Freeman To Goldstone to Sherrod: An 18-Month Obama Nightmare

by James M. Wall

Richard Goldstone, Chas Freeman, Shirley Sherrod.

If you figure ‘Shirley” as a nickname for a first baseman, “Freeman to Goldstone to Sherrod” could be a modern day version of the celebrated double play Chicago Cubs’ combination of  “Tinkers to Evers to Chance”.

It could even be a prestigious law firm on LaSalle Street in Obama’s hometown of Chicago. It is neither.

It is, rather, a series of events that has produced an 18-month nightmare for Barack Obama.

“Freeman to Goldstone to Sherrod”, is a Washington disaster, an accumulation of three major presidential stumbles, each of which could easily have been avoided. What they have in common is poor staff work and a president overly sensitive to political calculations.

The main stream media (MSM) played a major role in helping to enable these stumbles. It did so by going for the quick and shallow headline and analysis that now permeates the 24-7 news cycle.

Two of these major stumbles involve Israel, which means the MSM did nothing to probe beneath the prevailing conventional wisdom that would have cut through pro-Israel bias and asked harder questions as to what really was happening in these two stumbles.

The Israeli media did a far better job of reporting on the Freeman and Goldstone stumbles than did any MSM outlet in the US. It was not because of ignorance that the US  media failed to cover Freeman and Goldstone.

The internet brings the Israeli and Arab media into every newsroom of every media outlet in the US. The story was there, but the media is a part of the alliance of the pro-Israel MSM media and American politics that  protect the White House from having to face the unpopular truth about Israel.  That is why it is called “enabling”.

The Sherrod stumble, however, involves race, which the MSM jumped on with vigor, once its initial part in pushing a false story was exposed by some simple research.

This stumble is the third in the “Freeman to Goldstone to Sherrod” series, but since it is the most recent stumble, it is better known than the other two.

Because the MSM has a shared belief in matters racial, the MSM quickly filled in details of the Sherrod affair and brought the distortions to the public’s attention.

The MSM reversal also brought an immediate apology from President Obama and his personal request that Sherrod “stay in” government service. The call, however, did not come until it became obvious that she had been grossly maligned.

This third White House stumble should have been an easy call for an African American president. Instead, for reasons as yet unclear, President Obama did nothing to prevent  the initial White House attack on Sherrod.

There is a common thread that connects these three Obama stumbles, “Freeman to Goldstone to Sherrod”: Atrociously bad staff advice driven by cold calculating politics, and the failure of President Obama to overrule bad advice and declare, firmly: We will do the right thing.

The right thing in the matter of Shirley Sherrod was to forget about the 24-7 news cycle and not worry that  Glenn Beck will run with the story while the White House pauses to check it out. Later, much too late, check it out is exactly what the White House finally did.

This story began on Monday, July 19. Sherrod was driving her car from Columbus, Georgia to Athens, Georgia, when she received a message that the White House wanted her to resign her position as the Georgia director of the US Department of Agriculture office of Rural Development.

The call came from the USDA’s deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook. Sherrod told the Associated Press:

“They called me twice. The last time they asked me to pull over on the side of the road and submit my resignation on my Blackberry, and that’s what I did.”

The New York Daily News had a detailed story on Sherrod’s firing:

The controversy began after several media organizations posted a 38-second video clip of Sherrod speaking to a local Georgia chapter of the NAACP. She tells the group that she did not give a white farmer “the full force of what I could do” after he asked for assistance.   The video surfaced days after the NAACP quarreled with Tea Party members over allegations of racism.

Sherrod said her statements were taken out of context. “My point in telling that story is that working with him helped me to see that it wasn’t a black and white issue,” she said. Sherrod added that the episode took place in 1986 before she worked for the Agriculture Department. Sherrod said that she eventually became friends with the farmer and worked with him for two years to help him avoid foreclosure.
How could the first African American president allow this to happen?

Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column offers a simple explanation of how the Sherrod stumble could have been avoided.

The Obama White House is too white. It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.

But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.

Dowd has a simple solution.  It is time to rethink the make up of the White House staff:

The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him. . . . Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.

The West Wing white guys who pushed to ditch Shirley Sherrod before Glenn Beck could pounce not only didn’t bother to Google, they weren’t familiar enough with civil rights history to recognize the name Sherrod. And they didn’t return the calls and e-mail of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong.

Charles Sherrod, Shirley’s husband, was a Freedom Rider who, along with the civil rights hero John Lewis, was a key member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the ‘60s.

As Lewis, the longtime Georgia congressman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he knew immediately that something was amiss with the distorted video clip of Sherrod talking to the NAACP.

“I’ve known these two individuals — the husband for more than 50 years and the wife for at least 35, 40 — and there’s not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies,” Lewis said.

We may not have a “nation of cowards” on race, as Attorney General Eric Holder contended, but we may have a West Wing of cowards on race

The firing of Chas Freeman was the first White House stumble in President Obama’s 18 month nightmare. It is also one that President Obama has refused to acknowledge.  One reason: His White House “white guys” are as fixed on the Israeli side of  the Israel-Palestine issue as they are trapped in their whiteness in advising the President on racial matters.

Besides, the MSM makes no effort to understand the Palestinian side of the issue; hence no pressure from the media.

The first of his series of blunders began when, in late February, 2009, Obama appointed the veteran diplomat Chas Freeman  to serve as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

Ambassador Freeman came highly recommended, but he was also on record as having committed the Number One Washington Sin in all matters Israeli. He had uttered public criticism of actions by the Jewish state.

His appointment evoked an all-out smear attack which has become common place in US right wing media.  It was McCarthyism at its worst.

Freeman’s post was too far down the food chain to require Senate approval, but the right wing noise machine put together attacks from politicians and pundits to force the president to withdraw Freeman’s name on March 11, 2009.

Much credit for the success of the Freeman smear campaign goes to a well known Senate PEP (Progressive Except on Palestine), New York’s Charles Schumer. Schumer called his White House friend Rahm Emanuel, with clear instructions: The Freeman appointment must not stand.

On his blog, Informed Comment, Juan Cole has a detailed analysis of how Freeman was named and then dropped. It is must reading.

The second major stumble in the “Freeman to Goldstone to Sherrod” series quickly followed the Freeman Affair. It was the mishandling of the Goldstone Report by the White House, a huge mistake since it was clear that the evidence discovered by Goldstone would eventually be shown to be valid.

Obama has refused to acknowledge that he was wrong to reject the Goldstone Report, which was researched and written by a committee headed by Judge Goldstone.

The Goldstone committee was asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity during Israel’s December 2008-January 2009  blitz against Gaza which claimed nearly 1400 Palestinian lives.

This invasion of Gaza took place during the final days of the George W. Bush presidency, ending on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration.

The delivery of Judge Goldstone’s report to the UN and then to Israel was initially rejected by Israel, which announced that it would conduct its own investigation

In the face of world-wide support for the UN Goldstone Report, President Obama worked to squash the Goldstone Report, sending it off to bureaucratic oblivion rather than have Israel suffer further exposure for its conduct in the January 2008-2009 invasion.

Writing in the South African publication, Business Day, Allister Sparks reports that the Israeli military’s own investigation has been completed, with results that vindicate much of the Goldstone Report.

After carrying out its own investigation into last year’s Gaza War, the Israeli military has finally confirmed several of the most serious incidents committed by its troops in that 22-day assault, which a United Nations commission of inquiry, headed by our own Judge Richard Goldstone, reported on last September.

In a low-key report released two weeks ago that seems to have escaped the attention of the entire South African media, perhaps because of its preoccupation with the Fifa World Cup at the time, the military has confirmed that three of the most serious findings of Goldstone’s egregiously vilified report were true.

It has confirmed the fatal shooting by a marksman of an unarmed man (the Goldstone Commission said a man and a woman were killed) walking with a group of Palestinians waving a white “surrender” flag; the shelling of a mosque during a prayer service, causing casualties among the worshippers; and the ordering of a criminal investigation into a fatal air strike on a house where about 100 members of an extended Palestinian family, the Samounis, were sheltering on the advice of the Israeli Defence Force.

The Samouni case caused particular outrage worldwide because Israeli forces prevented Palestinian paramedics from entering the house for days after the strike.

When Red Cross workers eventually got into the house, they found four emaciated Samouni children, who had been trapped there for days with their mothers’ corpses. In all, 30 Samounis died.

So far, no American MSM has referred to this story by Sparks, nor published any detailed information on the IDF’s own findings on the conduct of its troops. My source is Helen Cobban’s blog, Just World News. She writes:


The great, strongly anti-Apartheid South African journalist Allister Sparks has penned a powerful rebuke of his country’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, over the latter’s strongly expressed criticism of Constitutional Court member Richard Goldstone, and Goldstone’s role in heading the UN’s fact-finding mission for Gaza.

Sparks starts by noting that three of the major IDF war crimes reported by the Goldstone Commission in Gaza were in fact recently confirmed to have been such by a military investigation undertaken by the IDF high command itself.

He comments, “the real importance of this military investigation is that it vindicates the Goldstone commission,” adding:

For Judge Richard Goldstone, particularly, this is a personal vindication, for he was excoriated by leading members of the local Jewish community for chairing the commission. He was told his commission’s findings were lies; that he was naive and gullible for accepting the version of events given by terrorists; and that, since he is a Jew, he was a traitor to his people.

His critics were [supported] by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who chastised Goldstone for “doing great damage to the state of Israel”. He should have recused himself instead, Goldstein said, and taken no part in the investigating mission.

Sparks concludes his article by issuing this final reproach to South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein:

We secularists need to know what a religious leader in our community means when he seeks to impose such an ethical dictum on a prominent member of his faith [Judge Richard Goldstone] — someone who was a founding father of our Constitutional Court and an interpreter of our infinitely important national constitution in this new democracy.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East Politics, Religion and politics, The Human Condition. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Freeman To Goldstone to Sherrod: An 18-Month Obama Nightmare

  1. Harris W. Fawell says:

    Jim: Thanks for your most recent report on the Obama administration’s recent mistakes relative to tbe Sherrod fiasco. I wish I had some comforting words. I appreciate your fine reports. Harris Fawell

  2. Bill Gepford says:

    Thanks Jim for this excellent analysis. This (the c0nnection with the Israeli/Palestine vendetta) is the reason why so many of us often give up hope that any president will ever honestly face the truth and do what needs to be done – STOP THE LYING – and tell the Americn people what is really going on! The insert article on “Shumer and Emanuel,” unfortunately, identified the cancer, “Israeli Apartheid will continue unabeted under Obama.”

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