by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Though Andrew Breitbart has been dead a year, his rancid brand of hate mongering slander is alive and we ll. Its latest latest rotten pustule burst up on the f ace of last Friday's New York Times in a 5,000 word piece by Sharon LaFraniere, with an assist from self-described conservative blogger Dave Weigel at Slate.com, a web site owned by the Washington Post. The inflammatory title of the NYT piece says it all.... "US Opens Spigot After Farmers Claim Discrimination."
La Franiere depicts a mendacious Breitbart-style fantasy world in which black hucksters are enrolling thousands of African Americans, many of whom were never farmers or even the heirs of farmers in an apparently successful discrimination suit against the federal government, a suit which the Obama White House is already in the process of settling by throwing billions at the plaintiffs and their attorneys while Latinos, women and Native Americans eagerly line up behind the precedent to get their own pot of free settlement money for sketchy allegations of discrimination.
The Times reporter and her "researchers" drone on more than 5,000 words without the bother of a single sentence describing the practices of the US Department of Agriculture is being sued for. She and the Times apparently consider irrelevant the egregious and well-documented misconduct of USDA bureaucrats and staffers, county supervisors, local committees and others who, according to USDA's own admission, denied and actively blocked the flow of credit, information, loans and resources to black farmers, leading to great financial and business hardship, and to a rate of dispossession of black landowners that far exceeded the numbers of whites who lost their farms.
What the NY Times never tells us is that since the beginning of federal programs to provide credit, loans, legal and technical assistance to small farmers, those programs have been for the most part exclusive white entitlements. To cement in place the electoral coalition that passed social security, unemployment compensation, the Wagner Act and other New Deal legislation in the era of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt made a deal with the devil. He agreed not to interfere with the Jim Crow South, where most African Americans lived, but were not allowed to register or vote, where schools and public accommodations were separate and unequal by law, and where the rule of white supremacy was bolstered at every hand by pervasive official and unofficial violence. Local executive offices and the county committees of farmers mandated by USDA rules to allocate and supervise small farm programs and subsidies were often the neighborhood klansmen, from the 1930s clear to the end of the 20th century and beyond.
One of many resources the NY Times might have availed it self of is Pete Daniel s, author of Dispossession: Discrimination Against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights, the preface of which can be read here. In an entire chapter helpfully titled "Evidence ," ten pages of which are available online here, Daniels recounts a little of the decades long pattern of racist favoritism and corruption that typified USDA operations for decades. Daniels explains on P. 67 of the same work that the formation of pseudo-democratic "county committees" removed land and farm-related disputes from the courts and left them entirely in the hands of racist local officials while leaving few records or telltale fingerprints.
In the real world, unrelated to that imagined in the NY Times story, between 1940 and 1974 the number of African-American farmers fell by 93 percent, far higher than the loss of white farmers. During the black Freedom Movement of the 1960s, local USDA officials purposefully pursued the dispossession of black landowners who in any way aided or took part in the movement. The evidence, for real reporters and researchers, is incontrovertible and difficult to miss. Ms. LaFraniere managed, by accident or by design to do exactly that, crediting instead those who deny "credible evidence of widespread discrimination" and choosing to smear the plantiffs and their suit as "a magnet for fraud."
The Times reporter singles out one Anthony Burrell as enlisting hundreds or thousands of patently false claimants in a settlement whose very design "...encouraged people to lie... because claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or even tried to farm..." The truth is that Mr. Burrell is a fraudster and that those he convinces to sign up have absolutely no connection to the pending lawsuit or settlement, revealing LaFraniere's inclusion of Burrell's antics in a story ostensibly about the farmers' lawsuit as a calculated attempt to provoke, mislead and misrepresent.
Response to the Times article from the community of black agriculturalists, and even from academics and historians was immediate and damning.
The NY Times inclusion of Burrell in its story, Dr. Ridgely Muhammad told Black Agenda Report, "is all about smearing and besmirching the black farmers." Dr. Muhammad, who operates a large farm near Albany GA on behalf of the Nation of Islam, has also written a highly significant article available here, on the destructive role played by Mr. Burrell over the years in undermining the black farmers' efforts to seek justice.
" The article's broad and sweeping generalization of fraud is a slap at Congress, the courts, and to the office of the federally appointed monitor that oversaw the settlement process," declared North Carolina attorney Savi Horne of the Land Loss Prevention Project. "It's an utterly unfair attempt to criminalize African American farmers as a group."
The Federation o f Southern Cooperatives, the nation's largest organization of black farmers delivered a detailed list of the reporter's unprofessional omissions, distortions and falsehoods, from the allegatio ns that the claims process "encouraged people to lie" to " four fifths of claimants" having never received agricultural loans of any sort, to its outright lie that the Justice Department opened settlement negotiations only five months after the suit was filed with no investigation. But as Mark Twain once noted, lies are flashed around the world in less time it takes for the truth to put its boots on.
In this case, the lies have been transmitted by the New York Times and tentacles of the Washington Post. The truly powerful are immune to shame, and the Times seems to be no exception. A gaggle of distinguished historians and academics have been assured that the NY Times stands by its "reporting," and at least for the moment has no intention of retracting or re-examining any part of its "coverage" of the black farmers' lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture.
As for hope and change at USDA itself, although there are voluminous findings of official wrongdoing on every level going back decades, Pete Daniels reminds on pages 263-264 of Dispossession that it took till 2010 for USDA to fire its very first employee for alleged racist or discriminatory conduct. That employee was Shirley Sherrod.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via this site's contact page, or email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.