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On that E-mail...

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What was the "right list"? That's the question that occurs to us regarding the initial response of Tennessee legislative staffer Sherri Goforth to a blogger's identification of her as the source of the "Historical Keepsake Photo" which went into state-government e-mail boxes last week. The picture, a facsimile of any number of shlocky commemorative photos familiar to us all, showed all the American presidents to date in 44 panels. All but one, Barack Obama, who was represented in the 44th panel by a pair of white goo-goo eyes against a black field.

Once she was pinpointed as the person who sent the e-mail containing the offending photo, Goforth, an aide to state senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin), made an apology of sorts, explaining that she had inadvertently sent the picture to "the wrong list of people." The idea was that the government employees and officials who actually got the e-mail were accidental recipients, and they certainly were "wrong" in the sense that one of them at least was alarmed enough to tip off the West Tennessee blogger Newscoma. Newscoma's post on the matter led to outrage which led in turn to sleuthing by other bloggers and finally to Goforth's outing.

So what did Senator Black do about it all? Well, she, too, apologized — sort of, telling CNN, "I want to be sure that everyone understands that the communication was sent without my knowledge, and it absolutely does not represent the beliefs or opinions of my office." Going further, Black identified Goforth's transgression as being the "violation of an e-mail policy by the state." Oh. Well, we wondered what could be the problem with the thing, and that surely explains it. Black made the further assurance that, to her certain knowledge, Goforth, a veteran employee with a "stellar record," was, to the senator's certain knowledge, kind to "people with black skin." Finally, she said she had placed a "strongly worded reprimand" in Goforth's employee file.

The whole affair is so disgusting that it's an effort for us even to sustain an air of irony about it. The e-mail was improper if sent to us. It was improper if sent to you or to anyone else. And, yes, to send it out to people in government via a state e-mail account made the offense all the more egregious.

Should Goforth have been fired? Not necessarily (although a Democratic legislator's staffer was discharged shortly afterward for his own e-mail, containing some ethnic mockeries that were much less serious). We incline to the opinion of state representative John DeBerry (D-Memphis), chairman of the legislature's Black Caucus, who said that scapegoating Goforth (or anyone else) would not resolve the problem and that a "culture change" was more in order. How to bring this about, of course, is a monumental problem in itself.

One promising sign: Very few of the people we know — with skin of any color — were amused by the "Historical Keepsake Photo." And that's a start.

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