On Friday, Shirley Sherrod filed a libel and slander suit against Andrew Breitbart in D.C. Superior Court for his release of an edited video of her which resulted in her forced resignation from the USDA last summer. As I said last week in a column about why it's so hard to sue the media, the odds are stacked against victims. Sherrod will have to prove that Breitbart knowingly promulgated false information or recklessly disregarded the truth -- a feat that's so hard to do most libel cases get thrown out.
Last summer, when Sherrod mentioned she would consider a suit, John W. Dean of Findlaw's Writ blog spelled out why the suit would be so miserable:
What Breitbart will do if Sherrod files a lawsuit against him is to quickly create a legal defense fund, with the support and financing of like-thinking conservatives, and he will hire as nasty an attorney as is available ... Soon, he will be using the legal process to harass Sherrod by digging into every inch of her life, and perhaps even countersuing Sherrod for claims as to which she has no knowledge. It will be ugly, and she must plan on several years of intense unpleasantness.
Certainly, the case is already nasty. Breitbart has a statement on his website accusing Sherrod of ulterior motives. The statement claimed that Sherrod sued because of Breitbart's crusade against alleged fraud a case called Pigford v. Glickman -- a lawsuit that requires the USDA to pay African American farmers who were denied loans and assistance in the 1980s and 1990s due to racial prejudice. Breitbart is obsessed with the case and has immediately accused Sherrod of suing him because of his revealing work on what he calls the "Pigford fraud." Curiously enough, the gist of both the smear campaign against Sherrod and the hype over the Pigford case are basically the same: they are part of Breitbart's curious crusade against black farmers and the general paranoia that black people are out to defraud the government, with an implied cost to everyone else.
No one knows whether Sherrod will win her case, but it has enough merit to make it to the "discovery" phase of a trial in which each side has to turn over evidence. Even if she ends up losing, the information revealed -- emails, testimony, and other documents -- has the potential to be supremely damaging to Breitbart and anyone else involved. And it will be damaging because it's true.