I don't really want to be in the business of commenting on every crazy thing that the crazy portions of the right (or left, for that matter) come up with, but since it's become a governing story, I suppose I'll say something.
But first, the facts as I understand them, based on this WaPo story: Shirley Sherrod, who worked at the Ag Department, told what apparently was a trite and formulaic story in public about how she learned when she was young that it was wrong to discriminate against anyone. Carefully edited and released by racemonger and bottom-feeder Andrew Breitbart, it was turned into a statement that she discriminates against white people, and of course immediately became a major flap in the conservative world.
Just to stop right there: this is in fact appalling, disgusting, and awful behavior. To selectively edit a video to incite racial hatred...it doesn't get a lot more slimy than that. Second, it's pathetic. Really, that's the best you got?
OK, enough of my editorializing, and on to the presidential side of it. As soon as the story went nuts, Sherrod was asked to resign from her job, apparently on the basis that the smear against her was either true, or as Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement, because "The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia."
Liberals have been outraged that she lost her job, and rightly so -- if Democrats go around firing everyone who draws the fire of Breitbart, Beck, and the rest of them without any regard for the merit of the accusations, the Obama administration will be unable to function. In response, the Vilsack put out his statement, and the White House is denying any involvement, claiming to Greg Sargent and others that USDA acted alone.
This isn't good enough. Reputation matters in these things. The White House, in my opinion, did an excellent job of handling these things last year, letting Van Jones go when something specific they were wise not to defend surfaced, but ignoring other attacks if they were based on phony smears. This one doesn't fit the pattern. Sherrod, as far as I can tell from what's on the record so far, did absolutely nothing wrong, and shouldn't have been fired for it.
The White House has (whether accurately or not) set up Vilsack as the scapegoat for this, but that's not good enough. Externally, Obama needs to make it absolutely clear that it's a mistake: he should very publicly take Vilsack to the woodshed. Internally, whoever panicked at the thought of Glenn Beck yelling, or sobbing, or whatever about this needs to go, whether it's someone at the White House or, more likely I think, at the Ag Department.
(Why is my guess that it was someone at Ag? Because everyone at the White House has dealt with this stuff on a daily basis, and they don't have a pattern of knee-jerk caving. So my guess is that it was someone in the sleepy mid-level bureaucracy at a sleepy agency that just didn't know how to deal with it. Just to be clear, though, I'm guessing about that).
The key here is that the president himself needs to make it clear that this was a mistake if he doesn't want his reputation damaged, and while I don't think Vilsack needs to lose his job, Obama needs to make clear that both the original decision to fire her without knowing the facts, and Vilsack's statement, do not reflect administration policy. Mistakes happen, but a president doesn't want a low-level mistake (or for that matter a high-level one, if it really was someone in the upper levels of the White House who was responsible) to hurt his reputation.
This isn't going to be the last time the crazies target someone. The Van Jones standard was a good one, and it's worked well for the last several months. It's going to take a high-profile move by Barack Obama to restore that standard, and he should do it, and soon.