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.
Breitbart told Michael Savage that the “hornet's nest here is Pigford,” noting that Sherrod was a plaintiff in the case. He went on to claim that it was her involvement in Pigford, and not Breitbart's video attack, that led to her firing, supposedly because the Obama administration was so afraid of having people “looking into” the lawsuit that she had to be forced out. From the interview:
BREITBART: Isn't it interesting that she got fired so quickly when I'm the guy that brought down ACORN? I can't take credit for thinking this thing through. We stumbled upon a rock. You pick up the rock, and she was part of the class-action lawsuit against the government. The government upon its settlement hires her and puts her in charge, and so she's in charge of the distribution.
BREITBART: We stumbled upon it, and I think that's why it took a couple of days for Barack Obama, who quickly fired her thinking, “I can't have people looking into this.” And I think what's conspicuous is, it took two days, and when they gave her a job, they didn't give her job back. They gave her another job
This response was pathetically self-serving, and obviously false on its face. And indeed, in October, when the Los Angeles Times obtained “hundreds of pages of e-mails” related to Sherrod's firing, those emails revealed that she had been fired because of the administration's misunderstanding of what the deceptively edited Breitbart video showed of her speech. The Times article makes no mention of any ulterior, conspiratorial Pigford-related motive.
Nonetheless, Breitbart has spent the last months pushing this theory as part of the basis for his assault on Pigford. Breitbart has acknowledged that he first learned of the lawsuit in the immediate aftermath of his failed Sherrod smear. He opened the 29-page report he released in December by writing that “When the Shirley Sherrod saga erupted on the nation's airwaves this past July, most people took the immediate firing and then rehiring of Mrs. Sherrod as a morality tale about the dangers of the media and race in America” before going on to say that the real story was her connection to Pigford.
Just this past week, at an event at George Washington University, Breitbart claimed that Pigford is “why Shirley Sherrod got fired,” and that he can “prove it”:
During that event, Breitbart pushed a variety of absurd conspiracy theories, while demonstrating his Sherrod obsession. He mentioned two “regret[s]” with regard to his Sherrod smear, that he didn't “start talking about Shirley Sherrod's involvement in the Pigford scandal,” and that he didn't mention that Sherrod “screwed over the black farmer.” He also said that Serrod is “much worse person than I ever thought she was” at the time of the initial smear:
QUESTION: Looking back on the Shirley Sherrod controversy, do you have any regrets?
BREITBART: I have regrets that I didn't fight back immediately. With the threat of a lawsuit I couldn't go out there to defend myself. I regret that I didn't start talking about Shirley Sherrod's involvement in the Pigford scandal, where she and her defunct farm, NCI, received $13.3 million.
BREITBART: My only regret is that I didn't say she didn't help the white farmer. It's not that she didn't help the white farmer, but that she screwed over the black farmer. So I do have that regret, because she's a much worse person than I ever thought she was when I was trying to make a case against the NAACP for its false accusation that the tea party was racist.
Sherrod's settlement came after an arbitrator appointed to review claims submitted by Sherrod, her partners, and her organization New Communities, Inc., determined that the claimants had been subjected to an “outrageous act” by the government and likened their treatment to the way a “feudal baron” treated his serfs.
Breitbart also expressed his theory that laws passed to allow more Pigford claimants to have their cases heard and recover money if successful -- which have long been backed by Republican leaders and passed the Senate on a voice vote -- was intended to “create back-door reparations in order to get Barack Obama elected President of the United States.”
And finally, Breitbart claimed that the media is in on the conspiracy, and “decided to go after” him after his Sherrod smear “as an act of misdirection” to protect Pigford.
From the GWU event: