Obama says USDA "jumped the gun" on Sherrod ouster

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack rushed to judgment when he dismissed a former government official over racism allegations, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview on Thursday.

“He jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles,” Obama said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that will be broadcast on Friday.

Obama called former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod on Thursday and expressed his regret about the events that led to her resignation this week.

Sherrod, who is black, has said her bosses pushed her to quit after conservative media repeatedly broadcast a tape that seemed to show her saying she had discriminated against a white farmer because of his race.

It was later found the tape had been edited to misrepresent Sherrod’s remarks at a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People civil rights group. She had in fact said race should not matter.

In his interview, Obama said he had instructed his administration to learn from the circumstances surrounding Sherrod’s ouster.

“I’ve told my team and I told my agencies that we have to make sure that we’re focusing on doing the right thing instead of what looks to be politically necessary at that very moment,” Obama said.

“We have to take our time and, and think these issues through.”

The U.S. leader spoke to Sherrod for seven minutes, the White House said in a statement.

“The president told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so,” it said.

On Wednesday, Vilsack publicly apologized and the department offered Sherrod another job.

The White House said Obama had emphasized that Vilsack was sincere in his apology and his efforts to rid the Agriculture Department of discrimination.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Paul Simao