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July 23rd, 2010
10:00 AM ET

Sherrod regards Obama's call as apology

(CNN) – The former Agriculture Department employee at the center of a political firestorm said Friday that President Barack Obama didn't literally say he was "sorry" when they spoke Thursday, but "by simply calling me," she believed he was apologizing.

Shirley Sherrod - forced to resign from her job based on incomplete and misleading reports about a speech she gave in March - also told CNN's "American Morning" that the department official who asked for her resignation was only a "messenger."

Sherrod said the White House had been trying to reach her since Wednesday night.

"My phone was full, couldn't take any more messages. Finally, I was on the way to the airport in an attempt to get home when I checked my messages and had received one from the White House saying the president was trying to get in touch with me and give them a call," she said. "I did that and I had the conversation with him and, you know, I feel good about that."

Asked whether she was able to enlighten him about her work, she said they didn't have time to get into that.

"But toward the end of the conversation I told him I'd love to have him come to South Georgia," she said, saying she would "take him around and show him some things."

"I could definitely bring the point home," said Sherrod, who lives in Georgia.

She said he didn't precisely say he was sorry.

"I really didn't want to hear the president of the United States say 'I'm sorry' to Shirley Sherrod," she said. "I felt he was saying that in his talk just by simply calling me. I felt it was, in a way, saying 'I'm sorry' because he didn't have to do it."

The Sherrod controversy began after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a portion of the speech in which Sherrod spoke of not offering her full help to a white farmer. The original post indicated that the incident Sherrod mentioned occurred when she worked for the Agriculture Department, and news outlets quickly picked up on the story.

However, the incident took place decades before she joined the department, and her speech in its unedited form made the point that people should move beyond race. In addition, the white farmer whom Sherrod mentioned has told reporters that Sherrod helped him save his farm.

Nevertheless, Sherrod was swiftly fired after government officials heard only the portion of the speech. When the full version of the speech was heard, she received apologies from the White House, the agriculture secretary, and the NAACP, which criticized the edited remarks.

On "American Morning" on Friday, Sherrod was asked about the "ability" of President Barack Obama, American's first black president, to discuss and deal with racial issues.

"I guess because he's a black president, for some reason, they felt you can't talk about issues that affect just black people," she said.

She said she believes that "the administration feels too that if they highlight issues of black people ... the country would perceive (it) as something negative. I know they probably have to struggle with that. But I think they're wrong. I think they could do more to advance unity if they could promote a discussion from that level."

Sherrod was asked about Cheryl Cook, the Agriculture Department official who phoned Sherrod and asked her for her resignation.

"I know Cheryl Cook and I know, had she been given the opportunity to make a decision her on her own, we wouldn't be sitting here talking about this. So she was the messenger. I really truly do believe it was not her message," she said. "Cheryl is a great person. I definitely want to see her be able to continue the work she was doing at USDA. So I would hope that this attention on her would not cause them to do the same thing they did to me - boot her out."

Sherrod has since received an apology for her firing from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

While Sherrod hasn't received an apology from Breitbart, Sherrod said she is not sure she's ready for that kind of a chat just yet.

"He would really need to come and sit down with me and look me in the eye so that we could see if we could find a place - I'm not saying I wouldn't forgive him, but we would need to see if we could find a place for that to happen.

"I don't see it at this point. He hasn't been willing, he hasn't tried to apologize to me for anything he's caused me to go through," she said.

Breitbart's website included corrections Wednesday on two blog entries that included the video footage from Sherrod's speech.

"Correction: While Ms. Sherrod made the remarks captured in the first video featured in this post while she held a federally appointed position, the story she tells refers to actions she took before she held that federal position," said a notice added to one of the postings on Breitbart's site.

A shorter version appeared on another posting of the Sherrod video footage. The corrections did not mention the edited nature of the video he posted Monday or the full context.

Breitbart told CNN's "Anderson Cooper: 360" on Thursday that he saw no reason to apologize: "What would warrant an apology? ... I'm not the one who threw her under the bus."

Sherrod had said she was offered some type of civil rights position in the department's Office of Outreach, and that she was expecting to receive something official in an e-mail from the department. In her interview Friday, she did not address that issue or say she would accept the position.

The edited Sherrod video initially brought condemnation from the NAACP, which later retracted its statement and apologized to Sherrod after the context of the clip became clear.

Also, the farmer and his wife Sherrod was discussing, Roger and Eloise Spooner, came forward Tuesday, saying they credited Sherrod with helping them save their farm and that she did not discriminate against them.

The NAACP, which initially called Sherrod's statements "shameful," said in a statement Tuesday that it was "snookered by FOX News" and Breitbart.

Breitbart's post was later picked up by the FOX News website.

Monday, FOX News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity played the edited clip on their programs. O'Reilly, who had called for Sherrod's immediate resignation, apologized for his statements Wednesday. Also Wednesday, FOX News anchor Shepard Smith sharply criticized Breitbart's website as well as his network's own coverage of the story.

Filed under: Controversy
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Heather

    The NAACP says it was tricked by Fox News because Fox only played a portion of the tape?

    Wasn't this speech at an NAACP event? They need to watch Fox News to know what happens at their own event?

    July 29, 2010 at 6:45 am |
  2. Mark @ Bragg

    Using of the phrase 'some people say...' should be stricken from any reporters mouths. How can a fair and balanced report of news have the feelings and thoughts of the public? News is supposed to be unbiased, untainted by the thoughts and feelings of the reporter and populace, but instead it is made personable and reporters disguise their opinion with the phrasing.

    It is also pathetic that the fundamental lesson of journalism deals with verifying sources of said stories. If you have a video posted on a blog, and a news channel posts it, shouldn't there be someone there to get the original and verify it's authenticity? Didn't a red flag pop up when it is obvious that it was not an entire speech?

    All the media outlets had a hand in the sensationalism of this case. All o you should face litigation. It wasted a week of Americans and at the same time caused harm to the reputation and employment of an American without sticking to their fundamental lessons.

    If you are unable to verify a source, there is no news to produce. Since the ball was dropped in this respect, as reporters it might be time to have an investigative report on the allegations behind the firing. Who exactly pressured her to resign? Why is Cheryl Cook turning into this decade's Waldo?

    July 26, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  3. Harvey

    I've heard that Shirley Sherrod cosiders herself a fighter. I guess this is in the context of Civil Rights and/or Equality. Yet; Sherrod did not ask President Obama the tough question: "Did You Have Me Fired; Removed from USDA Employment?" In which case Obama would have to say Yes I Did, and Formally in Writing (and a Public TV Annoucemnt Addressing His Firing of Sherrod) aside from Personally tell Sherrod exactly what he (Obama) said: as to the Firing of Sherrod. To hear that President Obama simply stated that the Sherrod case was "Regretable"; should be Totally Unexceptable to Sherrod. An Exact Explicit Apology of Obama's Involvement is in Order to Find Out The Truth In This Matter/Case. For Shirley Sherrod to assume that the President (Obama) is Without Fault/Guilt and/or Responsibllity for Her Losing Her Job (Career) Should Be Totally Unexceptable. There was Apologies given by Bill O'Reilley of Fox News as well as NAACP CEO Jeolous.

    July 26, 2010 at 3:58 am |
  4. martinkol

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    People get fired all the time without a good reason. Should all of them go to CNN?

    I was asked to resign or get fired by my new (female) supervisor and new chief of department at Miami-Dade County Parks & Rec. without a reason. Those responsible were fired within that year. Did I suppose to contact CNN and the White House? It was the best job I had. Here is the thing... I was Jewish working with Latin (Cubans) people who did not speak a word of English and some didn't even have the college degree from the USA. This was at a local county government!!

    July 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  5. sam kohen

    simple solution: Fire Vilsack and replace him with Ms Sherrod. We now know who is the better person.

    July 24, 2010 at 2:11 am |