"Just the facts, Ma'am." How many times did Joe Friday from "Dragnet" make that simple request?
And why didn't ANYONE act like Sgt. Friday and get the facts, before forcing Shirley Sherrod to resign her post with the Agriculture Department?
Here's a fact ... this past Monday conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart slimed Shirley Sherrod by publishing a little more than 2 minutes of a 43-minute speech she made at an NAACP banquet last March, saying it was proof that she AND the NAACP were racist.
That clip, we now know, completely misrepresented her and her story.
But it spread like a cyber-virus.
In a matter of hours, Shirley Sherrod was attacked by politicians, denounced by pundits, criticized by that same NAACP, and told to resign her post, immediately - to literally pull over to the side of the road and submit her resignation on her Blackberry.
I guess she should be grateful they didn't send a patrol car to arrest her for texting while driving.
What's so sad about all this is the story Shirley Sherrod tells, the story that was left on the cutting room floor, is SO compelling - including her father's murder, by a white man, when she was a teenager, and her decision to stay in the South, confront her own misconceptions about race and class, and work for change.
'I've come a long way," she told her audience in the unedited video of the speech: "As my mother has said to so many, 'If we had tried to live with hate in our hearts we'd probably be dead now.' But I've come to realize that we have to work together, because we have to overcome the divisions that we have."
So now what? What do we take from this past week's tempest in a Tea Party?
One is that people can change. The late Robert Byrd is proof of that. In 1958, when he was first elected U.S. Senator from West Virginia, he supported the Ku Klux Klan. But he changed.
In 2005 he said, "I know I was wrong. Intolerance has no place in America."
When Senator Byrd died earlier this summer, President Obama said this about him: "Like our nation itself, Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality, and that is a capacity to change, a capacity to learn, a capacity to listen, a capacity to be made more perfect."
Shirley Sherrod possesses that capacity.
Don't we all?
Race exists, but racism doesn't have to.
Maybe we can all decide to listen more, talk less, and just "get the facts."