Edited Video Leads to Firestorm + Reminder to Do Our Homework, Check it Twice

By now  you’ve heard the unfortunate story of how a right-wing blogger cherry-picked portions of a speech from Agriculture Dept worker Shirley Sherrod during an NAACP event back in March.  Sherrod’s remarks were neither racist nor inflammatory, but a decision by one blogger, Andrew Breitbart, to post an edited portion of the NAACP video led to quick assumptions from other media (ie Fox News) and a knee-jerk reaction from the White House to support her dismissal, not to mention humiliate her.

It is very easy to take words and sentiment out of context. This has been going on since time immemorial.  From movie reviews (“great movie” — when in fact the critic said “this is not a great movie”) to emails being misinterpreted to soundbites that make someone sound smart or stupid depending on the media outlet’s goals, there will always be cases of people’s words being taken out of context. What is disturbing is how quickly this recent event spiraled out of control.  Neither Barack Obama nor Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack viewed the whole Sherrod speech or read the entire transcript — yet because of the media storm coming from the right, they supported Sherrod’s dismissal.

As we post videos on YouTube, Powerpoints on Slideshare, photos on Flickr, 140 characters on Twitter, emoticons in emails — we need to be careful to monitor the coverage of our content and be prepared to respond to out-of-context reporting.  Also, we need to do our homework. This phrase, “do your homework,” has been lambasted at nearly every conference in which a journalist or PR exec implores the audience to “do your homework” before embarking on a campaign or making an important phone call.  Cue to eyes rolling.  It is just so obvious. But, had the media and White House done their homework — and listened to the entire Sherrod speech while also having some healthy skepticism of the source of the blog post — then this whole firestorm would not have occurred.

Homework is a drag — just ask your child or recall your own school/college days.  But it makes us smarter and more responsible.  In the School of Reputation Management, homework is under-rated but indispensible.

Diane Schwartz

  • http://www.uneedleftnut.blogspot.com Harlan

    Speaking of firestorms…something significant is missing in the evolving news about the firing and re-hiring of Shirley Sherrod. What is missing is commentary about the extent to which we’re all being sidetracked by unnecessary firestorms.

    We’re being consumed by firestorms fueled by partisan politicians, right and left wing commentators for both traditional and emerging media, and by various others in entertainment and other businesses. Thoughtful debate is essential. But we’re not seeing thoughtful debate or discussion, are we? Thoughtful discourse may not be compelling enough to be newsworthy. So, we’re exposed, instead, to bickering and titillating communication that fails to accomplish very much.

    Decades-old remarks by Shirley Sherrod, taken out of context, caused a firestorm that was nothing more than another effort to sidetrack, to keep us from focusing on really important issues. We’re being sidetracked by bogus, artificially-inflated issues that should not be issues in the first place. It’s bad enough this is happening, and it’s even worse when a decent person like Shirley Sherrod is impacted.

  • http://www.wellonscommunications.com Wellons Communications

    Great advice. In this day and age, it is extremely important to be thorough and detailed to maintain reputation management.

    We have blogged about this topic as well.