If a house is burned to the ground, you can whine about the firefighters or criticize the building material -- but first you blame the guy who started the fire, right?
Last week, a government worker named Shirley Sherrod was axed after a video clip of her National Association for the Advancement of Colored People speech was used to paint her as racist. In the blink of an eye, her reputation was burned down.
But once the whole speech was revealed -- proving the clip was way out of context -- her bosses were booed, the NAACP was blasted, even the president was chided.
And the guy who started the fire? As of today, he still has matches.
Andrew Breitbart is the conservative blogger who posted the edited video of Sherrod. He put it on one of his five websites. Breitbart, a former Matt Drudge groupie, onetime E! Entertainment employee, and a guy who called Sen. Edward Kennedy, hours after his death, "a special pile of human excrement," hoisted that clip as evidence of reverse racism by the NAACP. He claimed the audience applauded such sentiments. The video showed no such thing.
But Breitbart lit the fire. He blew on the flames. As Sherrod would later tell CNN, "He knew exactly what would happen."
How do you punish a blogger like Breitbart? He simply slithers back into the muck that some confuse with journalism. Who does he have to answer to?
Nobody. "I am," Breitbart boasted to the media last week, "public enemy No. 1 or 2 to the Democratic Party ... based upon the successes my journalism has had."
There are several things wrong with that statement. First, I doubt he counts that much.
Second, his journalism? It's not journalism if you look for only one point of view, post other people's stuff and don't even acknowledge how using chopped-up material to paint a full picture is wrong.
Some people have called this incident a referendum on racism. I don't think so. It was a referendum on editing. A referendum on Internet blogging. A referendum on our blazing desire for explosive moments -- even out of context -- and our creeping slowness to see the full picture.
Anyone who watches the whole tape of Sherrod's speech sees an honest woman who tells of an incident with a white farmer 24 years ago that made her question her own prejudices. She goes on to say such things as:
"Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't ... and they could be black; they could be white; they could be Hispanic."
"God helped me see that it's not just about black people. ... I've come to realize that we have to work together ... we have to overcome the divisions that we have."
Yet, even after all that, Breitbart's website contains pieces like "If Anyone Needs to Apologize, It's Shirley Sherrod." Breitbart actually said the following of Sherrod: "This person has not gotten past black versus white."
Sounds like he can't get past something himself.
And that, of course, is hate. Hate makes the political world spin, particularly the blog world. Instead of taking responsibility, Breitbart spins and points to anyone else -- the liberals, President Obama, the NAACP, even Sherrod herself, who was nothing more than a pawn.
"I believe that I'm held to a higher standard," Breitbart told Politico. "If this video showed a picture of a Caucasian talking in the exact same way but talking about a black person with an audience affirming and clapping that behavior, the reporter would be getting a Pulitzer Prize right now."
Response: 1) No, he wouldn't. 2) Showing an edited video is not "reporting." 3) You, Breitbart, are not held to any standard.
And that's the problem.
Contact Albom, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, at email@example.com.