John Stossel -- who believes that private businesses should have the right to engage in racial discrimination -- devoted another segment of his Fox Business show to attacking the Pigford lawsuit that provided recompense to black farmers who were victims of systemic discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Stossel set the segment up as a debate between Al Pires, a lawyer who represented the black farmers, and serial liar Andrew Breitbart, who has attacked Pigford as part of his eight-month smear campaign against former USDA official Shirley Sherrod, who first came to prominence after Breitbart posted a deceptively-edited video of a speech she gave that falsely portrayed her as a racist.
Stossel and Breitbart didn't make any new claims about Pigford. Rather, they rehashed the same tired distortions that we've previously debunked -- that the case is a "scam" and the claimants don't deserve their money.
But the segment was notable for Stossel's refusal to acknowledge that there was real, systematic discrimination against black people by the USDA. Recall that back when Stossel argued that "private businesses ought to get to discriminate" on the basis of race and called for the repeal of part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he at least acknowledged that the government should not discriminate.
In this case, there is clear evidence that the government discriminated against black farmers. As the Congressional Research Service found, a report commissioned by USDA revealed that "from 1990 to 1995, ... minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans." Furthermore, the federal judge overseeing the Pigford case also found that there was systemic discrimination against black farmers.
But just like the last time he did a segment on Pigford, Stossel refused to acknowledge that discrimination had occurred, preferring instead to attack the people claiming discrimination and their attorneys.
Or better yet, there's this question: Why has basically all of the conservative media, including print, online, radio, and television, ignored the Pigford story that Andrew Breitbart's websites have been promoting for going on one year now?
I'm hard-pressed to think of another instance in which a media entity like Breitbart's has invested so much time and energy promoting a single story (his sites have posted more than 100 Pigford-related items in the last year), yet only to see the story receive virtually no pick-up. Anywhere. That's what we've seen with the supposed controversy surrounding the the government's Pigford settlement with black farmers.
I've asked before why Fox News has ignored the story, but I ask it again, because one of the Breitbart bloggers at the center of the Pigford investigation now claims the reason the story has been completely ignored is because there isn't a conservative equivalent to MoveOn.org or Talking Points Memo. In other words, it was a structural problem within the right-wing community that kept the Pigford story from getting out.
From Lee Stranahan:
Here's a quick example of why this matters . The absence of a "nonliberal MoveOn.org" came up as a practical issue with me while working on the Pigford "black farmers' story. While working on my documentary, I shot interviews with farmers who met with Georgia Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop and told him about corruption in the Pigford settlement, only to have him respond that they should keep quiet about the corruption because if Pigford were investigated "they'll shut this thing down." Bishop has admitted to this conversation on the record and said that is not his job to monitor corruption.
If we had this sort of solid evidence of a Republican congressman knowingly allowing fraud to continue and it had broken in someplace like Talking Points Memo, it would quickly turned into an action item by group like MoveOn then made national headlines and that politician likely would've been run out of town on a rail.
As it was we broke this information and released videos. We are able to get some press in Georgia and to get any number of people who read the story on the right to grumble about what a crook Sanford Bishop was – but with no real organizational machinery to get the story out and most importantly to get people to take action, the significant story withered on the vine.
I think there's a simpler explanation as to why Pigford has been uniformly ignored by media outlets on the left, right and the center: The story's not compelling and Breitbart's reporting isn't trusted.
UPDATED: According to a Nexis search of Fox News transcripts over the last twelve months, here's the total number of times Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have mentioned "Pigford" on the air: 0.
This morning, we laid out how the conspiracy theory Andrew Breitbart has laid out with regard to the settlement of the Pigford black farmer discrimination appears to require the complicity of the Senate Republican caucus, the Bush administration, and Hillary Clinton, among others. Over the next few days, we will dissect the faulty logic and lack of basic research Breitbart employs in putting his conspiracy together.
This post examines Breitbart's theory that after his misleading video catapulted Shirley Sherrod's name into the headlines, Senate Democrats pulled funding for the Pigford II settlement from a supplemental appropriations bill because they were worried that because Sherrod was a prominent Pigford claimant, her story would draw attention to the lawsuit and lead to the exposure of the Pigford "fraud."
This theory makes no sense, for a variety of reasons. The Pigford funding was removed after Republicans voted en masse against passing a bill with that funding; it was removed not alone but as part of a package of $22 billion that the House had added to a previous version of the bill; Senate Democrats publicly slammed Republicans for voting against that funding; and Senate Democrats vowed to attach the funding to other bills.
Andrew Breitbart claims that working for Media Matters for America means that we "by default disagree with everything" he says. This isn't necessarily true, but it's clear to us that no matter where you work, you should take everything Breitbart says with an entire lick of salt; he tweaks, twists and flat-out tramples the truth too often to maintain a semblance of reliability.
In an interview at the Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC), Breitbart told Media Matters for America's Joe Strupp that MSNBC blamed him (Breitbart) for Congress' failure to appropriate settlement funds for black farmers because Breitbart published his phony Shirley Sherrod scandal that same week. He said:
BREITBART: MSNBC twice that week blamed me for the black farmers not getting their settlement because it was supposed to be passed that week. They thought I was setting up a trap...MSNBC blamed me for that.
Breitbart was repeating a claim he published in a BigGovernment.com blog post on December 6, 2010:
Nation editor Chris Hayes was filling in for Rachel Maddow and reported that I was responsible for black farmers not getting their settlement money.
"Conservative con artist, 1; black farmers, 0," liberal Journolist Hayes said snarkily.
Breitbart's characterization is simply false. As the video Breitbart linked to makes clear, Hayes actually said the exact opposite:
HAYES: It doesn't appear that last week's fake [Sherrod] scandal was what caused the Senate to strip restitution for victims of actual, real-life, documented discrimination from the appropriations bill.
Breitbart's truth-twisting was accentuated by a repeated misquote, In his blog post above, he quotes Hayes saying "Conservative con artist, 1; black farmers, 0."
In fact, Hayes said in that segment: "It's just that as the dust clears from last week's collective frenzy, take a look at the score: conservative con artists, 1, victims of real-world racial discrimination, 0."
He repeats the imprecision later in his interview with Media Matters (and removes the "con artist" language while he's at it), saying: "MSNBC thought it was a compelling argument last week when they accused me in a segment that said 'conservative activist, 1; black farmers, 0.'"
But Hayes wasn't, as Breitbart alleges, claiming that Breitbart had defeated the black farmers and kept them from receiving Pigford funds. He was comparing two different stories -- the failure to pass Pigford funds and Breitbart's invitation to appear at a Republican National Committee event -- to point out that despite Breitbart's Sherrod smear, he was still being rewarded at the same time victims of discrimination were being punished.
The fact that Breitbart misquotes Hayes about whether he used the phrase "black farmers" or "victims of real-world racial discrimination" isn't a big deal in itself, but it's part of a larger pattern of lazy mistakes and general disregard for accuracy.
This disregard for the truth (and an accompanying persecution complex) couldn't be more apparent in his complete mischaracterization of MSNBC's reporting. When these little mistakes pepper so much of Breitbart's work, it makes you wonder what other corners he's cut.
We've documented that Andrew Breitbart's admitted months-long obsession with the settlement of the Pigford black farmer discrimination is intimately wrapped up with his quest for vindication over his smear of Shirley Sherrod.
In that quest for vindication Breitbart has dreamed up an intricate conspiracy theory that involves Sherrod, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former Vice President Al Gore, Paul Friedman (the federal judge overseeing the Pigford case), and the plaintiffs' lawyers who filed the Pigford case. The apparent goal of the conspiracy, in Breitbart's mind, was to give reparations to African Americans, give Sherrod $13.3 million, "screw over" all "real" African American farmers other than Sherrod, and ultimately elect Obama as president.
In a nutshell, Breitbart says that the Pigford settlement is not about helping black farmers who were the subject of discrimination, but was about giving reparations. It was a vehicle for Democrats to win black votes in 2000 and beyond: Obama agreed to support legislation helping Pigford claimants because all of a sudden he needed to get a leg up in his successful run for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
In Breitbart's world, Sherrod, who has been awarded more money than any other Pigford claimant to date, was fired from her job because the deceptively-edited video Breitbart posted that falsely portrayed Sherrod as racist threatened to shine a spotlight on Sherrod and therefore on the Pigford fraud supported by Obama.
Even at first glance, not much about Breitbart's theory makes sense. For instance, Obama first co-sponsored a Pigford bill in February 2007, well before any primaries had taken place. Furthermore, why would firing Sherrod make it less likely that the media would focus on her?
In addition, in order for his theory that Pigford was about reparations and getting Obama elected to work, others would also have to be involved, or else be dupes. Other conspirators include Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, President Bush's Agriculture Department, President Bush's Department of Justice, and the following Republicans in Congress: Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), the rest of the Republican caucus in the Senate in 2010, and Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and James Sensenbrenner (WI). Others who may be involved include the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office.
That's one crazy conspiracy.
In a BigJournalism.com post, Lee Stranahan -- the Huffington Post blogger who has been working with Andrew Breitbart on his Pigford story -- calls National Black Farmers Association founder John Boyd the "Fraud of the Week" and accuses ABC News of "media bias." Stranahan's primary rationale is that a 2003 story the network ran on Boyd didn't mention Pigford, the class action lawsuit for black farmers who alleged discrimination by the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately for Stranahan, the segment does discuss Pigford.
To be honest, I'm genuinely curious as to how something like this could have happened and am really looking forward to what I'm sure will be Stranahan's prompt correction and explanation.
Stranahan writes of the November 21, 2003, "Person of the Week" segment:
Perhaps you've heard of Pigford v. Glickman, aka the black famer's lawsuit. You've heard of it because Andrew Breitbart, Gary Hewson, Peter Schweitzer and others have been writing about it on the Bigs for months. But - did you hear ANY mention of Pigford in that Person of the Week story? Did the name Pigford even come up once?
This story was broadcast in 2003, according to the ABC News Site. Pigford was settled in 1999.
Wait a second; if Pigford was settled, why is ABC doing a story that makes it look as though Pigford never even happened?
I have to admit, when I read this I was a little disturbed. Yes, ABC's "Person of the Week" segment is meant to be soft news ("as soft as it gets," according to a 1997 New York Times article), not a detailed, in-depth report, but still, a report on a farmer claiming systematic racial discrimination by the government really needs to mention Pigford.
Then I realized that I had neglected to take the advice Stranahan gives at the top of his piece: "please watch the video first and don't skip ahead." And so I did. You can too. Make sure to pay special attention at around the 1:06 mark:
BOYD: The last name Boyd was a, was our slave name, given to us by the Boyd family, which was Miss Ethel and William Boyd is--was their names. I feel as though we earned the right to live in this country, we earned the right to farm in this country, and we earned the right to participate in these Federal programs.
PETER JENNINGS: In 1999, the Department of Agriculture pretty much agreed when it settled the largest class action civil rights suit in the nation's history. The department found that black farmers had to wait three times longer for loans and subsidies than whites. And black farmers were losing their land because they could not get the help.
BOYD: There's thousands of black farmers across the country who are still out here waiting diligently and in good faith that the government is going to send their check.
JENNINGS: But thousands of those farmers are not getting the help they expected from the settlement, and John Boyd aims to fix that if he can.
That "largest class action civil rights suit in the nation's history"? Jennings is talking about Pigford. It sure doesn't sound like ABC was trying to "make it look as though Pigford never even happened," does it?
As we noted yesterday, former U.S. Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod has filed a lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart contending that he damaged her reputation last year by posting a deceptively edited video that he claimed indicated she was a racist. You can view Sherrod's complaint, filed Friday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, HERE.
Sherrod is represented by Thomas Yannucci of the Washington, D.C., firm Kirkland & Ellis. Yannucci previously handled Chiquita's successful defamation lawsuit against The Cincinnati Enquirer and Gannett Company Inc., which resulted in a $14 million settlement.
Thus far, Breitbart has responded with conspiratorial antics to this very serious, detailed complaint. According to him, Sherrod is not suing him because of what he did to her, but as an attempt to shut him up and bring to a halt his "investigat[ion]" of the Pigford class action lawsuit.
On Saturday, Breitbart's BigGovernment.com posted a press release under the headline, "Andrew Breitbart on Pigford Lawsuit: 'Bring It On.'" The release does not mention Sherrod by name, instead referring to her as "a central figure in the Pigford 'back-door' reparations case," which the release claims "constitutes one of the biggest cases of corruption and politically-motivated fraud in the history of the United States."
In the release, Breitbart claims Sherrod's lawsuit was filed in response to Breitbart's February 10 press conference. He also asserts that the lawsuit is "obviously" being funded by "the institutional Left."
In the months since Breitbart's attack on Sherrod as a racist fizzled, he has engaged in a constant, conspiratorial smear campaign regarding her role in the Pigford lawsuit. Breitbart has sought to obviate his responsibility for her firing by claiming that the real reason she was asked to resign was that the Obama administration wanted to keep anyone from finding out about the supposed widespread fraud in the settlement.
Breitbart's Sherrod firing conspiracy ignores contemporaneous administration emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Those emails do not reference Pigford, instead making clear that Sherrod was fired because of the administration's misinterpretation -- based on Breitbart's video -- of Sherrod's comments.
Breitbart just won't take responsibility for his actions. It remains to be seen whether this lawsuit will eventually compel him to do so.
National Review is the latest right-wing publication to join serial fabricator Andrew Breitbart's campaign attacking the Pigford settlement for black farmers who were allegedly discriminated against by the Agriculture Department. National Review's Dan Foster mimics many of Breitbart's errors, including using flawed data to claim that "the vast majority" of Pigford claims are "frivolous at best and fraudulent at worst"; hiding the broad Republican support in recent years for reopening the settlement; and attacking Shirley Sherrod's Pigford settlement as part of a "feeding frenzy of claimants."
Yesterday, I noted that Andrew Breitbart made a false statement about the Pigford black farmer discrimination settlement. Today, in a post on Breitbart's BigJournalism.com, Breitbart's Pigford investigator Lee Stranahan responds that I caught Breitbart making "a minor gaffe" about Pigford but that Breitbart "obviously knows" the truth of the matter.
It turns out that Breitbart actually made the same false statement about Pigford more than once yesterday, which raises the question of whether Breitbart is actively lying about the case.
For the record, at a news conference at CPAC Breitbart falsely claimed that under the Pigford settlement, Track A -- in which the standard of proof for claimants was relaxed and successful claimants collected a flat $50,000 -- was only "for attempted-to-farmers." In fact, both Track A and Track B -- in which damages were not capped, but a claimant had to meet the traditional standard of proof -- were open both to people who farmed and people who attempted to farm but were prevented because of the federal government's discrimination.
Stranahan says of my piece:
[Media Matters ran] a section of video where AB, speaking off the cuff, makes a minor gaffe discussing the difference between Track A and Track B claims in Pigford. The two tracks are a topic Andrew has discussed many, many times and it's in the Pigford report. Andrew obviously knows the difference between Track A and B claims and in his short introduction, he was focusing on how these tracks effected the real, bona fide farmers like Eddie Slaughter, who is sitting about 5 feet away from him in the video clip Media Matters put up.
But Media Matters only shows a short section of the press conference. Their 'heavily edited' video doesn't show any of the other speakers, including Mr. Slaughter, Rep. Michelle Bachman, Rep. Steve King or me. Nor does Media Matters make ANY reference to the point of the press conference -- the release of hard evidence of how simple it is to commit fraud in Pigford.
But later in the day, Breitbart told Media Matters for America's Joe Strupp: "There are 94,000 people in line to get Pigford checks, the majority of, I believe it's 92 percent, are going through the Track A standard, which is the attempted-to-farmer standard."
Here's video of Breitbart's exchange with Strupp:
So it comes down to this: Does Breitbart not understand Pigford, or does he "obviously" understand it -- as Stranahan claims -- and is simply lying about what Track A and Track B are about?
Earlier this week, Andrew Breitbart said he "can prove" that Shirley Sherrod was fired from her job as a U.S. Department of Agriculture official because of her participation as a successful claimant in the Pigford black farmer discrimination lawsuit rather than because of the deceptively-edited video he released that painted Sherrod as racist.
Yesterday, he backtracked from the claim. In an interview with Media Matters for America's Joe Strupp, Breitbart instead said that it was his "theory" that Sherrod was fired because of Pigford and that he had "made a very strong case for that."
Watch the exclusive video of Strupp's interview with Breitbart in which he backtracks from the claim that he "can prove" Shirley Sherrod was fired because of Pigford:
STRUPP: Why make it seem like she was fired for that case, when it clearly --
BREITBART: That is my theory.
BREITBART: And I have made a very strong case for that, that you are at Media Matters, and you by default disagree with everything that I say. It's not my burden that you don't find that to be a compelling argument. MSNBC thought it was a compelling argument when they accused me in a segment that said "conservative activist 1, black farmers 0" the week that Shirley Sherrod was fired.
It's not surprising that Breitbart is backtracking. As we've mentioned before, Breitbart's conspiracy theory about Sherrod's firing is flatly contradicted by contemporaneous administration emails showing that Sherrod was fired because of the deceptively-edited videos.
Yesterday, appearing on The Grandy Group radio show, Andrew Breitbart said that the Pigford black farmer discrimination case "has become my obsession for the last seven months" ever since he was "hit upside the head" over his false accusation that Shirley Sherrod (a Pigford claimant) was racist. He also said that one of the results of his investigation was that it turns out the administration fired Sherrod because of her status as a Pigford claimant, not because administration officials thought, based on Breitbart's out-of-context video, that she had made a racist comment. Today, he said that he began that investigation about a month after his initial attack on Sherrod.
But here's the funny thing: Breitbart was making the claim that Pigford was the reason for Sherrod's firing less than a week after Shirley Sherrod was fired. Yes, even before his investigation supposedly began, he was claiming that Pigford was the real reason Sherrod was fired. Now, it appears that after all those months of "obsess[ing]" about Pigford, his investigation has led him to the same conclusion he had before he knew anything about Pigford at all: That Sherrod was not fired because people believed his false claims that she was racist; she was fired because of Pigford.
Breitbart released the deceptively cropped videotape that falsely painted Sherrod as a racist on July 20, 2010. Less than a week later, he went on Michael Savage's radio show and said that Obama "quickly fired" Sherrod because he didn't want people looking into Pigford.
And this week, he's made three important statements:
1) Yesterday, he claimed on The Grandy Group that Pigford has been his "obsession for the last seven months" because people told him that "They pulled out the $1.15 billion in Pigford II, the same week that they pulled -- that they fired Shirley Sherrod. She was set to make $13.3 million and didn't want to draw attention to whom she was as it relates to Pigford. So I had to research this to figure out why I got hit as hard as I did."
2) Today, he said that while trying to figure out why Sherrod was fired, "people started sending me emails, hundreds of email. This is about Pigford. This is about Pigford. Well, a month later I had to -- you know after getting hit upside the head, I started to look through those emails, and I started to realize that a lot of those emails came from actual black farmers telling me about the Pigford case."
3) And finally, a couple of days ago, Breitbart said he "can prove" that Sherrod was fired because of Pigford.
So either (a) Breitbart amazingly guessed correctly about Pigford and Sherrod before he knew anything about the issue or (b) Breitbart's seven-month investigation is actually just a fraud, meant to prove that he was right to attack Sherrod. Given that contemporaneous emails show that Sherrod was fired because of the deceptively-edited videos, I'm going with option (b).
Listen to Breitbart's claims about Sherrod and Pigford below the fold.
Andrew Breitbart has claimed to have spent months investigating possible fraud in the Pigford litigation, a discrimination case brought by black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet, despite repeatedly making wild allegations of nefarious activities surrounding Pigford, the Obama administration, Breitbart victim Shirley Sherrod and others, Breitbart made clear today that he has no clue about the Pigford litigation.
In a press conference at CPAC today on Pigford, Breitbart attempted to describe the Pigford litigation. He said:
BREITBART: What we were able to find out from Pigford is that it's majority fraud. What we were able to find out with Pigford is that the class action attorney, the lead class counsel, Al Pires used the black farmers in order to create this lawsuit. They were basically a Trojan Horse. And at the last second, without consulting with the black farmers, he created a two-track system. Track A was for attempted-to-farmers. Track B, if you dared take that, if you were an actual black farmer, the chances were that you would lose.
Breitbart's description of Track A and Track B is just plain wrong. The consent decree that settled in the case in 1999 requires claimants to show, among other things that they "farmed, or attempted to farm, between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996." It then gives the claimants the option of choosing "Track A" and "Track B."
Track A was for claimants who did not think they could (or did not want to risk trying) to prove they were discriminated against by the Agriculture Department through the traditional standard of proof -- which requires showing that it was more likely than not that discrimination occurred. It was not restricted to those who only attempted to farm. If they produced substantial evidence of their claim that they farmed or attempted to farm, were discriminated against, and complained of the discrimination, they could get $50,000. As the consent decree makes clear, Track A is open to both people who farmed and people who attempted to farm.
Track B was for people who thought they could prove their discrimination claim through the traditional standard of proof.
In December, Andrew Breitbart published a report, "The Pigford Shakedown," that purported to reveal the "massive fraud" and "widespread corruption" supposedly tainting a settlement intended to compensate to black farmers who had faced discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Breitbart's report, which is intended to form the basis for a congressional investigation, is laden with distortions, questionable sourcing, and sloppy errors.
During a press conference this morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Andrew Breitbart issued new allegations of "fraud" in the settlement of the Pigford lawsuit, a class action brought by black farmers who claimed they were discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture in the 1980s and 90s.
Why is Breitbart so interested in Pigford? He is seeking redemption for his infamous smear of former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, and attempting to prove that he, not Sherrod, was the true victim of the events that began when he labeled her a racist based on an out-of-context, deceptively cropped snippet of a speech she had given.
You may recall that Breitbart's credibility was devastated in July 2010 after his attack on Sherrod was exposed as a lie. But rather than admit his error, Breitbart has spent the last eight months trying to find a way to use the Pigford settlement to advance a new series of bizarre, conspiratorial Sherrod smears.
When his deception was exposed, Breitbart briefly attempted to salvage his reputation by claiming that his story was "not about Sherrod," but about her audience's reaction to her supposedly racist comments (he also lied about the audience's reaction). But only days later, he returned to attacking Sherrod.
The Washington Times editorial board has demanded a congressional investigation into the allegations pushed by right-wing fabulist Andrew Breitbart of fraud in the Pigford settlement for black farmers who were victims of discrimination committed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the Times op-ed is filled with distortions intended to bolster those fraud allegations and use them to attack President Obama.