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...and I don't pretend to be Emile Zola.

But sitting on vacation, paying half-attention to the unfolding story of Shirley Sherrod, it slowly dawned on me that this saga of deep and soul-less deceit on the part of the Right Wing Media bore more than passing resemblance to the persecution of the innocent French Army Captain in 1894. The false conviction of Alfred Dreyfus so rent asunder that nation that some French historians believe it set in motions the events that led to France's political futility in the face of the German onslaught in the late 1930's and especially 1940.

So guess who started paying full attention, and is not on vacation tonight, for about twelve minutes, around 8:48 Eastern Daylight Time? Ordinarily I like to excerpt some parts of these Special Comments here but a) I'm pressed for commuting time, and b) the final script has yet to be vetted and I don't want to print anything that might not get read verbatim on the air. You know, living up to the ideal journalistic standards of Andrew Breitbart.

Seriously, consider the structural similarities between the Dreyfus and Sherrod cases. Each had fabricated evidence, and each had exculpatory evidence that was literally erased, and not introduced until after the victim had been found guilty. In both the France of 1894 and the America of 2010, none of the safeguards against injustice did a damn thing: those few who asked any questions, in government or in media, were ridiculed (in the Dreyfus case, prosecuted), while as the injustice unfolded, both governments sat back and pretended that the crazy racist elements demanding heads on pikes weren't crazy racist elements, and that their governments represented all the people, and that they were showing good decisive governmental action, especially in the current "atmosphere."

More importantly, it strikes me that the Dreyfus and Sherrod cases didn't just represent racial and ethnic hatreds, but were also both used to justify those hatreds. The anti-semites could look at Dreyfus and not only justify their mindless hatred for supposed "cause," but could also tell themselves that they weren't hating anybody, they were just being patriotic. Similarly, racists like Breitbart and the entire Fox menagerie could point to Shirley Sherrod (edited, lied-about, words twisted inside-out version) and say they were not being racist, it was she who was such, and needed to be exposed, and that they were in fact defending society from racists.

It's an intricate series of interlocking rationalizations, but it's a powerful construction. In 1894, it so poisoned a society that it took only 82 days between the arrest of Alfred Dreyfus and his banishment to Devil's Island. We, of course, have speeded up the process. Ask Ms. Sherrod.

This is not the whole of my case tonight, just the beginning, and the rest is all of the current moment, not of 1894. Forgive me if this diary is a little scattered as I dash off to the studio.

Originally posted to Keith Olbermann on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 04:29 PM PDT.

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