Friday, July 30, 2010

Van Jones Talks about Sherrod, President Obama and Race

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In March, 2009 President Obama named attorney and environmental activist Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. It didn’t last. 6 months later he was out. He resigned after rightwing bloggers spurred by Fox talk show hatchet man Glenn Beck smeared him his for his activist past.
The White House took much criticism for quickly accepting Jones resignation, and not fighting back against the rightwing attack on Jones. In an exclusive interview with The Hutchinson Report, Jones talks about the parallels to his resignation and the pressure to resign on Shirley Sherrod, the power of the right wing smear machine, and President’s Obama’s caution on race.

EOH: The attack on Shirley Sherrod was very similar to the rightwing attack on you. You both were forced to resign, and your names were drug through the mud. What was your reaction to her forced resignation?

VJ: I had great sympathy for her. I know what it’s like to go from being a relatively anonymous government worker to then find yourself in the middle of a media firestorm. There was a difference though. I was an activist in the Bay Area. I was an easy target. But Mrs. Sherrod was like Rosa Parks. She was pure as the driven snow. She emerged as a force for healing.
But we’re also in a different media environment today. You don’t have old gatekeepers of truth and objectivity you once had in the media. You now have people who are deliberately distorting information, pumping viruses into the body politic and creating confusion. This is not just an attack on individuals. It’s an attack on democracy.

EOH: President Obama in his apology statement to Sherrod hinted at the power of the right wing smear machine to set an agenda of fear. But are they succeeding?

VJ: There is great power there. But the plus to that is that there is a pushback. So the next time someone deliberately distorts and doctors a tape, or disinformation. There will be those in the media that will say let’s slow down and take a closer look before we go public. In my case, the lies about me, that he’s an ex-convict, a communist, had been imprinted with the public by the right-wing. And by the time we could respond with the truth, the media had already moved on.

EOH: President Obama overreacted initially to the doctored tape of Sherrod when he supported her forced resignation. My concern is that this could happen again.

VJ: The Obama Administration is not full of dumb people. It was a learning experience for them. The bigger problem though is that Andrew Breitbart and those like him that distort and create distraction deliberately in essence will win if they prevent us from talking about jobs, energy and the environment crisis, and other crucial people’s concerns. These are the issues that really matter and for which Republicans have no answers. We also over obsess about what Obama is going to say or do on an issue or events which he often has absolutely no control over.

EOH: President Obama has been repeatedly challenged to frontally address the issue of race, even hold a much talked national racial dialogue. Should he?

VJ: We do need the dialogue. Race is an issue that will not go away. Many whites are fearful that they are becoming a minority in some places in the country. They are beginning to react. On the other hand, there are millions of whites who strongly oppose racism, but they are silent. Blacks are uneasy about continuing discrimination, and many Hispanics are disillusioned over the failure of the Obama Administration on immigration. If we are going to have a national dialogue on race we’ll have to learn to listen to all sides.