matters, Clare has extensive experience in matters involving the publication of false statements in print, broadcast, and online media outlets.
He represented Chiquita Brands International during a year-long investigative reporting project by The Cincinnati Enquirer, developing evidence of wiretapping and theft of Chiquita voicemail messages by a reporter and obtained a highly publicized front-page apology, retraction and cash settlement in excess of $10 million.
He also represented three former U.S. House of Representatives members, Madison Square Garden and Ford Motor Co. is matters involving reporting of false statements.