The Story of Shirley Sherrod: Reconstruction of a Media Mess

  • July 27, 2010

At one point during the furor over Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department staffer forced to resign after a video was posted on a conservative website, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the incident was a "teachable moment."

The episode may or may not serve to foster a broader national discussion on race. But it did open a window on how information and misinformation can careen through the current media ecosystem. Increasingly, supersonic speed predominates and reaction time shrinks. Online posts come in the middle of the night. Commentary and punditry add velocity to stories even before news reports have sorted them out. Partisan players are increasingly becoming news distributors with ties to cable channels and bloggers who follow them closely.

The case also illustrates how in this current media culture, someone can go from obscurity to household name status, and from ostracized to lionized, in a matter of 48 hours. In all, the Sherrod story was the second-biggest topic in the mainstream press last week.

Read the full report, The Story of Shirley Sherrod: Reconstruction of a Media Mess on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.