New York Times finally pays attention
After two and a half years, it seems Andrew Breitbart has finally been vindicated for his tireless efforts on the Pigford story.
A front page investigative piece from the New York Times has put Pigford back on the map, in a big way: Federal Spigot Flows as Farmers Claim Discrimination.
The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections — until now undisclosed — of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal — the $50,000 payouts to black farmers — had proved a magnet for fraud.
From Breitbart News:
The New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has likely enabled massive fraud in the Pigford series of legal settlements, in which black, Hispanic, female and Native American farmers have claimed to be victims of past discrimination.
The cost of the settlements, which could exceed $4.4 billion, is the result of a process that “became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees,” the Times notes.
Andrew Breitbart held a press conference at CPAC in 2011, explaining the importance of the Pigford story.
Breitbart fought relentlessly to bring this story to the public, and into the mainstream. Over time, even a few members of Congress, like Reps. Steve King and Michele Bachmann, joined Breitbart’s efforts and tried to bring the issues to the attention of others in Congress.
In turn, Breitbart and his team, including Lee Stranahan, who lead most of the coverage, endured countless accusations of racism from left-wing outlets like Media Matters, simply for trying to highlight the plight of black farmers who were real victims of discrimination.
Many of their legitimate claims went ignored while other individuals appeared to be benefiting from fraud.
Yet the Times documents how Pigford became a “magnet for fraud” across the South. “In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina,” LaFraniere writes, “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. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.” The government let many of the fraudulent claims slip by unpunished because “the bar for a successful claim was so low that it was almost impossible to show criminality.”
Also from the NY Times:
On two floors of the Cotton Annex building in Washington, a 300-member team from the Farm Service Agency reviewed claims before adjudicators rendered their final decisions. In recent interviews, 15 current and former Agriculture Department employees who reviewed or responded to claims said the loose conditions for payment had opened the floodgates to fraud.
“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.”
Now might be an appropriate time to revisit Media Matters’ disingenuous attacks on Breitbart, who tried to bring attention to what the NY Times now confirms is a process that “had opened the floodgates to fraud.”
I searched the Media Matters website early this morning and found 33 results for “Pigford,” the vast majority of those articles aimed at attempting to discredit Andrew Breitbart, supporters who tried to blow the whistle on Pigford claim issues, and the investigative work from Breitbart News.
Do give the entire NY Times piece a read. It is well-written, well-researched, well-sourced and accurate. It will be interesting to watch the response from Media Matters, as they might have more difficulty attacking the NY Times. That might explain their silence thus far on today’s big story.
Most importantly, let’s remember there are black farmers who have suffered while waiting on legitimate Pigford claims.
Hopefully the NY Times investigation will finally spark the appropriate action to set the Pigford claims process on a proper and well-managed course.