Protesters with signs and megaphones marched outside the offices of U-S Ag Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack on Wednesday. Vilsack’s being criticized after he fired a ranking U-S-D-A official from Georgia, a black woman who allegedly made racist comments. Later, it was clear that the comments were taken out of context.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says Vilsack was right to offer the woman her job back. “I just don’t know all the facts,” Harkin says. “I just know what I’ve read and I know that Tom Vilsack has apologized. He has admitted he made a big blunder, he made a big mistake. Maybe he did. People do make mistakes, you know.”
There are indications Vilsack may have been following premature orders from the White House in firing Shirley Sherrod. During a conference call with reporters, Harkin, a Democrat, was asked if he thought there was a cover-up.
“Look, I don’t know all the ins and outs of this,” Harkin says. “I don’t know who called who, who said what, I don’t know. It does not seem like the Tom Vilsack that I know and have known for 20 years, that he would have said, just based on a blog someplace, that you’re going to fire someone.”
After Vilsack’s public apology, he offered to re-hire Sherrod, though she says she’s still considering returning to the USDA as rural development director for Georgia. Harkin says her comments about not helping a white farmer were taken out of context by a conservative blogger, who edited a video clip of her speech.
Harkin says Sherrod shouldn’t have been fired just based on that online evidence. “Anybody can put anything on the Internet and you can clip, you can shade, you can manufacture stuff, you can take things out of context,” Harkin says. “Don’t believe what you see on the Internet, whether you see it or hear it, until you get all the facts and I think there’s a lesson for all of us here.”
Harkin talked about a recent issue of “Us” magazine that featured Sarah Palin’s newly-engaged daughter, which he noted, reportedly netted the young woman, her boyfriend and their child a couple-hundred thousand dollars. Harkin says we’ve become too “personality-driven,” adding, “We’re almost like a People Magazine society now.”
He says this Vilsack story may be big news today, but it will soon vanish. “A week or two from now, people will say, who was Shirley Sherrod? What was that?” Harkin says. “These things pop up, they have a short lifespan, and then we move on.”
In his televised apology to Sherrod, Vilsack took full responsibility for her firing, saying: “This is a good woman. She has been put through hell. I could have done and should have done a better job.”