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Sherrod: Andrew Breitbart is 'a liar'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Sherrod: 'I'm a fighter'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Sherrod: Conservative blogger is "a liar"
  • Sherrod speaks with Obama in a phone call
  • Sherrod says she is "not so sure" she'll return to the Agriculture Department
  • Blogger Breitbart sees no reason to apologize

(CNN) -- If Shirley Sherrod had 30 seconds with conservative website blogger Andrew Breitbart, her response would be simple.

"I'd tell him he's a liar," Sherrod told CNN's "John King, U.S.A." on Thursday. The former Agriculture Department employee was forced to resign from her job based on incomplete and misleading reports about a speech she gave in March.

The flap began after Andrew Breitbart posted a portion of the speech in which Sherrod spoke of not offering her full help to a white farmer. The original post by Breitbart indicated the incident that Sherrod mentioned in her speech occurred when she worked for the Agriculture Department, and news outlets quickly picked up on the story.

However, the incident took place decades before she joined the department, and her speech in its unedited form made the point that people should move beyond race. In addition, the white farmer who Sherrod mentioned has told reporters that Sherrod helped him save his farm.

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Breitbart "knew what effect that would have on conservative racist people he's dealing with," Sherrod said. "That's why I started getting the hate mail, and that's why I got the hate calls. He got the effect he was looking for."

Sherrod has since received an apology from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and a personal phone call from President Barack Obama.

And while she hasn't received an apology from Breitbart, Sherrod's not sure she's ready for that kind of a chat just yet.

"He would really need to come and sit down with me and look me in the eye so that we could see if we could find a place -- I'm not saying I wouldn't forgive him, but we would need to see if we could find a place for that to happen.

"I don't see it at this point. He hasn't been willing, he hasn't tried to apologize to me for anything he's caused me to go through," she said.

Breitbart's website included corrections Wednesday on two blog entries that included the video footage from Sherrod's speech.

"Correction: While Ms. Sherrod made the remarks captured in the first video featured in this post while she held a federally appointed position, the story she tells refers to actions she took before she held that federal position," said a notice added to one of the postings on Breitbart's biggovernment.com website.

A shorter version appeared on another posting of the Sherrod video footage. The corrections did not mention the edited nature of the video he posted Monday or the full context.

Breitbart told CNN's "Anderson Cooper: 360" Thursday that he saw no reason to apologize: "What would warrant an apology? ... I'm not the one who threw her under the bus."

Obama spoke Thursday with Sherrod, who received a text message telling her Obama had been trying to reach her since Wednesday night, said Julie O'Neill, a CNN Special Investigations Unit producer who was with her at the time. Sherrod called the White House and was asked to call back in 10 minutes, at which time she spoke to the president.

Sherrod was "very, very pleased with the conversation," and indicated that Obama said Vilsack was "very apologetic and very sincere." Vilsack apologized to Sherrod on Wednesday and offered her a different position within the department.

Obama compared some of the events this week surrounding Sherrod to things he has written about in his books, O'Neill said. Sherrod "invited him to South Georgia," she added.

During the seven-minute conversation, "The president told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so," the White House said in a statement.

Obama "expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret about the events of the last several days," the statement said.

Earlier Thursday, Sherrod told CNN's "American Morning" that she was uncertain about the new job offer, saying, "I'm not so sure that going back to the department is the thing to do."

Sherrod said she was offered some type of civil rights position in the department's Office of Outreach, and that she was expecting to receive something official in an e-mail from the department. She said Thursday morning she had not had a chance to see that yet.

But "I would not want to be the one person at USDA that's responsible for issues of discrimination within the agency," she said. "You know, there's a lawsuit by black farmers, there's a lawsuit by Hispanic and Native American and women farmers. ... There are changes that would need to happen in order to once and for all really deal with discrimination."

She said she has heard from farmers and others in Georgia telling her to come back to rural development. She previously was the USDA's director for rural development in that state. "But that's not what the offer is," she said.

Sherrod said she was "satisfied" with Vilsack's apology. "In fact, I told him I appreciated the apology and I know that we need to move forward from here."

Vilsack told reporters that he alone made the decision regarding Sherrod, with no White House involvement -- a statement Sherrod questioned.

"If not the president, someone there at the White House was involved in that," she said. According to Sherrod, she received direct pressure from White House officials to resign, and no one gave her an opportunity to explain.

Sherrod told O'Neill the matter did not come up in her conversation with Obama.

Vilsack said Sherrod is "a good woman -- she's been put through hell." He admitted to acting too hastily in the case, acknowledging that he was focused on reversing a history of racial discrimination at the department.

Asked Thursday if she would consider a defamation lawsuit against Breitbart, Sherrod said, "I really think I should. You know, I don't know a lot about the legal profession, but that's one person I'd like to get back at. Because he came at me. You know, he didn't go after the NAACP. He came at me."

Breitbart said that releasing the video was "not about Shirley Sherrod."

"This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party, and this is showing racism at an NAACP event," he said. "I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired."

The video initially brought condemnation from the NAACP, which later retracted its statement and apologized to Sherrod after the context of the clip became clear.

Also, the farmer and his wife Sherrod was discussing, Roger and Eloise Spooner, came forward Tuesday, saying that they credited Sherrod with helping them save their farm and that she did not discriminate against them.

The NAACP, which initially called Sherrod's statements "shameful," said in a statement Tuesday that it was "snookered by FOX News" and Breitbart. Breitbart originally posted the video, which was later picked up by the FOX News website.

FOX News anchor Bret Baier said Wednesday that "FOX News didn't even do this story. We didn't do it on Special Report. We posted it online."

On Monday, FOX News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity played the edited clip on their programs. O'Reilly, who had called for Sherrod's immediate resignation, apologized for his statements Wednesday. Also Wednesday, FOX News anchor Shepard Smith sharply criticized Breitbart's website as well as his network's own coverage of the story.

Conservative media outlets tied the video to the NAACP's recent resolution calling on the Tea Party movement to repudiate racist elements within it that have displayed such items as images of Obama with a bone through his nose and the White House with a lawn full of watermelons. The controversy has led one Tea Party umbrella group to oust another because of a blog posting by the second group's leader.

Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams posted on his blog a faux letter from Jealous to President Abraham Lincoln in which Williams ridicules the organization's use of "colored" in its historic name and uses multiple stereotypes to bolster his point. The National Tea Party Foundation expelled Williams' organization from its coalition as a result.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Tristan Smith contributed to this report.

 
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