Had Andrew Breitbart dutifully written a column detailing how an obscure USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, and her husband, Charles Sherrod, had scammed the government out of millions, the story would have had the range and lifespan of a fruit fly.
Instead, as the world knows, Breitbart released an edited version of Shirley Sherrod's speech before the NAACP that provoked national headlines and caused the NAACP to denounce her and a panicky Obama administration to fire her from her position as the Georgia Director of Rural Development for the USDA.
Then, of course, when the full version of the speech emerged -- which showed Sherrod as a recovering racist, not as a practicing one -- the Obama White House fell all over itself apologizing, and the media turned their guns on Breitbart.
Breitbart, however, had put a potentially huge story into play the only way he could -- through sheer provocation. As he knew, and as we are learning, the story goes well beyond Sherrod's long-ago racist mischief-making with a poor white farmer.
This past Sunday, in his weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle, "Willie's World," veteran black politico Willie Brown confirmed that "there is more to the story than just [Sherrod's] remarks."
"As an old pro," Brown acknowledged, "I know that you don't fire someone without at least hearing their side of the story unless you want them gone in the first place." Brown observed that Sherrod had been a thorn in the USDA's side for years, that many had objected to her hiring, and that she had been "operating a community activist organization not unlike ACORN." Although Brown does not go into detail, he alludes to a class action lawsuit against the USDA in which she participated some years ago.
In the way of background, in 1997, a black farmer named Timothy Pigford, joined by four hundred other black farmers, filed a lawsuit against Bill Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, claiming that the USDA treated black farmers unfairly in all manner of ways, from price support loans to disaster payments to operating loans. Worse, they charged that the USDA had failed to process any complaints about racial discrimination.
The notion that the Clinton Ag Department had spent four years consciously denying black farmers their due defies everything we know about Clinton's use of race and should have made the media suspicious about Pigford's claims dating back to 1983.
Flush with revenue in 1999 and eager to appease this bedrock constituency, the administration settled with the farmers -- more realistically, their attorneys -- for fifty grand apiece, plus various other perks like tax offsets and loan forgiveness. If any of the presumably racist USDA offenders were punished, that news escaped the media.
After the consent decree was announced, the USDA opened the door to other claimants who had been similarly discriminated against. They expected 2,000 additional claims. They got 22,000 more, roughly 60 percent of whom were approved for this taxpayer-funded Lotto.
Despite having a year and a half to apply, some 70,000 more alleged claimants argued that they not only had been discriminated against, but also had been denied notice of the likely windfall that awaited them.
In 2008, for reasons unknown, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa lobbied to give the alleged 70,000 "another bite at the apple." Co-sponsoring the bill was none other than U.S. Senator Barack Obama. In February of 2010, the Obama administration settled with the aggrieved 70,000 for $1.25 billion that the government did not have to give. This money, by the way, was finessed out of a defense appropriation bill.
At the time, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agreement would close a "sordid chapter" in the department's history, a chapter in which no one seems to have been so much as reprimanded.
The major media reported the settlement as though it were the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. For the last forty years, as the civil rights industry has manufactured more and more absurd grievances -- most notably the Tea Party smear that incited Breitbart's reprisal -- the media have reported on them with increasingly wide-eyed innocence.
In the various stories on the settlement, not one reporter that I could identify stopped to do the math. Pajamas Media did in a detailed article by "Zombie" titled appropriately, "Pigford v. Glickman: 86,000 claims from 39,697 total farmers?"
Although 86,000 black farmers are alleged to have received payments, at no time in the last three decades have there been more than 40,000 black farmers. Nor is there much turnover in the farming business. No entrepreneurial activity involves more long-term investment.
Realistically, of the 40,000 or 86,000, how many could have applied for a USDA loan and been rejected while white farmers in comparable circumstances were getting loans? If there were hundreds, let alone thousands, the heads of loan officers should have been rolling around the USDA floors, but I know of no such purge.
More to the point, out of about $1 billion paid out so far in settlements, the largest amount has gone to the Sherrods' New Communities Incorporated, which received some $13 million. As Time Magazine approvingly reported this week, $330,000 was "awarded to Shirley and Charles Sherrod for mental suffering alone."
Unwittingly, Charles Sherrod shed light on the how and why of the settlement in a speech he gave in January 2010. As he explained, New Communities farmed its 6,000 acres successfully for seventeen years before running into five straight years of drought. Then, according to Sherrod, New Communities engaged in a three-year fight with the USDA to get the appropriate loans to deal with drought.
Said Sherrod, "They were saying that since we're a corporation, we're not an individual, we're not a farmer." Nevertheless, the Sherrods prevailed, but the late payments "caused us to lose this land." In other words, the bureaucratic delay over taxpayer-funded corporate welfare payments cost them their business.
Then, thanks to their "good lawyers," said a gleeful Sherrod, who seems to have fully recovered from his mental suffering, the Sherrods successfully sued the government for "a large sum of money -- a large sum of money." While saying this, he made hand gestures suggesting $15 million. The land itself was admittedly worth no more than $9 million.
Sherrod gave this talk to announce that the FCC had awarded New Communities a radio station in Albany, Georgia, still another race-based corporate welfare boondoggle. Before the award of this station, he added, the Sherrods "had no means of communicating with our people."
The "our people" in question, of course, are black people. With this new voice, the Sherrods will help "stop the white man and his Uncle Toms from stealing our elections. We must not be afraid to vote black."
Yes, indeed -- these are just the people we want spending the money we don't have.