By Ellen Ratner – Bureau Chief Talk Radio News Service
When I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, I learned that we had trial by jury and that people were innocent until proven guilty. We watched courtroom dramas where people we thought were guilty from all the available facts were proven innocent when the likes of Perry Mason defended them in court. I thought that due process was something that was a hallowed and cherished principle of our American ideals.
That seems to have gone out the window. On radio I am forever defending the right of people to not be incarcerated in Guantanamo without trail. People tell me I am soft on terrorism. No, I am not; I am just in love with what I was taught about real justice.
So, what am I to think when my fellow liberals caved under pressure when the right wing uses viral Internet videos to make a community organization, ACORN, look like it is renting to obvious pimps or racist government employees? I think we have forgotten what we stand for.
The ACORN video was heavily edited to make ACORN look bad and like a criminal enterprise. Whomever edited the Shirley Sherrod video left out the whole story. Sherrod’s whole story was about her personal transformation to being color blind and being concerned about small farmers. It is a great and heartwarming tale.
Later, we learned that her husband was a famous member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, during the early ’60s. When other African-American members of SNCC did not want to take the time to deal with white kids from the North, Ms. Sherrod’s husband did. There is a family history of working with others to achieve equality.
When online editing first came into being, I used to show our interns how you could take any interview and edit individual words to make the speaker say something they did not. The interns learned a lesson about media manipulation. What we have seen in the ACORN and NAACP tape of Sherrod is an example of that kind of manipulation.
The 24-hour news cycle has pulled more reporters off the beat, increased demand for content and made real investigative journalism almost a thing of the past. Organizations simply can’t the luxury of sitting on a story, mulling over its implications has all but gone. No one news organization can be blamed as everyone one of those news organizations has taken some short cuts in pursuit of getting something on the air. It is just the economic state of the news business.
What I do not understand is why conservatives have not held Andrew Breitbart’s feet to the fire for allowing two edited videotapes on his website? How is it that anyone would ever give something he tries to hawk to destroy perceived liberals any credence? It is actually quite shocking that his fellow conservatives have kept their mouths shut.
ACORN shouldn’t have lost its funding. Shirley Sherrod shouldn’t have been fired, even though she was instantly rehired. Due process and innocence before being declared guilty should be the reaction to the media begging for a quick story.
In the future, the fraddy cat liberal Democrats should remember what we were taught grade school: Time and realinvestigation should take place before they take the bait. It may make the right wing think twice before they surface another fake scandal.