Accuracy in Media

The New York Times released a major 5,000 word investigative report exposing Obama administration appointees’ abuse of a federal program to compensate farmers who had faced discrimination. Back in 2010, however, the Times had urged for faster compensation and less bureaucratic roadblocks for the “Pigford” defendants:

The compensation effort sprang from a desire to redress what the government and a federal judge agreed was a painful legacy of bias against African-Americans by the Agriculture Department. But an examination by The New York Times shows that it 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. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.

From the start, the claims process prompted allegations of widespread fraud and criticism that its very design encouraged people to lie: because relatively few records remained to verify accusations, claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination.

Yet those concerns were played down as the compensation effort grew. Though the government has started requiring more evidence to support some claims, even now people who say they were unfairly denied loans can collect up to $50,000 with little documentation.

And what a fraud it was. The government has spent over $1.33 billion compensating Hispanic and female farmers for federal loan discrimination despite a 2010 Supreme Court ruling dismissing those claims, which didn’t seem to bother the Times until now.

The Times also singled out Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who they said was a driving force behind the settlement. Vilsack told the Times that “We weren’t just writing checks for the heck of it…People were not treated fairly, and in fact, even today there are damages as a result of folks who weren’t treated fairly.”

Since it’s the government, I suppose a little fraud is to be expected, as long as the overall intent was theoretically good.

While it’s great to see this story being reported by The New York Times, it’s a shame that Andrew Breitbart isn’t around to revel in the vindication of his efforts to expose the fraud in the Pigford settlement.

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