Shirley Sherrod Case Puts Focus on Obama and Race

Sheryl Gay Stolberg uses the discussion to praise Obama's "serious and thoughtful effort to address race relations," otherwise known as his politically necessary speech in March 2008 after the embarrassment of Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened to upend his presidential campaign.

Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg rehashed the controversy over Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod, this time focusing on Obama and race, in Friday's "White House Memo," "Persistent Issue of Race Is in the Spotlight, Again."

The Sherrod flap spotlighted how Mr. Obama is caught between these competing political forces, and renewed criticism from some of his supporters, especially prominent African-Americans, that he has been too defensive in dealing with matters of race - and too quick to react to criticism from the right.

For many liberals, Ms. Sherrod's hasty dismissal carried strong echoes of the ouster of Van Jones, an environmental adviser to the president who was forced to resign after Fox News focused attention on some of his past work and statements, and his decision to sign a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.

Sigh. How hard is it to explain this "9-11 Truth" petition clearly? The 27-word phrase highlighted above matches word for word the incredibly blurry description in this piece from Times reporter John Broder on September 7, 2009. Reporter Sarah Wheaton was much clearer in a previous story, saying Jones had signed a letter "suggesting that former President George W. Bush might have knowingly allowed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to occur in order to use them as a 'pre-text to war.'"

Stolberg next joined the rest of the Times crew in overpraising Obama's made-under-duress race speech in Philadelphia as "serious and thoughtful" (if not memorable - quick, what was your favorite line?). Then she quoted a radical left-wing professor as race expert.

It is not as if Mr. Obama does not have expertise in the matter. While he was running for president he made what even his critics acknowledged was a serious and thoughtful effort to address race relations, during a speech in Philadelphia in March 2008. It followed a storm of controversy about racially inflammatory statements made by his pastor.

And as Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, notes, Mr. Obama wrote an entire book on race: "Dreams From My Father," in which he dealt with his own complicated biracial history and struggle to fit into a country that sees things in black and white. Professor Dyson, who is working on a book about Mr. Obama and race called "Presidential Race," says the president at times seems either unable or unwilling to talk about it.

You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.