White House, USDA chief apologize to Sherrod, offers her job

Shirley Sherrod (undated photo)

Credit: AP / United States Department of Agriculture

Credit: AP / United States Department of Agriculture

Shirley Sherrod (undated photo)

WASHINGTON -- White House officials repeatedly apologized to fired Georgia USDA official Shirley Sherrod and the USDA offered her a new job, but the former state director of rural development is still considering returning to the agency that improperly fired her in an incident that stoked racial tensions in Washington and nationwide.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters late Wednesday that he called Sherrod to apologize and "to make sure she understood I regretted the circumstances and that I accepted full responsibility for them."

Vilsack said Sherrod wanted to think about accepting the job, which is different than her former post as state director of rural development in Georgia.

The apology and job offer came after White House spokesman Robert Gibbs apologized publicly to Sherrod for her improper firing, calling it a "disservice" and an "injustice" and acknowledging the USDA and the White House made an embarrassing mistake.

Sherrod, who is African-American, resigned under pressure on Monday night after videotaped comments she made at a local NAACP banquet surfaced on a conservative Web site and quickly spread to cable and broadcast news outlets. On the tape, Sherrod says that she didn't give a white farming couple, Eloise and Roger Spooner, "the full force" of her help.

Sherrod told the AJC and other news outlets that the video was edited to misrepresent  the point of her story, which was that the incident had helped her move beyond race. In an interview with the AJC,  Eloise Spooner  praised Sherrod, criticized her firing and has said Sherrod helped her family keep their farm.

Wednesday, Gibbs called the incident "a teachable moment," adding that the decision to fire someone based on a 2 1/2 minute clip of a 40-minute speech that was posted by a Web site pundit was "a disservice."

"I think clearly that a lot of people involved in this situation ... acted without the facts," Gibbs said, suggesting that it wasn't just the White House and the USDA that were at fault, but also the media and conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart, who originally posted the clip to insinuate that some Obama adminstration members were racists.

Gibbs also clarified that President Barack Obama was briefed on Sherrod's firing late Tuesday morning, and was briefed again on the situation Wednesday. But he denied the president or anyone else at the White House was directly involved with her firing.

Once the White House and the USDA realized Sherrod's firing was not warranted, the USDA launched a review that culminated with Vilsack's offer to her late Wednesday afternoon.

"Obviously new information came to light and that's why a review is being undertaken," Gibbs said.

"A disservice was done, for which we apologize," he said.