American Spectator columnist Jeffrey Lord, who wrote a stinging piece this week attacking Shirley Sherrod for saying that a brutally murdered relative was “lynched,” says he did so to point out her “highly political” approach.
He also told Media Matters that criticism of the piece from several American Spectator columnists and other conservative writers does not faze him. He cited a past experience with racism in Virginia as a youth as proof that he had true knowledge of racism in America and is qualified to speak about it.
“I am pretty secure with my experience with this stuff,” he added. Still, in seeking to defend his piece, Lord's arguments appeared to fall short and he dismissed several lynching experts who opposed his claims.
At issue is the piece that Lord wrote in response to the Sherrod uproar, which began July 19 when blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an excerpt of a March speech that Sherrod gave in front of a NAACP group, claiming that the clip showed her engaging in racism. The tape resulted in Sherrod being fired July 19, but she was later offered a new USDA job after it became clear that Breitbart's video had taken her statements out of context.
In his piece, Lord, a former Reagan White House official, pointed to other comments that Sherrod made in the same speech when she cited the death of a relative, Bobby Hall, in the 1940's.
Sherrod said that Hall, who was beaten to death by law enforcement officers, was “lynched.”
Lord contends in his column that Sherrod wrongly used the term “lynched,” and told me that that somehow helps point out her “highly political” motivation.
“I saw it as a way to gin up the folks,” he said about the NAACP audience. “That whites are bigots.”
Lord was referring to Sherrod's comments in the same speech that some Republicans were opposing health care reform because there was a black president.
“I haven't seen such mean-spirited people as I've seen lately over this issue of health care. Some of the racism we thought was buried, didn't it surface?” she said in the speech. “We endured eight years of the Bushes and we didn't do the stuff these Republicans are doing because we have a black president.”
Lord said of Sherrod's comments: “People use this to further political agendas. People play the race card and people never blink.”
He said that that prompted him to point out Sherrod's alleged inaccuracy, which he attempted to do in the column. In his column, he states that Sherrod's comments were “not true,” in part because Hall was beaten to death rather than hanged.
He also says that referring to Hall's murder as a lynching is wrong because it was not cited as such in a 1945 Supreme Court ruling stemming from Hall's death.
He cites the case and writes that the Supreme Court never used the word 'lynched': “In other words, the Supreme Court of the United States, with the basic facts of the case agreed to by all nine Justices in Screws vs. the U.S. Government, says not one word about Bobby Hall being lynched. Why? Because it never happened. So why in the world would Ms. Sherrod say something like this?”
Well, follow up research by Media Matters finds that Lord's argument has little substance. MMFA found several lynching experts who criticized his assertion, noting that definitions of lynching were not restricted to those who were hanged and saying that Hall's murder clearly qualified as a lynching. Those experts also pointed out that the term 'lynching' might not have been used by the Supreme Court because there was no federal anti-lynching law then.
Lord says such views do not counter the Supreme Court opinion, even though it occurred 65 years ago.
“My specific criticism is that the Supreme Court decision did not say it,” Lord claimed. “Please show me in the opinion where it said Bobby Hall was lynched?”
I pointed out that many terms in use today were not in use 65 years ago, such as 'African-American'. But that does not mean that one cannot refer to someone from 1945 as an African-American today.
He insisted it did not matter: “The Supreme Court is the Supreme Court. They made this decision.”
He also cited other definitions that refer to lynching as “extra-legal,” noting the Hall killing involved law enforcement officials: “These people were law enforcement officers, that gives them different status.”
Lord further confused the argument when he said in a comment post at the American Spectator that he opposed the Supreme Court decision on the Hall case, even though he was relying on the same opinion for his definition argument.
“This whole situation infuriates me,” he told me about the reversal. “It drives me crazy. That said, we cannot ignore it.”
Asked about the three American Spectator writers - W. James Antle, John Tabin and Philip Klein -- who came out against his piece, Lord said, “I know some of them better than others, I have immense respect for Phil Klein.” But, he added, “They are looking at this as a stand-alone event, it is a continuum.” He said he disagrees with their assessment, stating: “This issue is so sensitive that some people have a knee-jerk reaction.”
Lord said at least two editors reviewed the piece before it was posted and none of them contacted him following the post-publication reaction.
He said Editorial Director Wlady Pleszczynski did request some editing, seeking more explanation of certain parts prior to posting: “He felt I was not clear enough in the connection between race and government. So I went through it and put the meat on the bones so people would understand.”
Lord further stated that part of the reason he went after Sherrod was because he had seen racism up close as a youth in Virginia. He said during his time there in 1965 his father, a hotel manager, was fired after he stepped in to help a black waitress who was being harassed by the white hotel owner.
He said he was upset by what he saw as Sherrod's using a racist experience to further political gains, so he wanted to point out her alleged misuse of 'lynching.'
“I am not saying she is malicious, I am saying she is political,” Lord told me. “People use these things to further political agendas. People play the race card and people never blink. So in a colorblind society, that is where we have to go” to point it out.
Asked why he chose to go after Sherrod, who had already been through a terrible experience, to cite such a minor, and apparently non-existent, error, Lord said: “This is the story of the day. It was current, it was big news and that was part of my decision.”
“I thought it was the moment to illustrate this problem because no one is going to pick it up,” he added. “There is a tradition in the liberal world of treating African-Americans that is insulting and patronizing. My concern was that we just pilloried this women, then we made her a saint. We needed some balance here.”