WASHINGTON – An embarrassed White House apologized on Wednesday to a black Agriculture Department employee who was ousted for her remarks about race, saying the administration did not know all the facts when she was fired.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the dismissal of Shirley Sherrod an injustice and a mistake and said he was apologizing for the “entire administration.” He said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was trying to reach her to extend an apology.
“I accept the apology,” Sherrod said on CNN after watching Gibbs talk to reporters at a televised briefing. But she said the apology took too long and she wasn’t sure if she wanted her job back.
“I just don’t know at this point, I don’t know,” she said, adding that she would be surprised if Vilsack offered her the job.
Gibbs said Obama had been briefed as the situation developed.
“He talked about the fact that a disservice had been done, an injustice had happened and, because the facts had changed, a review of the decision based on those facts should be taken,” Gibbs said.
Sherrod has said she submitted her resignation under pressure from the White House. The Agriculture Department says it was Vilsack’s decision alone.
Sherrod was asked by department officials to resign on Monday after conservative bloggers posted a video of her saying she didn’t initially give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago, when she was working for a farmers’ aid group. Sherrod says she used the story in her speech to the NAACP to promote racial reconciliation and that the edited video distorted her remarks.
After a video of her full speech was posted online by the NAACP, the White House called the Agriculture Department about the case Tuesday night and it was agreed that her ouster should be reviewed.
Gibbs said people in the administration and outside of it acted without all the facts.