The players in this latest example of not adapting to the world we live in are Shirley Sherrod, Andrew Breitbart, and the White House. Sound bytes and video bytes are a fact of life in this world of digital “new media,” and those reporting the news and running the country need to step back and try to understand the pros and cons of what digital media means. Many years ago, a corporate marketing executive told me, “Believe everything you hear, but trust no one.” Perhaps this is good advice in the digital world. Sherrod’s speech is below:

Out of context, it would be easy to draw numerous conclusions regarding Sherrod’s motives. In context, Sherrod is trying to tell a story that has a happy ending, but some of her remarks set her up for the  kind of treatment she received by those with an agenda. Still, the context of the story is critical, and it is that narrative that becomes corrupt when clips and bytes are extracted from the actual storyline. The press and political candidates have done this for years in interviews, extracting sound bytes that might serve a specific purpose when viewed or heard out of context. But today, when you hear the actual testimony of the speaker, rather than reading it, the words come to life in a way that text cannot match. Sherrod did say she did not give the white farmer the full measure of her jurisdiction because she thought about all the blacks who had suffered on farms, but the rest of the narrative is about what she learned from the visceral response she felt when approached by the white farmer.

Our political leadership has to reinvent the manner in which they interpret the media, and never take anything they hear or see in the media at face value. Otherwise, politics will be transformed into a series of divisive witch hunts rather than a mission to achieve some kind of political consensus.