There's a lot that can be said about the Shirley Sherrod saga, and there's plenty of blame and shame to go around, but I want to focus on one small aspect. Or, perhaps, the only thing that matters. Josh Marshall and David Frum have pointed out that this fiasco shows the media in this country is broken. My point is that it's deliberate.
The modern conservative movement and Republicans in particular work to destroy that which opposes their radical, redistributive agenda by controlling it. In governance paid-for politicians strive to point out how inherently bad government is at the same time that they, themselves, enact disastrous and destructive policies. Deficits are bad, they tell us. And yet massive tax cuts are touted as an economic boon, while social and stimulative spending are routed as budget-busting in opposition to logic and common sense. Of course the result is even more deficits. So Republican politicians in power can now turn around and tell us -- despite the policies that they, themselves, enacted -- "See? Government doesn't work."
The exact same plan to subvert a thing against itself has succeeded, brilliantly, to destroy journalism. Objectivity is impossible, they say -- everyone has a bias, and media bias is almost entirely liberal. Somehow this allows them to justify a right-wing bias that would make the worst butchers in history blush. From this position of authority they spout a constant stream of attacks, smears and innuendo against their political opponents. And when one of those attacks -- as in the Sherrod case -- turns out to be almost criminally lacking in the most basic of journalistic ethics, what do they do? Those same paid-for media faces turn around and tell us, "See? Journalism is inherently biased."
Our system relies on two systems as a final check on authoritarian power. The first is the vote, which depends on citizens having confidence in elected officials acting in their interests. The second is the free press, which reports when elected officials aren't acting in their constituents' interests. We cannot afford both parts of this feedback cycle to be deliberately and systematically destroyed by a cynical but powerful minority.