This summer Andrew Breitbart, publisher of a number of conservative news sites, found himself in the throes of a media scandal of dramatic proportions — and one which he later discovered went far deeper than a mere contextual snafu.
For those unfamiliar with the story, in July, when liberals, the media, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were slamming Tea Partiers as racist, Breitbart released a now infamous video of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) official Shirley Sherrod’s speech before the NAACP describing how she had discriminated against a white farmer. Her comments were met with nodding approval by the members of the audience.
In the wake of the release, the USDA wasted no time in forcing Sherrod’s resignation, despite the fact that Breitbart says his intent was never to harm Sherrod, but rather to expose the NAACP as a racist body.
While the partial video ended Sherrod’s career at USDA, the second half, the portion of Sherrod’s anecdote in which she explained that she learned the error of her ways, was not included in the initial video Breitbart had released. The incomplete video lost Sherrod her job and resulted in a mass demonization of Breitbart for not showing the full context of her remarks.
Since that time Breitbart has worked to understand the full story behind Sherrod’s hasty ousting and believes he has an answer. According to Breitbart, the answer lays in a piece of legislation President Barack Obama signed Wednesday — which provides $1.15 billion in funding for a case known as Pigford II. The money will be doled out in payments of $50,000 for more than 90,000 alleged black farmers as retribution for alleged discrimination on the part of the USDA.
From the initial class action suit, Pigford vs. Glickman, Shirley Sherrod and her husband received $13 million. In addition to the $13 million, the USDA gave her a job in their ranks.
With Sherrod on the outs, her defenders came out in droves, charging that Breitbart’s video release had been an ill-fated attempt to bring more attention to Pigford. Despite these adamant claims, Breitbart says that at the time he was ignorant of any such suit.
“They were trying to show that my intention was to get Pigford defunded,” Breitbart told The Daily Caller. “And, I had never heard of Pigford, so for the last four and half months, all I’ve been doing is eating, breathing, sleeping Pigford, researching Pigford, finding whistleblowers who are hiding in plain sight who have been wanting to tell the story of how this was rigged.”
Breitbart since has embarked on a mission to expose Pigford for the outrageous fraud he and others have found it to be, namely how 400 black farmers in a class action suit ballooned to over 90,000 claimants when even one of the most energetic advocates for Pigford, John Boyd, founder of the National Black Farmers Association, has admitted that there are only 18,000 black farmers in the country.
The coming weeks will find Breitbart’s site, Biggovernment.com, replete with exposes, research papers, and opinion pieces on Pigford designed to fill in the gaps he and anti-Pigford whistleblowers — such as Jimmy Dismuke, a black farmer who actually experienced discrimination, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer — believe the government and media have overlooked.
Indeed there have been reports that USDA employees and FBI officials estimate that the number of fraudulent claims from Pigford — exacerbated by ambitious trial lawyers and community organizers — range from 50 percent to 95 percent.
Former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer has been closely involved in exposing Pigford as a fraud. Though he had his doubts about Breitbart, he has given the news mogul assistance with his push for transparency. Schafer explained that while Breitbart appears to have rallied to the Pigford cause as a means for redemption from the Sherrod incident, his claims are entirely valid.
“One thing you have to say is Andrew is trying to justify the whole Shirley Sherrod deal and make up for it or defend it,” Schafer said.
“I have to say in the beginning I was cautious…When Andrew called, I [said] ‘I hope you aren’t just trying to gin this whole thing up to make amends for [Sherrod],’” Schafer said. “But this is solid. I mean it is solid background they dug out people, files, times, and dates. They have put together a pretty impressive body of work.”
Breitbart contends that Pigford is all about politics.
“This is a scam. It’s manifestly obviously a scam and the point in time where Barack Obama became an advocate for the black farmer was the exact moment he needed the rural black vote and we have a letter from the Rural Black Farmer’s Association telling Obama that they can help him get elected,” Breitbart said.
Jimmy Dismuke, one of the first black farmers to charge the USDA with discrimination, has started to speak out against the fraud, though he does not believe that it is the Obama administration’s fault. Despite his disagreement with Breitbart on that, he has turned to Biggovernment.com to get his message out, because he says the rest of the media has ignored his plea for the microphone.
“Every major news in this country, nobody ever wanted to talk to me,” Dismuke said. “But the record needs to be set straight.”
Dismuke says that the real fraud stems from the trial lawyers who were trying to get more claimants in order to score a bigger settlement. While Breitbart has been looking at the political aspects of the administration’s push for these payments, Dismuke strongly disagrees that Obama had anything to do with the final outcome. He is so adamant about this that he has even considered cutting ties with Breitbart over the disagreement.
“Andrew is kind of wrong in that respect. I don’t know anything about Obama and about those things. And that is why I almost want to stop talking to Andrew,” Dismuke said, adding that while he did not know anything about the details of Sherrod’s involvement, he could see how Breitbart was hurt in the process. “I imagine he got done pretty bad. He got crucified, there is no doubt in my mind.”
Breitbart contends that the media, which hit him so hard for the Sherrod incident, is ignoring him now that he has the chance to be vindicated.
“The people in the media that attacked me over Sherrod, who turned this into a 3 week story, know that this story is out there, have read the piece, have seen that there’s vindication there for me and they’re silent on it,” Breitbart said.
Bachmann told TheDC that Breitbart has been doing yeoman’s work on the issue. The media’s lack of curiosity, to her, is just another indication of their self-marginalization.
“People travel to the outlets where they believe they can get the most up-to-date factual information so they turn to sources like [Biggovernment.com],” she said. “Biggovernment.com has been one of the first sites to really highlight this issue…One thing about Andrew Breitbart is he is a no holds barred person who goes for the story as opposed to whether or not it has entertainment value.”
Bachman defended Breitbart as a journalist working to expose the ugly underbelly of politics.
“He is trying to bring transparency and accountability to these government programs and when he exposed the Sherrod issue, remember all he did was take video from the NAACP website and the entire video type was available for anyone to see,” she said. “And Andrew was not trying to say that she was racist. That was not his point at all and I think he was very unfairly mischaracterized and portrayed as being a bad guy when he wasn’t at all.”
As Breitbart pushes hard against corruption both in government and media — especially as manifest in Pigford — it will remain to be seen whether he will be vindicated. With avid followers and a devoted readership, however, with or without validation, Breitbart appears to have the fortitude to persevere in the current media environment.