CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Race to Judgment; Racism?

Aired July 20, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Race was front and center in our politics again today, and the story we want to dig deep on tonight raises some very tough questions. Did some conservatives mad at the NAACP for labeling the Tea Party racist launch a misleading attack against an African-American federal official and label her a racist?

Did the administration, one led by the country's first African- American president panic when it became aware of a video posted on the Internet and forced that African-American official to resign before hearing her side of the story and her remarks in full context? And did the NAACP in quickly applauding that decision to fire Shirley Sherrod (ph) also rush to judgment?

Perhaps because it wanted to prove its conservative critics that it would condemn black racists just as quickly as white racists. A short time ago the NAACP issued a statement saying, quote, "we were snuckered". We're going to spend a lot of time on this tonight carefully, walking through what happened as best we know it and what it says about our political and our media culture.

Our lead panel here to help senior correspondent Joe Johns and CNN contributors Roland Martin and Erick Eriksson, first though, just who is Shirley Sherrod. Until yesterday she worked for the Agriculture Department in Georgia when she was placed on leave and then she says told to resign after this video was posted on a conservative Web site. In it she's talking to a local chapter of the NAACP about the first time she was asked to help a white farmer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIRLEY SHERROD, STATE DIRECTOR, USDA RURAL DEVELOPMENT: What he didn't know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn't give him the full force of what I could do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If this story began and ended there, then clarity would come easy tonight. In that clip Shirley Sherrod, a federal official who controls some of your tax dollars sounds prejudiced, even racist, but that is hardly a complete picture. Not even close. In the hour ahead you will hear from Shirley Sherrod, from that white farmer who now calls her friend and from the Obama cabinet member who fired her. We've been working our sources all day, and we will bring you some fascinating details. But first a conversation with the man who started this controversy by posting the video at his Web site, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Mr. Breitbart, the column you wrote that started this story begins with the word "context is everything" and you describe the Tea Party episode and then you get to this video of Shirley Sherrod. And before we hear her, this slate that we see in the video and it reads this.

It says "On March 27th, 2010 while speaking at the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet, Ms. Sherrod admits that in her federally appointed position overseeing billions of dollars she discriminates against people due to their race. In the portion of the speech you have online she does no such thing. She talks about an episode that was in 1986, 23 years before she came to work for the Department of Agriculture. Is there a factual mistake in that posting?

ANDREW BREITBART, PUBLISHER, BREITBART.COM: This story is about the NAACP. This story is about the NAACP falsely accusing the Tea Party of being racist and --

KING: Have you --

(CROSSTALK)

BREITBART: When we provided exculpatory evidence to show that Congressmen Cleaver (ph), Carson (ph) and Lewis (ph) lied about the "n" word incident, the mainstream media was not there for us to show our exculpatory evidence that absolutely shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the three of them lied in order to malign a group of millions --

KING: But what does that have to do with Shirley Sherrod? What does it have to do with Shirley Sherrod --

BREITBART: It has to -- this tape is about the NAACP. Its race (ph) on debt is about nondiscrimination and when Shirley Sherrod is talking there in which she expresses a discriminatory attitude towards white people, the audience responds with applaud -- with applause and the NAACP agrees with me and it rebuked her and the audience. So the entire conversation about race right now in this country is because the NAACP brought up without evidence, again, and including the false narrative that the "n" word was hurled at three black congressmen, this is asserting that the NAACP condoned racism and was caught on video. And the more video that we've seen that we haven't even offered, there's even more racism on these tapes. This is deeply problematic.

KING: I'm happy to look at those tapes, and I promise I will look at those tapes if you post them, but I want to come back to another -- you say context is everything. We believe facts are important, too --

(CROSSTALK)

BREITBART: If that -- if it is the case and it can be shown to me that the incident that she's talking about was done many years ago and not in her current context, but as a reporter you tell me how you confirmed that the incident that she's talking about was 24 years ago? You tell me as a reporter how CNN put on a person today who purported to be the farmer's wife?

What did you do to find out whether or not that was the actual farmer's wife? I mean there -- if you're going to accuse me of a falsehood, tell me where you've confirmed that this incident happened 24 years ago. This is Shirley Sherrod trying to save her job when her problem is with Vilsack (ph) and the USDA and the NAACP, both which have rebuked her and forced her to leave her position.

KING: I think she has legitimate questions as do we for Secretary Vilsack (ph), the NAACP, the Agriculture Department and perhaps even the Obama White House. But did you reach out to her when you posted this to ask her -- I have this tape. I think it shows what I -- what you believe to be damning conduct or questionable conduct. Did you reach out to her and say what incident are you talking about? When did this happen?

BREITBART: This was not about Shirley Sherrod. This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party and this is showing racism at a NAACP event. I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired. I did not ask for any repercussions for Shirley Sherrod. They were the ones that took the initiative to get rid of her.

I do not -- I think she should have the right to defend herself, but what you see on the video are people in the audience at an organization whose sole job is to fight against discrimination and they're applauding her overt racism that she's representing.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: When did you come -- when did you come into possession of this tape?

BREITBART: In March of this year.

KING: And do you have the entire thing because she says where you cut it off, she goes on to say there's no question -- there's no question she says that she was uncomfortable around this white farmer, that in her view he was expressing her superiority and you air the portion where she says so she found him a white lawyer, one of his kind.

There's no question you can watch the portion that you have on the Web site and start to think about what are her motivations. But she says she's trying to tell a parable and that she goes on to say that she realized she did have prejudices, that she had her own prejudices here. I'm going to play the last snippet.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's listen to one piece of the tape that -- this is on your Web site --

BREITBART: Yes, I added that --

(CROSSTALK)

BREITBART: We kept that because it says that she says that it's not just about race, it's also about rich versus poor. That was the exculpatory part, but she did express racism --

KING: So what happens next? What happens next? She says -- I want you to listen to one of the things she said --

BREITBART: I didn't fire her. I didn't fire her. This is not about Shirley Sherrod. Will you give the opportunity for the million strong Tea Party that CNN and the mainstream media has maligned as racist. Will you give us --

KING: I have not maligned the Tea Party as racist --

BREITBART: I said CNN. I did not say John King. You have given air to the NAACP charges and the Congressional Black Caucus charges that the "n" word was said 15 times by 15 different people by Congressman Carson (ph) and Congressmen Carson (ph) and Lewis (ph) and Cleaver (ph). I can prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that they created this out of whole cloth.

It is a lie, and I want the opportunity to show America that the mainstream media just like the journalist which organized and colluded against people and even said blame people on the right of racist to destroy their lives in order to stop the breaking of the Jeremiah Wright (ph) story. So racism is used by the left and the Democratic Party to shut up opposition, and I'm showing you that people who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A lot more on this story to dig tonight, including more of our controversial conversation, I guess it's fair to say with Mr. Breitbart. But first let's get a first impression from our panel before we dig much deeper in the hour ahead. With us tonight our CNN contributors Roland Martin in Chicago, CNN contributor Erick Erickson -- he's the editor-in-chief of RedState.com, the conservative Web site -- he's in Atlanta -- and here with me CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns.

Joe, I'll go to you first because you are among our reporters, Andrew Breitbart saying how do we know these things. We have spent all day reporting this story. Is this farmer legitimate? Did this incident happen 24 years ago? Looking at the property records, talking to everybody, your first impression?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well my first impression is that phrase "context is everything" is really important. And one of the contexts we haven't explored very much is the context in which the Department of Agriculture decided they're going to get rid of this woman because when you look at agriculture, they have a history. They are notorious over decades for having discrimination lawsuits from women farmers, black farmers, Hispanic farmers. It goes on and on. This is the context in which she makes these statements as a political appointee and she serves at the pleasure of the president.

KING: We'll continue to look at that. That is one how the Agriculture Department and the White House reacted as part of it. Roland, the first thought?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well it's sort of hard for Breitbart to continue to deny photos, statements, placards, things among those lines as it relates to the Tea Party, so to continue to try to tar and feather the NAACP when they were factually correct makes no sense whatsoever and simply does not advance his argument at all.

KING: Erick?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know this is a difficult situation. I'm actually reminded of the Rush Limbaugh situation when he tried to buy the St. Louis Rams and for three days actual reporters, journalists, news anchors used quotes of his and sabotaged the bid and only after the bid was sabotaged said oh those quotes were made up. They were from the left after 20 years on the radio. This is a similar situation with Shirley Sherrod. It's very clear she's opinionated (ph) person. She realized that she was wrong. This was a poor versus rich issue, not black versus white, but she's a casualty of this game the left and right play these days tarring and feathering people as racist who aren't (ph).

KING: Let's stop the first block there. We'll continue this conversation. Everybody is making interesting points. Many more questions to be answered -- when we come back you will hear from Shirley Sherrod. You will hear in an CNN exclusive from the cabinet member who fired her and is standing by this decision. And we have just been told the president was briefed on this decision, and he stands by his agriculture secretary. Also hear more from our conversation with the controversial Andrew Breitbart -- a lot more digging to do on this story. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A lot more to talk about in this story. Shirley Sherrod, an Agriculture Department official fired or she says pressured to resign in the state of Georgia because of a story that started on a conservative Web site -- more of her story. You'll hear from her directly in just a minute. First though let's continue my conversation with Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who started this controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BREITBART: The tape with Shirley Sherrod most offensively and it affirms why the Tea Party is such an important movement in this country. She says that people should get jobs in the government because you can't get fired. That's why the Tea Party is upset. It is because bureaucrats like Shirley Sherrod think that when they get into a position of power that they can hire people and not fire them --

KING: That is --

BREITBART: That is a problem with the Tea Party --

KING: That's a very different argument and you did post that second video of her talking about that. That's a very different argument, though. What she is saying here -- you write a column about in your view people falsely accusing the Tea Party of racism. And I read your column and I understand your point.

Her point is she thinks that you are now falsely accusing her of racism. That actually what she said was yes, I had my prejudices and I felt them and I dealt with them and I confronted them and I learned a powerful lesson from that.

BREITBART: If the other video is so important to you in order to push this story, why aren't you doing your reporting? You're going off of her word that the farmer's wife is the farmer's wife. What type of extra reporting have you done on this? You're going --

KING: I can tell you -- we're doing quite a bit of reporting --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: All day long. I can assure you of that.

(CROSSTALK)

BREITBART: You show me then what is the exculpatory evidence? What exists on that video that will help make that racist -- her racist sentiments go away and the fact that when the audience accepts her racist statements she doesn't say, wait, come on. I'm not racist. There was a racist moment between them that if the tables were turned and you had a white person talking that in a racist way, talking about blacks being the other kind and about a story line about being racially prejudicial in terms of a hiring, in terms of an advice- giving situation, there would be no talk right now about exculpatory evidence.

This was the NAACP affirming a racist sentiment, and there's more racist sentiment in the video that if you want me to go out there, this was never about Shirley Sherrod. If you want to make this about Shirley Sherrod, we'll put Shirley Sherrod saying racial and racist things. This is about the NAACP and the double standard.

KING: If the NAACP is allegedly going to release the entire tape sometime later today, but do you have the entire tape?

BREITBART: We just got it in the mail. We were sent two separate videos by a person who is worried about having a journalist type of allensky (ph) attack against it, so he -- I'm protecting this person. He sent me these two videos and he's now sent us the full video.

And if I get the OK from the people who have the rights to the video to put it up on the Internet, I have no problem with it. Again, I have -- my problem is not with Shirley Sherrod. My problem is with the double-standard in the media that it's willing to play up that the Tea Party is racist without any evidence. This is my evidence to the NAACP that they condoned racism at a freedom dinner around a group that's supposed to be about non-discrimination.

KING: Let me ask you lastly. You say you received, if I heard you correctly, in March you received the earlier portions of the tape?

BREITBART: Yes -- no, I was aware of the two -- I was aware of the two of them. They were transferred to me this weekend, but I was aware -- I was made aware of the tapes in March.

KING: They were transferred to you this week. I was asking in the context if you used them in the context of getting into the Tea Party/NAACP racism debate. I was asking whether -- essentially whether you had them in your drawer waiting for a moment to use them or in the midst of this debate you had in the back of your head (INAUDIBLE) someone told you about these tapes.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let me go find them.

BREITBART: I -- the reason why there was no context for me to put this thing out here. The last thing I want to do is talk about race right now in a hot summer where whites and blacks -- I like to call them Americans -- are suffering from the economic malaise that this country is going through. It is the NAACP and the Democratic Party that keeps asserting over and over trying to negatively brand the Tea Party as racist over and over absent evidence. It is un- American.

KING: I want to circle back to this lastly. That is a bigger issue and it is a legitimate question you raise. Shirley Sherrod feels though that you rushed to judgment against her maybe without airing the entire tape --

BREITBART: I'm not rushing to judgment --

KING: -- that the NAACP might --

BREITBART: -- against her.

(CROSSTALK)

BREITBART: It's not about Shirley Sherrod. It's not about Shirley Sherrod. I can say it 20 times. It's about the NAACP.

KING: But she lost her job.

BREITBART: This is -- I did not fire her. If she has a case, then Vilsack (ph), you should be interviewing Vilsack (ph) -- KING: We're trying.

BREITBART: You should be asking -- you should be asking the NAACP why did you not just rebuke Shirley Sherrod, but she -- they also rebuked the audience. The piece is newsworthy unto itself.

KING: Andrew Breitbart, appreciate your time. This is a feisty issue. We appreciate your coming to talk to us about it.

BREITBART: Thank you.

KING: Thank you. Take care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A feisty issue and a lot of questions raised by that one point we do want to make. If you want to watch that interview it will be posted -- it is posting already in its entirety on our Web site for you to think it over. Now that conversation there -- in the conservative blog he posted he says Shirley Sherrod was giving a speech to the NAACP and in it he suggested and the kyrons (ph), the typeset they put on that video that as a federal official, someone who controls your tax dollars, she was expressing racism.

And that was affecting her job as a current Obama appointee. She says, no. She was retelling a story about something that happened 24 years ago. Here's what she said on CNN earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERROD: The point was to get them to understand we need to look beyond race, to look at working together. I've said to audiences here, not just that one, and in fact I spoke at a housing conference in a county just south of here, and I said look we need to get beyond the Civil War.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, should we believe Shirley Sherrod who says and we're waiting for the full video of the speech to be released, but she says in the full video she was making a turn saying, yes, I did have prejudices. Yes I did think why should I help this white man. And then I realized this isn't about white versus black. It is about rich versus poor, the haves versus the have not and this man needed my help. Should we believe her? Well she gave a very similar speech at another conference in Albany and guess what? She did make that turn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERROD: And it was the beginning -- you know it was my first realization that it wasn't about white, black, and white. It was about poor and limited resources. It was about those who have against those who do not have. And that's when I really became committed to helping people who need help and not just black people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Joe, when you listen to all of this and you went through the history earlier about the Agriculture Department, should this woman who -- if you listen to all of it, was having a rather nuanced, sophisticated conversation about race and prejudice, her own experience, her own prejudices and trying to tell people, come to grips with this and realize this is about haves, have not, helping people, not about white or black. Should she about out of a job tonight?

JOHNS: It's two things. It's about her personal journey. It is an incredible story of a personal journey for one woman exploring issues in a complicated way the way a lot of Americans don't. That's one story. The other story is the political realities in Washington. The NAACP and others can forgive, but an attack ad is not going to forgive.

And at the end of the day when you have someone talking about her state of mind, not what she did but what she thought and expressing things that some people in this country will not like and will see as reverse racism, then you still have a bit of a problem and you know this is a Washington that is headed toward a mid-term election.

KING: But you can't sound bite (ph) racism, Roland, you know that as well as anybody and yet -- and you can beat up Mr. Breitbart all you want -- hang on -- you can beat up Mr. Breitbart all you want, but the NAACP, an organization founded on the premise that there's prejudice out there, that too many people rush to judgment and we're going to try to help educate them, they rushed to judgment here, didn't they?

MARTIN: Well actually the NAACP also in terms of their history also has spoken out against prejudice and bigotry and racism (INAUDIBLE) folks involving white, black --

KING: But they say in their statement tonight --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: They say in their statement tonight after a careful investigation --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- they think the Agriculture Department should reconsider. Shouldn't they have had a careful investigation --

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: -- before they supported the decision to make her leave.

MARTIN: I saw the actual statement, was responding to the initial reports and should have done that. Just like look, you know I posted an item on my blog where I made the point that, again, based upon those initial comments that's not how anyone should think in terms of their thinking. Secondly, one would also have concluded that the Department of Agriculture had already done the exact same thing after she -- her interview with Tony Harris (ph), they actually did not do that. And so all of that, you know, combined here speaks to what this whole issue is going on.

But also at the end of the day what it also says as individuals, whether it was 24 years ago and today, we cannot bring those views to bear. Whatever our job is because we are impacting the livelihood and the future of somebody, be they white, black, Hispanic, Native- American, male or female.

KING: We're going to take a quick break. Erick, we'll get you on the other side. The lesson I'm learning so far is we should think before we act. We should ask people is that really what you said and give them a chance to answer before we take action -- much more to come on this story. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's continue the conversation with CNN contributors Roland Martin and Erick Erickson and our senior correspondent Joe Johns. At issue here is the allegation that this woman who worked for the government, Shirley Sherrod, somehow was dealing with a white farmer and treated him with prejudice because of her bias. Well CNN talked to the white farmer today. His name is Roger Spooner, and he says this woman who is being accused of being a racist helped keep his family together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER SPOONER, FARMER IN SHERROD'S STORY: I don't know what it's all about. She never made any show to me as if there was any white or black or whatnot involved whatsoever. Hey we ate up there together and everything. And heck, you know, I spent six years in the Navy in World War II and I met all kinds of people. And I never met a nicer person than her, if you want to know the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick Erickson, one of the remarkable things as this drama played out today and you live in Macon, Georgia, you know the south, is that you have this white farmer and his wife, who clearly are of age enough to remember the horrible days, talking about how wonderful this woman was and coming to her defense when there's questions about clips edited out of context and people saying things, perhaps we're hearing all of the story, watching that interview just made you stop in your tracks.

ERICKSON: You know, John, it's really sad what happened to Shirley Sherrod today and the overreaction I think by the White House and the NAACP this morning and losing her job. And the problem is that this distracts from the point I think Andrew Breitbart was trying to make, which is a legitimate point. Last week the Center for American Progress, which is heavily connected to the White House, released a video showing that the Tea Party movement was racist going along with the NAACP resolution that they were racist.

The three people they highlighted, the first person had a black wife. The second person was actually an infiltrator to the Tea Party movement. The third person was dragged away by other Tea Party protesters, and yet we're painting with such broad strokes these days, for years it's been very easy to label a conservative a racist for disagreeing with the left and have them driven from the stage. Unfortunately Shirley Sherrod today has become a victim of that on the left --

KING: But is she --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Is she a victim because --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Is she a victim because an angry activist on the right took her out of context or didn't at least give her time? In fairness two wrongs don't make a right.

ERICKSON: Oh, absolutely. I think that she was taken out of context, two wrongs don't make a right, but again this is what happens routinely by the left to the right.

KING: Roland, I want to let you in a second --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Before I let you in, I want to give you one piece of data for us to reflect on. This, obviously, all over talk radio whether it's on the left or on the right. And among those weighing in with a statement that I think is going to be talked about a lot is Rush Limbaugh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The real thing you need to glean is that the Obama administration and the federal bureaucracy is full of incompetence like Shirley Sherrod and it's not going to be very long before you're going to be dealing with her for your health care and if you happen to be showing up to a black bureaucrat appointed by appointed by Obama and you happen to be something other than black, you might have the same treatment regarding your health care that this poor white farmer got. I mean, that's the bigger picture here is that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'm going to guess Roland Martin. You don't think that's the bigger picture here.

MARTIN: John, I don't really give a damn what Rush Limbaugh thinks. This is the same person who called George Steinbrenner a cracker the day he died, so he is utterly irrelevant to me. On Erick's point, he has to be corrected. The NAACP was very clear in talking about racist element. They did not call the entire tea party racist. There was never in the resolution that was never stated, so that's actually incorrect. What they're talking about is, again, certain individuals. That's what he said.

Look, at the end of the day, there's no doubt that Shirley Sherrod should not have lost her job. I would think that Secretary Vilsack would actually come back and actually say, wait a minute, in light of the NAACP, posting the entire speech on their particular website that we will reconsider this. And look, in looking at the entire comments, you see the breadth of the speech. Did she admit in that particular speech not doing enough for this person is based upon race? Absolutely. She says it was a thing she actually learned from.

We all should be able to do that. What I still desire, though, is for people not to get to that point where they have to have sort of corrective action that from the get-go they look at somebody as an individual and say, if I'm here to help you, I'm going to help you and not have any preconceived notions about race, about gender, or anything else.

ERICKSON: John and Roland, I think Roland your dismissal offhandedly of Rush Limbaugh goes back to this point, taking him irrespective of this context

MARTIN: He's an entertainer.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: He's an entertainer, Erick. He's an entertainer.

ERICKSON: Routinely people on the left say, no he's racist.

MARTIN: Eric, he's an entertainer.

ERICKSON: You know, Rush Limbaugh is a guy -- well, he's extremely successful.

KING: We're not going to settle this one right here, but I will host the Roland Martin and Erick Erickson beer summit. I will host that one. Much more on this story when we come back.

MARTIN: I don't drink, so it won't be a beer summit.

KING: It'll save a little money that way.

Watch more on this story. When we come back, we probably shouldn't be laughing about it all, but it's good that even as you, guys, disagree you can share a laugh. That is a good thing as we go to break. When we come back, much more on the story and also a look at other breaking political headlines. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. An incredibly busy day here in Washington and across the news spectrum. Let's check in with Joe Johns for the news you need to know right now.

JOHNS: John, at the White House today, both President Obama and British Prime Minister, David Cameron, condemned Scotland's decision last year to release the Libyan man convicted of plotting the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner. The Prime Minister promised cooperation with the Congressional probe of whether BP influenced the Scottish decision because it has business interests in Libya.

The U.S. government has given BP another 24 hours to continue testing the cap on its well in the Gulf of Mexico.

There will be no final vote tonight on extending unemployment benefits, but Democrats broke a Republican filibuster of the bill this afternoon.

And the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination. More of JOHN KING USA tonight just after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A lot of big political stories on the radar tonight. Let's continue our conversations. With us, the Republican strategist, Ed Goeas, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Paul Begala, and Robert Traynham, the senior adviser back in 2004 to the Bush/Cheney campaign and the Republican Capitol Hill veteran.

Let's move on now to those stories on my radar. We've been dedicating a lot of time tonight into the resignation of U.S. agriculture department employee in Georgia after a conservative website posted a speech (ph) she gave and claimed it showed racism. Shirley Sherrod says her comments were taken out of context but was told the White House wanted her resignation. In an exclusive interview with CNN, agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, says that's not exactly the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I didn't speak to anyone at the White House. I didn't speak to anybody at the White House. When I saw the statements and the context of the statements, I determined that it would make it difficult for her to do her job as a real development director.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The White House says it put no pressure on Vilsack, but the White House official does tell CNN the president was briefed after the secretary's decision and that President Obama fully supports it. Let's put that one to the panel. If she gave this speech in which she said, yes, I had prejudice when I met this white farmer and I came to realize that and I confronted it and I helped him and it's a teachable moment for everybody, so in other words, a nuanced, complicated confessional speech about race. Paul Begala, should she have been fired and told to resign?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. Tom Vilsack who I think is a great agriculture secretary. He's too good a lawyer to have done this. I think it's a big mistake. I think he got to have unwind it. I think he needs to call this lady if, in fact, when we look -- I'm told the NAACP is working on releasing the full tape, and it should be tonight, I'm told. If we look at it and see that what she saying is true, she deserves to have her job back, and she deserves an apology from the Secretary of Agriculture.

KING: Before you, guys, jump in on that point, your friend and everyone here knows here, Donna Brazile, our CNN contributor on the "Situation Room". She told Wolf Blitzer that she had listened to the entire unedited tape and that Sherrod's statement was taken out of context, and as Paul just did, she says Secretary Vilsack should take a second look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I would hope that Mr. Vilsack and those who are responsible, the regional commissioner, the office of civil rights, I tried to call office of Civil Rights and Department of Agriculture, re-open this case. Read the speech and listen to her words. Do not just summarily fire this woman simply because you saw something on the internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What is it in the politics of the moment? You're a Republican. This is a Democratic administration, but the roles could be flipped. What is it in the politics of the moment that a video like this goes up online, and the secretary did not speak to her. Apparently, nobody checked the entire speech in context, and yet, they make a decision she has to go because this is controversial.

ED GOEAS, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE TERRANCE GROUP: I mean, the interesting thing here is the story is becoming the story. How the story has been handled is becoming a story. And I think we're kind of losing track. I think everything Paul said at the beginning is exactly right. If you look at the tape and listen to everything that was said, I think it was taken out of context. But that's not what the story is now.

The story is how it was handled, and I think that's the story that's going to go on for the next couple of days. I think the only way to put that story to bed quite frankly is to do exactly what is being recommended here, which is to review it, take another look at it. But again, that's going to bring all these other side issues up.

KING: Among the people whose actions are being questioned is the NAACP and it's leadership. And the NAACP president, Benjamin Jealous, just sent this tweet, "spoke to Miss Sherrod earlier today and apologized. I plan to meet with her face-to-face that next time I'm in Georgia." Now, that is a huge shift from what he tweeted last night. That one says, quote, "Racism is about abuse of power. Sherrod had at USDA. She abused a white farmer because of his race. NAACP is appalled."

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, BUSH-CHENEY 2004 CAMPAIGN ADVISER: This is a larger issue, John, about how race is still divisive in this country but also how sensitive it is. And that's also even a bigger issue and the unfortunate truth is that the White House is extremely sensitive to this. We've been down this road before with this Obama campaign/White House when it came to the Reverend Wright out of Chicago. The real issue here is whether or not this person should have at least been put on administrative leave as Paul mentioned a few moments ago and if the White House overreacted. To Ed's point, it seems like they overreacted big-time.

KING: We have a first African-American president and an organization that is founded with the sole purpose of opening people's eyes, trying to get them to put racism aside and confront this. And then you have this - what appears to be a rush to judgment?

TRAYNHAM: Wait a minute, time out. You're still innocent until proven guilty in this country.

KING: That's the point I'm trying to make.

TRAYNHAM: And here's the White House that swears to uphold the very principles that we all try to live by. So again, it goes back to the White House probably rushing a little bit too close to judgment.

BEGALA: And the NAACP apparently. The chairman - President Jealous has said so already. It's like --

KING: He said they were snookered (ph) and they listened to a conservative website and believed to the conservative website.

BEGALA: In the words of the greatest philosophical theories (ph) I've ever come across "animal house," you messed up (ph). That's slight different word, but the White House messed up by trusting a right wing provocateur and treating him as if he were an honest journalist. He has an agenda, God bless him. He pursues that agenda, but nobody should take what Breitbart or Fox News says.

KING: Let me get one more in here as you mentioned that he has an agenda. There's a lot of conspiracy theories today. This is interesting one, on a posting on the dailycollar.com says in 2008, members of the media plotted to kill stories about racist remarks by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. You remember he was the president's reverend and then Senator Obama.

The dailycollar site and internet posting attributed to Chris Hayes of The Nation, quote, "It has everything to do with the attempts of the right to maintain control of the country. All this hand wringing about just awful and odious Rev. Wright's remarks are just keeps the hustle going." The vast left wing conspiracy. If you read through these e-mails if you're in the business of objective journalism, they make you cringe.

GOEAS: They do. They do. And quite frankly, I think the campaign was probably doing exactly what they normally do, which is something like this. They try to put the fire out or snuff the fire out if you will, and that seems to be their part of it. The part of journalism here in terms of conspiring with that I think is going to become a bigger issue.

KING: So, you guys are involved in campaigns all the time. Do you have a list on the right of when we need to move a story, here are the trusted guys and on the left, these are the guys who will take our message and mission?

BEGALA: Of course, you work the press.

KING: I didn't ask you that. I asked if you have a list of people who you know will do what you say.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: On their side, you just call Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. I mean, there is a vast right wing conspiracy, and it dominates the media. We saw that today. Chris Hayes is with "The Nation." He's a liberal. "The Nation" is a liberal journal --

KING: You're saying there's only a right wing conspiracy not a left wing conspiracy?

BEGALA: No if they were trying - unfortunately, my side is essentially powerless, OK? If they were trying to kill the Reverend Wright story, they did an awfully poor job. It was one of the dominant stories in 2008 election. And by the way, Barack Obama's handling of that story I think is one of the reasons he became president. He handled it with great calm.

TRAYNHAM: Which is much better than how he's handling today's story.

KING: These guys aren't going anywhere. We're going to hold them right here because when we come back, we got some fun in the "Play-by-Play."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by-Play."

KING: Right. Here to help us break down the tape in the "Play- by-Play" tonight. Republican strategist, Ed Goeas, Democrat Paul Begala, and Republican Robert Traynham. The president, we know he's going to be a big factor in this campaign. Now, he's showing up in the advertising not in the way he would like. We're going to show you an ad. Roy Blunt is a Republican member of Congress. He's running for a Senate seat in the state of Missouri, and he thinks his opponent is too cozy with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: July 8, 2010, Barack Obama is raising money for Robin Carnahan. why?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need another vote. It would be helpful! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He knows Robin Carnahan will rubber stamp Pelosi/Reid/Obama liberal agenda. A stimulus bill that grows government not jobs, more government control of health care and now a new energy tax.

OBAMA: It would have already been done if I had Robin Carnahan there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roy Blunt, he'll work for Missouri, not Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That message, Ed Goeas, that can sell in the heartland. We call it the show me state. It's a big bellwether. Is the president that unpopular?

GOEAS: He is. I mean, first of all, Missouri is the only on the presidential targets that actually voted for McCain. I think that's the first thing to look at. The president's number as we have this polling number is hitting 50 percent disapprove, strongly disapprove, 1.5-1. I think the key thing on this spot that was a deeper thing. There are many places in the country where he is unpopular, but campaign still plan on bringing him in for fundraising because he is still very popular amongst the base.

What this does is began to open the door that even the fundraising part of having the president out there becomes a target, and I think that's why this spot is so particularly important to the process.

BEGALA: I think this is going to be a key one to watch. It is the quintessential bellwether state. I will note that Democrats won lots of elections in 2006 by morphing Republicans to George W. Bush. So, it's totally fair game for Roy Blunt to do this. Will it work? I don't know. Look at the Pennsylvania (INAUDIBLE), the last special election we just had where the Republican attacked Obama and Pelosi but did not win. The Democrat won that district even though it's a district to John McCain. So, I know it worked for us in 2006. It may work for you guys this time. It's not a certain strategy yet to me.

KING: Before you jump in, Robert, let's show you another example. In the state of Florida, you have a more interesting Senate race in the Charlie Crist who is the Republican governor. He is now running more or less as an independent. They call it non-party affiliated and so the conservative Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, says don't vote for Charlie because he likes Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is the desperately Charlie Crist falsely attacking Marco Rubio? Can't Florida do better?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAYNHAM: I think this ad actually helps Charlie Crist. And the reason why is because Charlie Crist is a very centuries quote-unquote "republican independent" whatever you want to call him type of guy. And in the state of Florida, I actually think this helps him more than hurts anyone else in that matter. I really do believe that.

GOEAS: I disagree with that. Today was a good example of some times in politics you're lucky. And this spot goes up on air on the same day that the "Wall Street Journal" reported that Crist who as Republican Senate candidate and even as independent Senate candidate has said he wants to repeal the health care bill. Now, today, he reverses that position in the "Wall Street Journal". So, you have not only the spot running, you have him flip-flopping on one of the key issues in the voters' minds, particularly seniors that in Florida. I think this hurts him very badly.

BEGALA: To me, it's fascinating because Marco Rubio knows where he stands, and Kendrick meet the Democrat who I've done some fundraising for. He knows where he stands. You know, he'll probably move up in the polls.

KING: He'll get the nomination? Is Jeff Green (ph), the wealthy businessman who's dumping all this money in the race?

BEGALA: He got actually a very tough and very well financed opponent within a Democratic primary. But if, in fact, if Kendrick Meek, a congressman, African-American, real young (ph) up and coming leader in my party if he's the democratic nominee, I don't think it helps Charlie Crist anymore to show him appearing with President Obama. If there's a real Democrat like Meek, then, there's not that much in the middle for Charlie Crist to pick up. I mean, I think --

TRAYNHAM: Yes. If meek loses, we all know that the Democratic establishment is going to go behind Crist. That's why I think it helps him in the long run.

KING: Do you have any doubt about that if Jeff Green was the Democratic nomination, there would be pressure from the president of the United States to Democrat to say get behind Charlie Crist?

BEGALA: That's exactly right, and Robert's right, and you're right. That's what you'll see if Congressman Meek cannot win that primary, I think there are still lot of Democrats go to Charlie Crist.

KING: And then Marco Rubio's (INAUDIBLE) I told you so.

GOEAS: I stand behind what I said.

BEGALA: And that one is done with humor. It's just interesting to watch the same ad, the one who far (ph) is a lot more effective because it was humorous. It was clever.

KING: All right. Gentlemen, appreciate your coming in. Thanks very much. Ever fake an illness. These guys all came in here tonight, I think I don't feel that great (ph). You ever fake an illness to get out of something? "Pete on the Street." He's investigating.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's the question we put to our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick today, and he's on the street investigating. Ever fake an illness to get out of a meeting or something like that? -- Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: As every night, John, I take a story out of the news, the political story. In this case, the Libyan terrorist that was released because, apparently, he only had three months to live. This guy is healthy as a horse, John King. He's still alive. He just ran a Triple-A (ph) triathlon. I just asked people, have you ever maybe faked an illness to get out of work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: You guys ever faked an illness to get out of work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never.

DOMINICK: Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Give me the symptoms you come up with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm cramping.

DOMINICK: I'm cramping?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a temperature and I can bring a doctor's note.

DOMINICK: I have a temperature and I can bring a doctor's note?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is I am playing hooky today.

DOMINICK: You are? Why would you wear that Sunday suit?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Teachers do take mental illness day (ph).

DOMINICK: Yes, you need those.

You ever call in gay to work? Did you ever say, I'm gay, I can't come in today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm sorry, I'm gay, I can't go to school today.

DOMINICK: It works great in the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it works great.

DOMINICK: That's terrible. They buy that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They buy it all.

DOMINICK: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fictional. Uncle Joe died at my last job died at this job and then it went to Aunt Tilda, what can you do?

DOMINICK: New job, new grandmother.

Why doesn't grandpa ever die, by the way? It's always grandma.

How about one guy asked you out and say you lie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the first date.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't feel good.

DOMINICK: Oh, you hang on, mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just can't lie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm in sales, but I still can't lie.

DOMINICK: Who is the most handsome person who's ever interviewed you on the street?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would have to say you because you're the only one who's interviewed me on the street.

DOMINICK: Hold on a second, let this guy interview you. Has anything changed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just a little bit, you know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Now, John King, I've never ever called in sick on you or faked it. But you know, I don't like as parent these children's parties, I'm trying to get out of those any way I can.

KING: Children's party --

DOMINICK: The birthday parties you got to take your kids to, did you have to do that?

KING: We do a lot of that. My daughter loves to go to those parties. She's occasionally pulled the school thing, but I've never in my life ever had to sick that.

DOMINICK: I didn't miss one day high school, and I've never missed a day of JOHN KING, USA.

KING: You better not miss a day of John King USA. This is a very important place to be, my friend.

DOMINICK: John, can I get some time off? KING: Maybe. We'll think about it. You have to fill out the forms and submit the forms and then your people send it to my people and we'll get to it.

DOMINICK: I don't want any. I love being here, sir.

KING: Have a great night, my friend. We'll see you tomorrow. If you've been following the story we've been on most of the hour, the controversy over Shirley Sherrod and was a speech she gave racist. The NAACP has just released video of the entire speech. We're putting the link on our website. We're posting tonight's Andrew Breibart's interview as well. Go to CNN.com/JohnKingUSA, CNN.com/JKUSA, links to both. Speeches are on there, the interview with Breibart. Campbell Brown takes it all away right now.