President Obama committed an act of manhood the other day. Like the mature, self-assured adult that he is, the President swiftly admitted that his administration had made a mistake, directly apologizing to the victim of that mistake and attempting to make it up to her.
The most important thing to remember about the Shirley Sherrod incident, however, is that it was not some rare, isolated happening, but rather represents right-wing standard operating procedure: take someone’s words out of context, twist them into a new meaning that will enrage the conservative base, turn an innocent if not praiseworthy person into a target for that rage, and aim to destroy his or her life as a sacrificial offering to the political gods.
As a matter of fact, the same thing is happening right before our eyes here in the great state of Virginia, where our Attorney General is using his office to tarnish the highly accomplished climate scientist Michael Mann, treating him as a common criminal – accused of “fraud” for testing and postulating climate change theories that the fossil fuel-dependent Republican party finds inconvenient. Far from being given an apology for his unjust vilification by climate deniers, Prof. Mann is instead being harassed by an alleged representative of the law itself.
As I detailed in a diary late last year, the whole so-called “Climategate” so-called “scandal” was predominantly a fabrication of the same kind used against Shirley Sherrod. Among the 1000 emails hacked from University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), the line most commonly cited by the likes of Limbaugh and Beck as proof of climate change being a massive conspiracy was Prof. Phil Jones’ comment: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick…to hide the decline.” This selectively quoted and edited line was used – successfully! – to increase public skepticism about climate change despite the fact that these words were pulled out of context to look sinister when they were the farthest thing from it.
The right wing noise machine made people believe that the scientists were trying to hide a decline in temperatures when in fact the email in question was referring to a decline in tree ring widths. The “trick” (a commonly used term in science) by Prof. Michael Mann was using actual temperature records in place of tree ring widths, which serve as a proxy for temperatures for previous eras but have proven unreliable in recent decades. The actual quote was: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps [my emphasis added] to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
In his latest brief to the court in Cooch’s legal vendetta against Mann and the University of Virginia, our Ayatollah General again uses this canard: “Notoriously, although Mann did not write it, he was a recipient of an email from Phil Jones of the CRU in which Jones wrote of Mike’s trick to hide the decline.”
Whereas Shirley Sherrod’s innocence of the charges thrown against her is undeniable once you view her whole speech in context, climate science is unfortunately a tougher nut to crack for those without PhDs in the subject. Hence conservatives, well funded by the energy industry, have gotten away longer with the distortions and, yes, tricks that make up the phony field of climate denial.
I will close by pushing those liberals who claim to see little difference between Republicans and Democrats to compare Obama’s treatment of Sherrod with Cuccinelli’s treatment of Mann. Yes, Obama’s administration made the early mistake of swallowing the right wing lies about this woman, but he made up for it quickly. Will Cooch, by contrast, ever give up his Captain Ahab-type quest against Michael Mann, or – heaven forbid – apologize to the man for all he and other right wing extremists have done to try to ruin his life and reputation?
Don’t count on it.