You, me, the media, our national political institution and the world-at-large received an excellent but painful education this week regarding something I’ve warned about repeatedly: exploitation of and by an unqualified media to reach an angry public ready to believe the worst.

Of course that lesson involved the shameful treatment of Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture who was fired by Secretary Tom Vilsack before he had all the facts. Innocent of wrongdoing, it turns out, Ms. Sherrod was crucified by a media too ready to exploit rather than report and vilified by some in the public without the whole story.

The instigator of this tragic episode was a right wing blogger who edited video of an inspirational speech by Ms. Sherrod into a deliberate lie to make his racist point. And where did he take his piece of hateful handiwork? He took it to the national media outlet most likely to use it: Fox News.

I’ve never liked Fox because of its deliberate “news” tilt in which all things Republican are good and Democrat are bad. On examination, it is peopled with pretty faces lacking journalistic “chops.” I know one of their anchors well and he doesn’t have the depth of experience or training to be there. But he, like the rest of them, looks good.

I’m skeptical of MSNBC as well for some of the same reasons. But at least Mathews has a law degree, years as a senior staffer on Capitol Hill and two decades of media experience. Olbermann has a master’s from Cornell and 26 years of reporting. Maddow is a Rhodes scholar with a doctorate and longtime radio talk show host. None of them hold themselves out to be “working reporters” as do those at Fox. Still, recognizing their commentary tilt, it’s not my source for national news coverage.

There is much blame to go around in the Sherrod story. Most of it rests with the right wing zealot … not conservative … who doctored the speech tape. He deliberately deceived everyone. More blame goes to the kids at Fox for not doing a reporter’s due diligence by seeking multiple sources for what could have been killed right there if all the facts were known.

Some of that blame rests with us … a public so divided and so angry we are willing to believe the worst or at least believe something that has been foisted on us by our “trusted” media. Therein lies a problem that affects too many people, regardless of political persuasion.

My experience is many viewers gravitate to media that reinforces their viewpoint without challenging their comfort. It can be TV, talk radio or, in major markets, one of multiple daily newspapers. I absolutely guarantee if you watch only Fox or MSNBC, for example, or listen only to Limbaugh or Bill Press on talk radio, you will NOT be accurately informed. You will NOT have sufficient facts on any issue to say you really understand. They aren’t there to inform. They’re there to persuade.

For the most part, I ignore talk radio and watch little of Fox or MSNBC. I may find political solace with one or the other but I know I won’t be really getting the news. So, my daily routine usually starts with an Internet site like newslink.com or refdesk.com. From either of those locations you can read almost any newspaper in the world. One of the informative things you’ll find is reading about America as seen in newspapers from England, France, India or Japan.

A sample of my daily national reading may be the Denver Post, LA Times, Washington Post, or the Oregonian. I’ll try some others periodically. Point is, the news is coming from several trusted sources and it’s up to me to sort out the facts.

“Takes too much time I don’t have,” you might say. Yes, it takes some time. But sites are available 24-7 and it takes no longer to scan news in one paper than the other. You can hit two in 10 minutes.

The major reason for the Sherrod incident is it was created by someone with a single point of view, sensationalized by a media outlet with a single point of view, staffed with people who report that point of view because they’re paid to report that point of view. In other words, in a vacuum with no other offsetting truths. And everybody bought it!

Shirley Sherrod was shafted. And we all share a bit of the blame.

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