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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Gulf Oil Disaster Investigation; Race and Politics
Aired July 23, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us.
Tonight: the attack on Shirley Sherrod and how a case fueled by race and politics shows us how the truth is often twisted and hidden.
As we know, Sherrod, a former USDA employee, was forced to resign after a portion of a speech she gave was posted on a blogger's Web site, a blogger who took her words out of context.
Over the next hour, we're going to take a close look at this explosive controversy and how no matter who tries to bury it, facts matter. The truth matters.
We'll get to all of this in a moment.
But, first, Randi Kaye joins us with the latest developments in the Gulf oil disaster -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Anderson.
An engineering technician's testimony today rocked a federal hearing here in New Orleans. The technician worked on BP's ruptured well and told a panel investigating the disaster that an alarm system on the TransOcean rig had been silenced for about a year before the April explosion -- silenced.
What's more, he said, supervisors were aware that the alarm had been disabled. According to TransOcean, he's right. In a statement, the company said the disabling was intentional and -- quote -- "conforms to accepted maritime practice".
That's because, according to TransOcean, there were hundreds of individual fire and gas alarms on the rig. And each one could potentially set off the general alarm. Silencing that general alarm was the company's way of preventing false alarms.
Meantime, Bonnie, downgraded to a tropical depression, it's still heading for the Gulf and expected to make landfall late tomorrow.
With response vessels being moved out of harm's way, it looks like the sealed well cap a mile below the surface could be left unattended for about 48 hours. It's a big setback for response workers, but National Incident Commander Thad Allen said pulling back was necessary to keep people and equipment safe. Well, not everyone agrees with Thad Allen, many people in the Gulf are angry that booms and barges are being moved.
Yesterday, St. Tammany Parish president Kevin Davis issued an executive order prohibiting movement of any protective equipment without parish consent.
He joins me now, along with Rice University Professor and presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
Kevin, let's start with you.
You actually had to threaten arrest --
KEVIN DAVIS, PRESIDENT, ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LOUISIANA: That's correct, yes.
KAYE: -- before the federal government actually let you hold on to those barges that you say will protect your parish.
DAVIS: That's correct.
Under Louisiana law, as a parish president, once I declare an emergency, then I have the right to commandeer and do any other executive orders. And I took such action yesterday because they were taking our assets to move them 100 miles away, when we had already developed a plan and already have done it previously before to protect all of our assets in St. Tammany Parish.
KAYE: And you had to negotiate for, what, like nine or 10 hours?
DAVIS: It was -- I started at noon, and it was until about 8:30 last night, the worst thing I had ever done, in an argument with my own country.
KAYE: Doug, I have to ask you about this, because we've heard these complaints before, federal officials not listening to local officials, the people who really know this area the best. Why is that?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, just earlier this week, on July 21st, BP, Robert Dudley and Doug Suttles were supposed to meet with the six parish presidents out at an English Turn Country Club, and they just blew them off. It was a long-scheduled meeting.
BP just thumbs their nose at parish presidents. They don't care. These are little people in the minds of BP. And the Coast Guard is working so closely with the company. They're right now trying to create an exit strategy, BP. They've got the well capped.
And they're -- they -- one paper goes through, and they say, let's move stuff. A tropical depression is coming. And they don't take the time to talk to parish presidents about what's really needed. A lot of this equipment has been very effective in at least keeping some of the oil out of the marshlands.
And I think you've got to, in an emergency situation like this, always listen to local officials. Instead, they've been -- they've been basically spit on by BP over the past few weeks.
KAYE: And I want to ask you, Kevin, about this.
You -- you're still feeling, 95 days into this, that you're getting the brush-off from BP?
DAVIS: That's correct. And we've talked about this --
KAYE: They didn't show up for this meeting.
DAVIS: I was insulted, completely.
KAYE: Tell me what the situation was.
DAVIS: We had a private meeting set. The governor was there and other parish presidents, the Mayor of New Orleans. It was all private. We were going to sit down like gentlemen and talk about the future and the recovery.
KAYE: The press wasn't even aware of this?
DAVIS: That's correct. And, you know, it was because we really wanted to sit down and make those discussions with them. And they don't have the courtesy -- and 20 minutes before, they call in and say, we're not attending.
I still want a call from Doug in reference to that. And I would demand that we have a meeting.
KAYE: And, when they canceled, what did they say? Did they give a reason?
DAVIS: No reasons. We had their consultants with us, James Lee Witt, who we have great respect for.
But, as I told James, I said, I'm not giving you any more days. I will take necessary actions to protect the citizens of my parish.
KAYE: So, everybody just left; that was it?
DAVIS: That's correct.
KAYE: And they were right across the river here, right?
DAVIS: They kept pointing across the river and saying, that's where they were.
KAYE: So, they weren't even that far away.
DAVIS: A sad day.
KAYE: So, why is this continuing, Doug? You're one of BP's toughest critics. Have you figured out how they manage to keep doing this? When are they going to get it?
BRINKLEY: Yes, because they're -- they're in demo mood. They want out. They don't really care. They're a big company. They feel very powerful. They are -- they're buying these full-page ads in newspapers all the time trying to spin people.
And then, locally, right now, they're -- they have kind of have a bit of a fed-up attitude. I'm told that this was about a two-hour discussion on whether they should go to the English Turn, which is a country club, meeting.
Here are all these parish presidents and the governor, and all these busy people took the time and came and went to the meeting, and there were the two empty chairs of Dudley and Suttles. It's just another insulting example of BP on dissing on Louisiana.
They're feeling inconvenienced by it all. We heard all those famous -- the golden oldies of Tony Hayward. Those weren't misstatements of Hayward. That's the way these guys really feel.
And I think they owe an apology call to all of the six parish presidents and Governor Jindal, who they all just blew off.
KAYE: And, Doug, real quick, before we let you go, the testimony today, we want you to comment on from that rig worker who said that the alarm on site wasn't fully functioning. I mean, you're not an engineer. I'm not an engineer. It seems pretty common sense to me, though, doesn't it?
BRINKLEY: Very common sense, unless you're BP and you're operating as a rogue outfit who has one thing in mind, get as much oil as quickly as possible and have MMS that looks the over way, and just don't take care of things.
Anybody who has a home or building knows you have to maintenance things. But to not maintenance a rig, where the potential of disaster was so great, particularly if you're a company like BP, that had the Texas City incident and the Alaska tundra incident, tells you that this isn't a Fortune 500 company. BP had turned itself into just a company gouging the American landscape for whatever they could.
And then continually to insult these six parish presidents and the governor, like they did the other day, is unacceptable. We still don't have a good BP spokesman. Suttles and -- has turned out to be a bad player.
KAYE: Yes. And disabling an emergency alarm to prevent false alarms has a lot of us still shaking our heads. Doug Brinkley, Kevin Davis, thank you both very much.
BRINKLEY: Thank you.
DAVIS: Thank you.
KAYE: Ahead tonight: Anderson examines how the Shirley Sherrod story played out this week, a week that ended with a moving reunion.
Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA employee forced to resign Monday, visited today with Roger and Eloise Spooner, the Georgia couple who jumped to her defense when the story broke.
They hadn't seen each other in decades. The Spooners are the couple Sherrod talked about in a speech that conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart misrepresented as racist.
The Spooners credit Sherrod with helping them save their family farm. She says they changed the way she thought about race. Roger Spooner said there's a lesson in the ugly episode that caused Ms. Sherrod so much pain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER SPOONER, FARMER HELPED BY SHIRLEY SHERROD: Stopping to think before you --
ELOISE SPOONER, WIFE OF FARMER: Before you make a joke.
R. SPOONER: Before you run your mouth or take a step. Know where you're going. That's right. Know where you're going, and you won't -- you will stay out of trouble. Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you, and that will save a lot of heartaches.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: And now back to Anderson for more on Ms. Sherrod's explosive week.
COOPER: Randi thanks.
Coming up: the Sherrod timeline, how the story unfolded from when her speech was posted to the apology from the White House. We'll break down the crucial moments in the controversy.
Also ahead tonight, you'll hear from Shirley Sherrod herself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL: I think he would like to see us go back to slavery. That's where I think he would like to see all black people end up again. And that's why I think he's so vicious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The woman at center of the firestorm in her own words -- tonight on 360.
COOPER: Even by the standards of 24-hour news, the Shirley Sherrod story was turned on its head at warp speed. Monday, Ms. Sherrod was forced to resign from her job at USDA. Wednesday, she was showered with apologies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM VILSACK, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: It should have been done with far more thought and it should have been done in far less haste. And all of those are my responsibility. And I accept that responsibility.
And I asked for Shirley's forgiveness. And she was gracious enough to extend it to me. And for that, I am thankful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Secretary Vilsack also offered Ms. Sherrod a new job at the USDA. Sherrod had a seven-minute phone call with President Obama.
It has been quite a week for her, from smears to mea culpas.
"Up Close" tonight, Randi Kaye breaks it down.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after 8:00 a.m. Monday morning, an edited clip of Shirley Sherrod's speech is posted on BigGovernment.com, a Web site run by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart. Below that first video link, a blog written by Breitbart begins, with no hint of irony, "Context is everything."
Indeed, it is.
SHERROD: He was trying to show me that he was superior to me --
KAYE: At 12:51 Monday afternoon, Breitbart tweets about the speech: "Federal appointee brags about discriminating against whites."
SHERROD: Racist acts that we had to endure.
KAYE: Suddenly, it's all over YouTube and Sherrod is cast as a racist.
(on camera): Sherrod says she first got wind of the controversy last Thursday, when a stranger e-mailed her, taunting her about her comments. She says she alerted the USDA and was told someone would look into it.
But then she says she never heard another word about it until Monday, when the USDA, she says, called her at least three times, pressuring her to resign, claiming the White House wanted her out.
So, at around 6:00 p.m. Monday, Sherrod pulls over to the side of the road and e-mails her resignation.
(voice-over): Conservative talkers, unaware she's resigned, sound the alarm. About 8:00 p.m. Monday, Fox News Channel airs the video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Wow. Well, that is simply unacceptable. And Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Late Monday, Secretary Tom Vilsack accepts Sherrod's resignation and issues a statement, saying -- quote -- "There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA."
The NAACP backs Vilsack and at midnight issues a press release blasting Sherrod, claiming it's appalled by her actions, this even though the speech was given at an NAACP event. No one at the organization had clearly bothered to learn more about what was said.
It wasn't until early the next morning we learned this portion of the tape was only a snippet of the full 43-minute speech.
Sherrod told CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: The stuff that Fox and the Tea Party does is scaring the administration. I told -- I told them, get the whole tape and look at the whole tape, and look at how I tell people we have to get beyond race and start working together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Tuesday afternoon, about 3:40 p.m., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defends his firing of Sherrod.
VILSACK: When I saw the statements and the context of the statements, it -- it -- I determined that it would make it difficult for her to do her job as a rural development director.
KAYE: Difficult? Vilsack acknowledges there was more to the speech, but said it didn't matter.
5:00 p.m. Tuesday, the NAACP does a 180. It releases a new statement after finally watching and posting the entire speech on its Web site.
This time, it says -- quote -- "We were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she, Sherrod, had harmed white farmers because of racial bias."
BENJAMIN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: What we didn't realize is, it had been spliced and diced six ways from Sunday so as to completely hide this beautiful story of transformation. KAYE: That evening on CNN, John King presses Breitbart about why he posted just a portion of the speech. Breitbart dodges the questions, never gives clear answers about anything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Did you reach out to her and say, what incident are you talking about? When did this happen?
ANDREW BREITBART, PUBLISHER, BREITBART.COM: This was not about Shirley Sherrod. This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party. And this is showing racism at an NAACP event. I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Around 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, with the full tape now public, the USDA decides to take a second look and review the case. Around 5:00 p.m., after days of ignoring their employee's explanations and relying on a snippet of videotape instead, the USDA apologizes and offers Sherrod a job.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New Orleans.
COOPER: Shirley Sherrod said she needed time to think over that job offer. The White House said that President Obama did not pressure her to take the job during their seven-minute conversation.
Here's what she told us about it.
COOPER: Ms. Sherrod, what did you and the President talk about in your conversation today? What did he say to you?
SHERROD: Well, he first wanted to assure me that he had been trying to -- he had attempted to reach me the night before, but of course my phone has been so full that he couldn't get through.
And he wanted to assure me that the secretary was serious about ridding the department of discrimination and truly sorry, the secretary, for what had happened.
He -- we talked some about the fact that he said some of the things I had been saying over the last few days, he sort of covered some of them in the book that he wrote. And he wanted to assure me that if I had issues I wanted to share with him in the future, he told me the person who texted me when they couldn't get me earlier by phone was one way to get that to him.
COOPER: Did the President himself say he was sorry, or was he saying that Secretary Vilsack was sorry?
SHERROD: The President didn't say the words, "I'm sorry." But I felt everything he said was saying to me that he was. I really didn't -- I didn't really want the secretary -- the President to say, "I'm sorry." He is the President of the -- of the United States of America and I really didn't feel I needed to hear him say he was sorry to me. I didn't -- I didn't have to have that.
COOPER: Now that you have talked to the President, I mean, do you still think somebody in the White House was behind your ouster?
SHERROD: Yes, I still think someone in the White House. He said he didn't know. They briefed him, he said, yesterday. I'm not sure whether he meant yesterday or Tuesday, but he said he did not know until he was briefed on it.
I can accept that. But I firmly believe that someone in the White House was telling them that the White House wanted me to resign. You know, I have known the person who was on the phone with me. I knew her before we -- she -- before I came to the agency. And I believe, if the decision had been hers, this never would have happened.
COOPER: Have you made any decisions about the job that Secretary Vilsack offered you yesterday?
SHERROD: No, I haven't. I really haven't been able to see that decision in writing yet. I haven't been able to get to my e-mail to actually look at it, if they have sent it.
COOPER: I want to ask you about the -- the man who first posted this edited clip of you, Andrew Breitbart.
He said today -- and I'm quoting him -- he said -- quote -- "If anybody reads the sainted, martyred Sherrod's entire speech, this person has not gotten past black versus white."
Do you think you've gotten past black versus white?
SHERROD: I know I've gotten past black versus white.
He's probably the person who has never gotten past it and never attempted to get past it. So, he can't see -- because he has never tried and because he hasn't, he can't see what I have done to get past it. And he's not interested in what I have done to get past it.
I don't think he's interested in seeing anyone get past it, because I think he would like to get us stuck back in the times of slavery. That's where I think he would like to see all black people end up again. And that's why --
COOPER: You think -- you think he's racist?
SHERROD: -- I think he's so vicious. Yes, I do.
And I think that's why he's so vicious against a black president, you know. He would go after me. I don't think it was even the NAACP he was totally after. I think he was after a black president.
COOPER: So, when he says this wasn't about you, that this was just about the NAACP and what he says is their racist -- or their bias, you say you don't buy that?
SHERROD: I don't buy it at all.
What has he done to -- to promote unity among the races? Tell me. Let me -- tell him to come forward and tell us what he has done. I haven't seen him do anything but try to divide us, you know. Where does he think this will take us? What -- what does he think this will accomplish?
I would like to hear him answer that.
COOPER: Are you --
SHERROD: And I would like him to show me how he's not a racist.
COOPER: Are you thinking of pursuing any kind of legal action against him?
SHERROD: I'm certainly not going to turn, you know, away from that if that's a possibility. I'm certainly going to look at it.
COOPER: Have you come to terms at all with what's happened? Or have you been able to step back from it and kind of look at this in perspective at all?
SHERROD: Not totally.
But you know, Anderson, I have been through tough times dating back many, many years. And I can't let even this knock me down. I know that there's lots more to be done. I'm a fighter. I am a fighter. And I will continue to fight.
COOPER: Shirley Sherrod, I appreciate you being on tonight. Thank you.
SHERROD: Thank you.
COOPER: Still ahead: the conservative blogger who posted the clip of Sherrod's speech, saying it proves the NAACP tolerates racism. He says it shows the audience applauding racist remarks. We'll play you the clip and let you decide if anyone is actually applauding.
Plus, you'll hear from five people who were in the audience, their take on what happened -- just ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVIA PEARSON, ATTENDED SHIRLEY SHERROD SPEECH: To say that, you know, we were cheering something on and then learned something else about it, that's totally untrue. I have known Shirley for 11 years, and I know that that's not her character.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The edited tape that cost Shirley Sherrod her job was lifted from a 43-minute long speech. It's fair to call it a snippet, the verbal equivalent of a snapshot. The conservative blogger, who posted the snippet, Andrew Breitbart, claims it proves the organization Sherrod was speaking to was racist.
He uses this portion of the clip as evidence, he says, the audience applauds racist language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERROD: But he had come to me for help.
What he didn't know is, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You can decide for yourself if you actually heard any applause there.
We decided to ask five of the people in the room that night: Olivia Pearson, Mary Coley, Hal Pressley, Reverend Rudolph Porter, and Yvonne Lott, about what they heard and saw.
COOPER: Hal, you're the president of the NAACP chapter that held this event.
And this guy Andrew Breitbart, initially -- it's interesting, because his explanation and his description has kind of changed over the last two days. Initially, he said that the audience was -- quote -- "laughing and applauding as she described how she had maltreated the white farmer."
Now, on ABC today, he claimed that -- that you were cheering -- or that the audience was cheering racism and -- and that you see some people nodding their heads and murmuring. But -- but was anyone cheering racism?
HAL PRESSLEY, ATTENDED SHIRLEY SHERROD'S SPEECH: No, not cheering racism.
Like I told you before, we were acknowledging that we understand what she is saying and where she's coming from. And I think that -- that gentleman, he is in sinking sand. I mean, whatever he tried to accomplish is unfolding on him. And it's not to his advantage, so, what do you expect him to do?
COOPER: You think he's now just covering his tracks?
REV. RUDOLPH PORTER, ATTENDED SHIRLEY SHERROD'S SPEECH: Also, Anderson, this banquet was honoring young people for academic excellence and excellence in various high school endeavors.
And she was inspiring young people, talking about man's humanities to man. And her theme was really, if I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain.
And she was challenging us to help somebody, using our time and our talents. And she made that appeal to the young people in this small rural town in Douglas, Georgia, that is known for tobacco, cotton, peanuts, chicken. And she was saying, you can use your talents and come back to your community and make it a better place.
COOPER: The other thing that Andrew Breitbart had said on Sean Hannity's program is that -- you know, that that people were kind of nodding in a sense, and kind of, you know, call and response, and responding to her speech as it went, but that, early on, people didn't know that it was a story of the way her attitudes have changed through her experiences.
How she -- because of what had happened to her dad, she started off thinking one way and how she came to another way of thinking.
And -- and what -- what this guy Breitbart is now saying is that, when the speech started you, in the audience, didn't know that she had changed in her way of thinking, and that you were agreeing with her when she was talking about, you know, sending a white couple to a white attorney, to somebody of -- quote, unquote -- "their own kind."
MARY COLEY, ATTENDED SHIRLEY SHERROD'S SPEECH: No, what I got out of that was that -- I had talked with her before about this same situation. And I knew what she was talking about. I knew that she was saying based on what happened at that time, it's what changed her.
YVONNE LOTT, ATTENDED SHIRLEY SHERROD'S SPEECH: In other words, I was sitting there thinking, as she was talking, that I'm almost what happened to me when I was 13 years old, because my father was killed the same way, and nothing was done about it. And she got beyond that.
I had learned to live with that, even though you know, you just -- as a child, you just think, my father is dead. Somebody else killed him. You don't know what to think as a child. But, as you got -- as I got older, I just learned to live with it.
PORTER: Anderson, I sat two seats away from her. And it was crystal-clear that she gave a chronology of what life was like in rural Georgia as a -- as a youth, and how she went to college and committed herself to coming back, trying to make her community a better place, and she encouraged us to do so.
So, it was crystal-clear with me that this lady was talking about, not for myself, but doing something to help others. So, when I heard Breitbart the other night on "Sean Hannity", I immediately got on the telephone and started calling my friends saying, what is this guy talking about? He must have been at an event some -- other than the event I attended.
He was completely out of context. And I think he had a hidden agenda that was detrimental. And Breitbart owes this lady an apology.
PEARSON: I have known Ms. Sherrod for, what, 11 years now, so I knew better than -- than what you're saying that he's trying to indicate, that -- the history about that. So -- so, that's -- that's totally untrue.
And in terms of saying that the NAACP was cheering on this kind of behavior, or attitudes or whatever, it's just totally absurd. You know, because the people who were there, first of all, they were not all NAACP members anyway. But to say that, you know, we were cheering something on and then learned something else about it, that's totally untrue.
I've known Shirley for 11 years, and I know that that's not her character.
COOPER: If were you doing a sermon about -- about this, what is the lesson here for all of us, in this incident, in the aftermath to it? What's the -- what's the takeaway?
PORTER: Let the work I've done speak for me, not for myself but for others. Help somebody.
PEARSON: I'd like to add, if I may, the message is still, is also, to let America know, to let all of us know that our work is not done. With this surfacing like this about it being a racial issue, all of the publicity that has come up about it, it lets us know that our work is not done. We still have a long way to go.
COOPER: Listen, I appreciate all of you joining together on this evening and talking about what you heard and experienced at this night. Mary Coley (ph), Hal Presley (ph), Elizabeth Pearson, Reverend Rudolph Porter and Yvonne Lott (ph), thank you very much.
PORTER: Thank you.
PEARSON: Thank you.
COOPER: Those at the Sherrod speech saying that Andrew Breitbart took the message out of context and has a hidden agenda.
Breitbart has a history of smear campaigns. We'll look at that next, and you'll hear from him. Will he apologize to Ms. Sherrod?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW BREITBART, BIGGOVERNMENT.COM (via telephone): What would warrant an apology?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm asking you.
BREITBART: Did I fire her? Did I ask for an investigation of her? The people who threw her under the bus, the people who didn't look at the video that I put up, and the post that I put up at BigGovernment.com offered the exculpatory part that they claim they were not aware of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Breitbart also says he's not to blame for this mess. Is that fair?
We'll talk it over with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson of RedState.com.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If you put this stuff out there and then you force -- you force others to comment on something that is totally ludicrous, he bears ultimate responsibility. He should apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: More from Anderson on the Shirley Sherrod controversy in a moment. First, a "360 News & Business Bulletin".
Again, Bonnie is now a tropical depression after hitting southern Florida. But the system could regain strength as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico. Rigs and vessels working on the BP oil disaster are being moved to safer locations. Warnings are posted from Louisiana to Florida's Gulf Coast, where the storm is expected to come ashore late Saturday.
Seventeen financial firms come under fire in a new federal report that shows they shelled out an estimated $1.6 billion in payments to their executives during the financial crisis a year and a half ago. The payouts came even as the companies were getting bailed out by American taxpayers.
Two hundred forty-one teachers in Washington, D.C., are being fired either for poor performance or licensing issues. More than 700 other employees are on notice; they could also lose their jobs for poor performance.
And a scary sight during a practice run at the Alberta International Air Show, a Canadian military jet crashes and bursts into flames. Amazingly, we're told the pilot ejected and is recovering, but the details on his condition are unknown. Those are the headlines. I'm Randi Kaye. More from Anderson in 90 seconds.
COOPER: This firestorm began, of course, with one person, and it's not Shirley Sherrod. It began with Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who posted the edited clip of Sherrod on his Web site.
He's refusing to back down from what he did and why he says he did it. As you'll see, it's not the first time he's been involved in something like this.
Here's Randi Kaye.
KAYE (voice-over): In 2009, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart made his first big splash. It was then he and a pair of conservative activists publicized a series of undercover stings against the federal housing group ACORN, a housing initiative that had publicly supported candidate Obama's campaign.
Breitbart posted videos of the stings on his Web site, BigGovernment.com. ACORN staffers were seen offering to set up a brothel for under-aged prostitutes. The videos went viral, and a conservative star was born.
STEVE ADUBATO, MEDIA ANALYST: We're talking about a guy who frankly has an agenda, who is not that concerned about context or facts.
KAYE (on camera): There were questions about the legality of the videos and whether they had been selectively edited to make ACORN look bad. Sound familiar? But it didn't matter. Breitbart got results. ACORN lost its federal funding and collapsed as a national organization.
(voice-over): Erick Boehlert, from the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America calls Breitbart a misinformation czar.
ERICK BOEHLERT, MEDIA MATTERS: A propagandist and a bit of a charlatan and as we've seen this week, sort of a character assassin. I mean, he likes to pretend he's doing journalism, but there's nothing he's doing that's remotely close to journalism. He knowingly publishes false information, never posts corrections, doesn't retract. It's really -- he's really a one-man wrecking ball.
KAYE: We called Breitbart to get his take.
Do you consider yourself a propagandist? And do you have an agenda?
BREITBART (via phone): Somebody has to stand up to this type of bullyism that happens in the press. The journalism is corrupt, and I'm out there, to the best of my abilities and with my conscience, trying to right the wrongs.
KAYE (voice-over): But the ACORN and Shirley Sherrod incidents aren't the only times Breitbart's pumped out misleading information.
In 2009, he posted videotape of community organizers praying, he said to then President-elect Obama. He later conceded, after posting more of the tape, they might be praying to God.
(on camera): Breitbart has built up a small empire of Web sites: Breitbart.com, Big Government, Big Journalism, Big Hollywood and so on. Hits against the left translate directly to hits online. According to Breitbart.com, he serves up more than 20 million news page views each month to about 3 million unique visitors.
ADUBATO: We're talking about someone who understands our addiction to powerful videos, salacious video, audio taken out of context that says something dramatic. We take it; we use it. He loves it; he gets more attention. He understand what's our hot buttons are.
KAYE (voice-over): That makes Breitbart a star in the conservative conference circuit. In the last year, he's spoken at, at least six Tea Party rallies and two big mainstream conservative conferences.
BREITBART: I love confrontation, by the way. And by the way -- by the way, by the way, you should, too, because it's the only way we're going to win.
KAYE: Seems the more controversial he gets, the faster his profile and profits grow. He got a half-million-dollar advance for his upcoming book and says his Web sites are fully funded by advertisers.
He admits the reaction to how he handled the Shirley Sherrod tape has been mixed, but don't expect a mea culpa from him.
(on camera): Do you plan to apologize to Mrs. Sherrod or no?
BREITBART: What would warrant an apology?
KAYE: I'm asking you.
BREITBART: Did I fire her? Did I ask for an investigation of her? I'm not the one that threw her under the bus. It was the Obama administration and the NAACP which was in possession, according to itself, of the full video.
COOPER: So who's to blame; the Obama administration or Andrew Breitbart? Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson of RedState.com weigh in next.
Also ahead, allegations the Obama White House has a double standard on race and who it prosecutes. Why the New Black Panther Party is at the center of those allegations, when we continue.
COOPER: Andrew Breitbart doesn't see a need to apologize to Shirley Sherrod. He apparently doesn't see any connection between what he did, posting that misleading video of her, and what it cost her, her job and potentially her name. While many are condemning what he did, others are supporting him.
CNN contributors Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief at RedState.com and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile see it very differently. Here's my conversation with them.
COOPER: Erick, Andrew Breitbart posted this misleading excerpt of the video of Shirley Sherrod, taking it completely out of context and at the same time, saying that context matters. But you're backing him up and say you're glad he's on your side and say that he doesn't bear a significant amount of blame for all this. How can that be?
ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: Well, you know, I definitely think Andrew took Shirley Sherrod out of context and definitely think she was portrayed as someone she wasn't.
But at the same time, before the tape was even released, it was the Obama administration that was forcing Shirley Sherrod to resign without even having seen the tape. I think, more than anything, this shows -- goes to show how blogs are driving the conversation now.
COOPER: But I mean should blogs be driving the conversation? I mean if some guy, Andrew Breitbart, can put up just some videotape that's completely misleading and say it's one thing when it's really something else, doesn't that condemn and isn't that pretty damning of him?
ERICKSON: No. I don't necessarily think so. You know, what's interesting is there were a lot of people on the right who listened to that transcript or listened to what she said and agreed with Andrew Breitbart. I don't. Maybe it's because I live in the South. I'm on a city council in the South and deal with these issues all the time. That's how we talk about these issues in the South.
I don't think Shirley Sherrod is a racist based on those comments. I applaud what she was -- the point she was getting to, but a lot of people disagree with me on this.
I'm not willing to condemn Andrew Breitbart for it. I do think this overshadows his larger point, that race is used as a weapon in this country, a lot of times unfairly.
COOPER: Donna, what do you make of Erick's argument that basically this is about the Obama administration? He seems to be saying that they share more blame in this than Andrew Breitbart.
BRAZILE: That's ludicrous, and let me tell you why, Anderson. When Mr. Breitbart decided to put this video on his Internet and then promote it as a piece of evidence that, somehow or another, an Obama administration was discriminating against a white person, he began to inflame the situation by pushing it out there, without checking the facts, without checking the context, but just basically putting it out there without making sure that it was accurate.
Now we know, because he's taken some of the stuff down, that it was not just misleading and inaccurate. It was -- it was doctored. So I think he bears full responsibility for this saga.
Now, look I do believe that everyone, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of crow, Anderson, on everybody's plate; enough to keep the high and mighty in Washington, D.C., talking about birds until we get into turkey season.
But the fact is, is that Mr. Breitbart should be discredited as a reliable journalist or whatever he is, because if you put this stuff out there, and then you force -- you force others to comment on something that is totally ludicrous, he bears ultimate responsibility.
He should apologize, not just to Ms. Sherrod, but he should also apologize to the Spooners, who he said the other day after seeing them on TV that they were impostors.
COOPER: Erick, you wrote on your blog that both sides of the political aisle are engaged in a tit-for-tat war of retribution, and I quote, "That war has casualties on both sides. Ms. Sherrod is the latest. It's not fair, but that's how the left plays, and the right must fight on the offense and not -- or not fight at all."
I mean, I don't -- I don't get -- as somebody who is not particularly partisan on the left or the right, I try not to view things through the lens of being liberal or being conservative.
I don't get -- it just seems like, whether you're a conservative or whether you're a liberal and you have a blog, it doesn't seem like the truth really matters. It's just, you say whatever you want to say, whether you're on the left or the right, to prove your point, and if you're wrong, no one ever says they're wrong. No one ever seems to apologize.
ERICKSON: You're right. You know, that's -- the right is now having to deal with this conversation, and that's another conversation that needs to be had. I think the right needs to fight back, because I believe this happens routinely from left to right more often than right to left.
But at the same time, I don't think the right needs to adopt the tactics we condemn on the other side. I think that's wrong. You -- you become the people you attack when you use their tactics over time. I just -- the whole situation I find distasteful, but I'm not going to condemn Andrew Breitbart for it.
BRAZILE: Well, I'm going to ask him to step up.
(CROSS TALKING) COOPER: It seems like you're -- it seems like you're not going to -- but it seems you're saying you're not going to condemn him, because he's on your side, and that doesn't serve your overall purpose? I mean, if somebody's wrong, I'm not saying condemn, but if he's wrong, shouldn't he apologize?
ERICKSON: Yes. I said Andrew Breitbart was wrong. It may be -- if he thinks he's wrong he'll apologize, but he doesn't think he's wrong and I'm not the guy to convince Andrew Breitbart of that. I definitely think Shirley Sherrod was mischaracterized in the video.
COOPER: Donna, at the same time, let me just argue the flipside of this. This is also an opportunity that some on the left now are using to hammer conservatives and to hammer their enemies, to hammer Andrew Breitbart. It seems like both sides played this game, and I think a lot of people in America are just kind of sick of the game.
BRAZILE: Of course, Anderson. That's why they distrust politicians and members of Congress and others are as popular as root canal. They're sick of it.
But at the same time, this is when you need leaders. Where are the leaders on the right? Where are the leaders on the left that can find common ground? I'm just looking for someone on the right who's willing to go out there and walk the plank with me and say, we can find common ground on some of these issues.
It's not always black and white. There's a lot of gray in between.
COOPER: All right. Donna Brazile, Erick Erickson, appreciate your time. Thanks.
BRAZILE: Thank you, and thank you, Erick.
ERICKSON: Thank you.
COOPER: Next on the program, before the Sherrod incident, there was the investigation into racial bias at the Justice Department. It centers on a case involving the New Black Panther Party. It's still going on. What happened in that case? The story coming up.
COOPER: Welcome back.
The Shirley Sherrod incident is just the latest controversy about race and race relations for the Obama administration. A number of conservative bloggers are pointing to the Justice Department and charges of voter intimidation against the New Black Panther Party.
Here's Joe Johns with tonight's "Raw Politics".
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it might be a little intimidating that you have a stick in your hand.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Election day Philadelphia 2008. Two members of the radical black nationalist group, the New Black Panthers, stand in front of a Philadelphia polling station. One of them holds a billy club. The Bush administration files a voter intimidation suit against the group.
But in 2009, the Obama administration narrows the scope of the case, asking for and getting a court order only against the guy with the club. The Justice Department said it didn't have enough evidence against the group as a whole. In a statement to CNN, the New Black Panther Party denied voter intimidation and said it did not condone the acts of the member with the night stick.
That may be hard to believe for some people, given the threatening behavior, as captured in this January 2009 "National Geographic" documentary on the New Black Panthers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to have to kill some crackers. You're going to have to kill some of their babies.
JOHNS: Asked about that incident, the New Black Panther Party told CNN this man did not speak for the party or reflect its policies.
The right-wing media has pounced on the story, suggesting Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama let the New Black Panthers off the hook.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Well, maybe it was a little favor for all of the support of the New Panthers -- the New Black Panthers that they gave Barack Obama during the election.
JOHNS (on camera): All of it has led the Civil Rights Commission to launch an investigation into the Obama administration's handling of the case.
As part of that investigation, a former Justice Department attorney has testified that the Obama administration has a double standard on race, a policy of not prosecuting possible civil rights violations by black people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Julie Fernandez, the deputy assistant attorney general under the Obama administration, said that the voting section will never or will not, at least while she's there, bring any more cases against blacks or other national minorities. Is that essentially what you heard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is. It is what I heard.
JOHNS (voice-over): Past administrations have been accused of ignoring civil rights violations by whites against minorities. This time, the accusation is reversed.
A conservative member of that Civil Rights Commission, Bush appointee Abigail Thernstrom, dismisses the New Black Panthers as not worth taking seriously but says she'd like to hear more about whether the Obama administration, particularly the Justice Department, is meting out unequal justice.
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM, VICE CHAIR, U.S. CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION: Now the question on the table, it's morphed into a much larger question, which is are there racial double standards in the way that civil rights legislation is being enforced in the Justice Department? Well, that's a good question.
JOHNS: When asked if Julie Fernandez made such a statement, a Justice Department official said, quote, "The department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party. We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation."
While many whites and blacks think the administration has a good handle on racial issues, Mr. Obama's critics disagree.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Obviously, the accusations of racial bias are not going away any time soon. We'll continue to track the Justice Department investigation as it unfolds.
That's for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching.
I'll see you Monday. Have a great weekend.