Perhaps AOL acquiring The Huffington Post isn't such a bad thing after all.
Liberal filmmaker, writer and photographer Lee Stranahan did something one doesn't often see at the left-wing news aggregator -- he broke from the pack to defend "the notorious Andrew Breitbart," publisher of Breitbart.com and a slew of similar sites where he basks in skewering liberals.
In his HuffPo article, Stranahan wrote how he "spent a slightly surreal weekend" hanging out with Breitbart at CPAC --
... and at the end of the conservative convention, he was served with a lawsuit from Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA official who was forced to resign by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack back in July, 2010 after Breitbart had published two videos of her as part of a long blog post. One of those videos showed Mrs. Sherrod (ironically, it turns out) telling the NAACP audience that she suggested people get work with the government because "you can't get fired." The second, better known video showed Mrs. Sherrod telling her story of how she didn't give a white farmer 'the full of force' of her help for a period of time. After the USDA fired her, apparently without an investigation, the full tape was released.
(Blogger's note: Sherrod said she initially didn't provide the farmer with the "full force" of her help. Later in the video, Sherrod describes helping the farmer and cited the incident as an example of racial reconciliation).
For the last two months Stranahan and Breitbart have collaborated on a film about the Pigford class action lawuit, in which black farmers in the South alleged they were denied loans and grants the USDA provided to white farmers, with Breitbart funding the project. Breitbart, it is worth noting, once worked as a researcher for Arianna Huffington and helped get Huffington Post up and running.
Here's what Stranahan writes about working with a man who has been widely reviled from the left (and a few corners on the right) as racist and unprincipled --
I don't like Andrew because I work with him, I work with him because I like him and because Pigford is an important, misrepresented story. I spent weeks looking into Pigford and getting to know Andrew before deciding to work with him. My initial view of him was based on countless stories and comments I'd read calling him racist, homophobic and worse. I learned very quickly that the real Andrew Breitbart didn't fit any of those stereotypes. Aside from my personal experience, I spoke with liberal friends who'd known him for years and confirmed that no, he's not a bigot.
This is followed by Stranahan describing the premise of his post, the "odd timing" as cited in its headline for Sherrod to sue Breitbart for alleged defamation and infliction of emotional distress. He expresses doubt that Sherrod's reputation has been hurt by the controversy "but in fact seems to have been enhanced by it." Sherrod was offered another job at USDA the day after she was fired and spoke with President Obama. Stranahan links to a story on a speech Sherrod gave earlier this month in Oregon where she said, "That moment was just a bump in the road." Stranahan also claims that Sherrod's former attorney asked him a few weeks ago to convey a message to Breitbart that Sherrod was not going to sue him.
Stranahan describes why he considers the timing of Sherrod's lawsuit suspect --
I don't think it's a coincidence that this lawsuit comes just as things are starting to heat up in the Pigford investigation. Mrs. Sherrod is connected to Pigford. She's the largest recipient of a Pigford claim; she, her husband Charles Sherrod and the New Communities farm won over thirteen million dollars while most other farmers only got $50,000. Mrs. Sherrod was hired by the USDA after this award. Prior to being hired, she worked to help keep angry black farmers from pulling out of the lawsuit after they objected to the terms of the consent decree. And despite her hero status with many, the farmers I personally interviewed about Mrs. Sherrod have decidedly mixed feelings about her.
So, why now? What I know for sure is that a couple of days ago Andrew Breitbart and I put on a press conference at CPAC that released a two-hour, unedited audio clip that showed how easy it was to commit fraud in Pigford and that people are coached on exactly how to do it. A week ago Friday, the National Review released a 4,000+ word article detailing the Pigford scandal. Other major media outlets have pieces in the works and politicians are looking seriously at investigating Pigford. The USDA has been stonewalling me for weeks. And after Media Matters published a deceptive piece calling the Pigford investigation a 'smear' against Mrs. Sherrod, this lawsuit comes.
The National Review article cited by Stranahan (available online to subscribers only) and written by Daniel Foster includes these revelations --
John Stringfellow, a farm-loan supervisor covering six Arkansas counties, called Pigford "the largest scam against federal taxpayers in the history of the United States," saying that among the 800 or so claims he personally received, over 80 percent had never applied to USDA assistance programs, nor farmed at all.
But even the largest scam against taxpayers eventually runs its course. By 2007, with every filing deadline having passed, the consent decree in mothballs, and tens of thousands of unpaid claimants lingering on the rolls, Pigford advocates knew they needed new judicial action, or help from Congress, to get paid. They got the latter in the form of the Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007, which came, as so much legislative mischief does, as an amendment to that year's farm bill. It had a single sponsor: Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois (where, incidentally, only 98 out of 77,000 farms are operated primarily by blacks). The bill, which came to be known as Pigford II, extended the filing deadline by more than ten years, through June 19, 2008. It also continued the Track A and Track B routes, appropriated an additional $1.25 billion for payouts, and added a provision that prevented claimants' homes from being foreclosed on while their cases were being adjudicated.
It came after Gary Grant, president of the influential and Pigford-evangelizing Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association, had written Obama a letter promising him all the financial and ballot support the BFAA could marshal in the rural South in exchange for his continued work on the plight of the black farmer. Grant told Fox News he didn't care whether all the Pigford claimants were really farmers, since "if you are an African American, you deserve $50,000, because your roots are in farming and your folk have already been cheated." Claimants, according to Grant, were "collecting what [their] grandparents didn't have the opportunity to."
While Stranahan did not mention Obama's connection to Pigford in his HuffPo article, he did so in an interview for FTRRadio.com earlier this month and cross-posted at RedState (excerpt below can be heard at 18:52 in audio at this link) --
Why is this important? It's important for a few reasons. Number one, I think this does touch on the presidency. Barack Obama was directly involved in this and I believe that he was aware of the fraud. And the reason I believe that is because everybody who knows about this is aware of the fraud. Everybody who follows it, is close to it at all, knows about the fraud. So either Obama didn't know about the fraud 'cause he was, look, I mean, he was the sole Senate sponsor for Pigford II. He actively wrote letters trying to stop a whistleblower who worked at the USDA, who was like hey, these claims are crazy. Barack Obama wrote a letter saying, you know, she has no business talking about that. He campaigned on it in South Carolina and it's part of what helped him in the primary and he signed it (Pigford II).
And not only that, but the guy who, the other area this touches on is reparations. The way this is being sold to, when we talk about the fraud here, the way it's being sold to black folks is, they are told that this is money that's owed to you from generations of discrimination, not just the Pigford suit, but this is to make up for, it's basically slave reparations. And we know that it's being sold this way, we know that it's being sold this way because as part of our investigation we sent somebody in with a wire a few weeks ago to one of these meetings at a black church with all black folks attending and behind closed doors, it's 100 percent clear it's being sold as reparations. And at that meeting, the guy who's leading the meeting, we're going to be dropping all this information in about a week, we'll be doing a press conference at CPAC and we're going to release this audio, the entire audio, annotated. The guy leading the meeting explains to you step by step how to file a claim in Pigford and collect $50,000 and it's all about the money. And it tells you how to commit perjury.
Was I the only person surprised that reparations were not an issue in 2008 during a campaign with the first major-party nominee of color? Looks like we'll belatedly have that debate.