Dispatches from the Creation Wars

As the brouhaha over Shirley Sherrod begins to fade, some corners of the right continue to defend Andrew Breitbart, some of them by attacking Shirley Sherrod. But surely the most bizarre attempt at doing that has to be this article by Jeffrey Lord at conservative mag The American Spectator.

Shirley Sherrod’s story in her now famous speech about the lynching of a relative is not true. The veracity and credibility of the onetime Agriculture Department bureaucrat at the center of the explosive controversy between the NAACP and conservative media activist Andrew Breitbart is now directly under challenge. By nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court.


Say what? I’ll let him explain. In her speech she referred to the case of one of her relatives who was beaten to death in the 1940s for flagrantly being black:

I should tell you a little about Baker County. In case you don’t know where it is, it’s located less than 20 miles southwest of Albany. Now, there were two sheriffs from Baker County that — whose names you probably never heard but I know in the case of one, the thing he did many, many years ago still affect us today. And that sheriff was Claude Screws. Claude Screws lynched a black man. And this was at the beginning of the 40s. And the strange thing back then was an all-white federal jury convicted him not of murder but of depriving Bobby Hall — and I should say that Bobby Hall was a relative — depriving him of his civil rights.

And then Lord goes on to claim that Sherrod’s credibility is now utterly destroyed because Bobby Hall was not lynched — he was beaten to death. He cites the Supreme Court ruling in that case:

The arrest was made late at night at Hall’s home on a warrant charging Hall with theft of a tire. Hall, a young negro about thirty years of age, was handcuffed and taken by car to the courthouse. As Hall alighted from the car at the courthouse square, the three petitioners began beating him with their fists and with a solid-bar blackjack about eight inches long and weighing two pounds. They claimed Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language as he alighted from the car. But after Hall, still handcuffed, had been knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor, dying. An ambulance was called, and Hall was removed to a hospital, where he died within the hour and without regaining consciousness. There was evidence that Screws held a grudge against Hall, and had threatened to “get” him.

And then he tries to psychoanalyze why Sherrod would so plainly “lie” in this way:

In other words, the Supreme Court of the United States, with the basic facts of the case agreed to by all nine Justices in Screws vs. the U.S. Government, says not one word about Bobby Hall being lynched. Why? Because it never happened.

So why in the world would Ms. Sherrod say something like this?

No idea. It’s possible that Ms. Sherrod simply doesn’t know the truth. As with any family, stories from generations past can get handed down and over time the truth gets rubbed away and fantasy or fiction replaces it, younger generations none the wiser. This event took place before Ms. Sherrod was born, so that is certainly possible.

It’s also possible that she knew the truth and chose to embellish it, changing a brutal and fatal beating to a lynching. Anyone who has lived in the American South (as my family once did) and is familiar with American history knows well the dread behind stories of lynch mobs and the Klan. What difference is there between a savage murder by fist and blackjack — and by dangling rope? Obviously, in the practical sense, none. But in the heyday — a very long time — of the Klan, there were frequent (and failed) attempts to pass federal anti-lynching laws. None to pass federal “anti-black jack” or “anti-fisticuffs” laws. Lynching had a peculiar, one is tempted to say grotesque, solitary status as part of the romantic image of the Klan, of the crazed racist. The image stirred by the image of the noosed rope in the hands of a racist lynch mob was, to say the least, frighteningly chilling. Did Ms. Sherrod deliberately concoct this story in search of a piece of that ugly romance to add “glamour” to a family story that is gut-wrenchingly horrendous already?

Again, I have no idea.

There is also a third possibility for what appears to be a straight-out fabrication. Having watched Ms. Sherrod’s speech and read the transcript, I think it’s abundantly clear that she is a liberal or progressive political activist.

She is clearly enamored of President Obama and the progressive ideas that once fueled the New Deal and is the rock upon which progressives would build their Utopia. Her fierce devotion to the idea that government programs are the source of all good is not to be missed, whether she is championing the idea of working in the federal government or the idea that a particular program where she doles out millions is a source of agricultural nirvana. Here’s how you get an “automatic job” in the Agriculture Department she enthuses. Come to the Farm Service Agency. Or the Rural Development Agency. How about the Natural Resource and Conservation Agency. This line of thinking about government in general, here seen with a focus on agriculture, is the age-old progressive liberal view in giddy excitement mode…

Will Anderson Cooper of CNN, who angrily snapped of Breitbart that “we think the truth matters,” be investigating this untruth of Sherrod’s? Rick Sanchez of CNN asked of Ann Coulter: “Doesn’t Breitbart deserve to lose his credibility for this? …What matters is he published this stuff. Something that turned out to be wrong.” Ms. Sherrod stood up in front of the NAACP and said “something that turned out to be wrong.” Will Sanchez ponder this if Sherrod gets her job back in the Obama Administration? Frank Rich at the New York Times, who blasted Fox News on Sunday for allowing Breitbart to be “hustling skewed partisan videos” (as opposed, I guess, to hustling skewed partisan newspapers), never even mentioned a word of Sherrod’s considerable untruth. Not a word. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, according to his Media Matters friends, barked that “I think [Breitbart] has lost his standing to present videos to the country at any time.” By the O’Donnell standards apparently Ms. Sherrod must now sit down and shut up. And speaking of Media Matters, Eric Hananoki chimed in that “The way to avoid another ACORN or Sherrod debacle is simple: Don’t trust Andrew Breitbart.” To which, of course, the obvious question is whether Media Matters or any of the rest of the media will and should ever again trust Shirley Sherrod after the debacle of her lynching untruth.

If at this point you’re muttering “what the fuck” to yourself, you are not alone. No one could seriously be this pedantic, right? Sadly, wrong. On the bright side, this was too much for a couple of other AmSpec writers, who reacted pretty strongly to such idiocy. Phillip Klein writes:

I am rendered speechless by a 4,000-word article that is based around the suggestion that somebody is a liar for saying that a black man was lynched, when he was merely beaten to death by a white sheriff who evidence suggests had previously threatened to “get him.”

And John Tabin goes even further:

What on Earth is Jeffrey Lord talking about on the mainpage? He says that the sentence “Claude Screws lynched a black man” is untrue. Lynching is defined as an extrajudicial killing by a mob (which can be as few as two people). The fatal beating of Bobby Hall most certainly qualifies. Radley Balko expounds on the specifics, but honestly, even if you mistakenly believe that only hanging qualifies as lynching (which, again, is simply not true), zeroing in on this particular hair as one worth splitting strikes me as utterly bizarre.

I’m not so sure. It’s irrational, of course, but bizarre? It depends on what you think Lord’s goal was. If his goal was to make a serious argument, his efforts qualify as bizarre. If, on the other hand, his goal was simply to convince the dullards in his audience that Breitbart isn’t so bad because Sherrod is a horrible person, he probably did about as good a job as one could do of trying to achieve that goal.