“Hitting the Pause Button:

Lessons from Shirley Sherrod

High School News Literacy Summit,

Baruch College, Nov. 12, 2010

what people were saying July 19, 2010, at the Department of Agriculture when they first got word of the Shirley Sherrod video clip. (Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau petitioned under the Freedom of Information Act for access to internal e-mails. See Oct. 2, 2010, story by Peter Nicholas, Kathleen Hennessey : http://articles.latimes.com/2010/oct/07/nation/la-na-sherrod-usda-20101008 )


2 p.m.:

Wayne Maloney of the communications staff e-mails Chris Mather, communications director, giving notice of the video snippet and that a conservative website is going to publicize it: “it speaks for itself and you need to watch it right away”

What Chris Mather writes back: “THIS IS HORRIBLE”

Mather sends the message on to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack’s chief of staff, saying:“Super Urgent.”

About 90 minutes later:

Krysta Harden, an assistant secretary, writes back saying: “the S [Secretary Vilsack] is absolutely sick and mad over the S Sherrod issue. He wants her immediately on adm leave.”

Deputy Undersecretary Cheryl Cook writes back: “Done.”

Five minutes later:

Cook talks to Sherrod in the phone and hears her part of the story.

A few minutes later:

Cook and a colleague send a message to Vilsack, saying the subject of the speech was blacks and whites working together: “She [Sherrod] said there is a copy of the entire speech, and Cheryl asked her to provide it as quickly as possible.”

An hour later:

Cook calls Sherrod, who’s driving to Georgia, to ask her to resign. Cook calls an hour later to ask her to resign by the end of the day. Cook says, “I called her a fourth time at 6 : 35 to ask whether she’d be willing to pull over the side of the road and submit a resignation by email.”

An hour after Sherrod resigns:

A liaison to the White House e-mails Cook: “Did we ever get the full copy of the speech?”


Assuming you were working at the Agriculture Department at this time, compose an email to the people above posting your thoughts, questions about what’s unfolding.