Last Friday, conservative activist and media scourge Andrew Breitbart was posthumously vindicated. Before he died in March 2012 of sudden heart failure, he had worked tirelessly to expose the horrific fraud that is Pigford.
For those who get their news only from the New York Times, the name “Pigford” would have sounded unfamiliar until last week, but only because Andrew’s efforts to make the mainstream media cover the issue (as he had induced them to cover Weinergate) were cut short by his untimely death.
It’s a complicated and disturbing story, which the Times finally covered in a front-page, above-the-fold story of more than 5,000 words. The short version goes something like this: Approximately 400 black farmers filed discrimination complaints against the U.S. Department of Agriculture; The Justice Department agreed to negotiate a settlement, and it established a structure by which additional claimants could file for their portion of the settlement amount: $50,000 per claim.
In short order, this fast-track settlement-payout system was abused by crooked politicians, lawyers, community organizers, and other groups of alleged victims (Hispanic, Native American, and female farmers) in parallel discrimination suits, leading to claims and payouts to 70,000-plus claimants. “In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina,” the Times reported, “the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed.”
In one case, documented at Breitbart’s site Big Government in 2011, two full years before the Times finally weighed in on the story, potential claimants were told that if they had ever owned a potted plant, they could claim they had wanted to farm, and thus they would be eligible for the $50,000 payout. The schemes got more creative from there.
This scale of fraud may be shocking for people who read the Times, but for Big Government’s followers, this is all old news.
Andrew Breitbart began reporting on the Pigford scandal in January 2011. He discovered the story as a result of his controversial dustup with Shirley Sherrod. The Obama administration unceremoniously pushed Sherrod to resign from the Department of Agriculture just hours after Big Government posted excerpts of a speech she had given to the NAACP. The administration later apologized to Sherrod, who in turn filed a lawsuit against Breitbart.
The attacks on Breitbart continued in full force, with many on the left saying that he aimed to destroy Sherrod for her role in Pigford. Breitbart’s antennae went up: He had never heard of Pigford. Time to start digging, he decided.
He was so stunned by what he found that exposing the story became his obsession. So dedicated was he to shining a light on the Pigford corruption that — for twelve months — he devoted the most valuable real estate a website has, the upper-right-hand corner of the page, to a permanent link to the “Complete Pigford files.”
The news that the New York Times was covering the Pigford scandal years after Breitbart first broke the story reminded me, when I first heard it, of Breitbart’s challenge to the establishment reporters at Anthony Weiner’s stupefying press conference, in which Weiner resigned after admitting that, yes, he had tweeted photos of his privates to various young women he had never met.
For those of us who witnessed the former congressman’s Twitter scandal, the pattern evident in Pigford — attempted smear of Breitbart followed by eventual vindication — comes as no surprise.
My forthcoming movie about Breitbart’s life, Hating Breitbart, depicts one exchange from this press conference. Before Weiner’s teary appearance, and before his apology to Breitbart (whom he had accused of a federal crime), reporters peppered Breitbart with indignant questions:
Unidentified reporter: “Sir, with all due respect, why should we believe your story?”
Breitbart: “OK. Everything that I’ve said so far has come to be true. The media says: ‘Breitbart lies. Breitbart lies. Breitbart lies.’ Give me one example of a provable lie. One. Journalists? Put your reputations on the line.”
Andrew Breitbart made that challenge two years ago.
We’re still waiting.
— Andrew Marcus is the director of Hating Breitbart, which releases nationwide May 17 in theaters and on VOD, and May 21 on DVD. For more information, visit Hating Breitbart.