Candidate Obama ran on a platform of openness, transparency and accountability in government but when it comes to the Pigfordscandal, the USDA and Secretary Tom Vilsack continue a pattern of deception. At issue are accusations of fraud that may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in a settlement that was supposed to give money to black farmers who suffered years of discrimination from the USDA.
A couple of weeks ago, President Obama signed a multi-billion dollar extension to Pigford amid some criticism from conservatives that there was rampant fraud in Pigford. Vilsack’s USDA office issued a press release in the days before Obama signed the extension claiming that the FBI has only found three cases worth prosecuting and giving the impression that there were only a small handul of fraud cases out of over 15,000 paid claims.
The USDA now knows better — but is still sticking by their claims.
I’m out on the road doing interviews with key people involved in Pigford. The following clip is from a video interview I did with Othello Cross, an attorney for Pigford claimants with about fifteen years of experience on the case. Again, just to make it clear — this is a attorney representing claimants. He’s pro Pigfordand has profited from it — if anything you’d expect him to say he’s not aware of any fraud.
The mainstream media has treated accusations of large-scale fraud in the Pigford settlement with overt skepticism and a distinct lack of journalistic curiosity. The press has blindly repeated the Obama Administration’s claim that there are only a handful of fraud cases among the twenty thousand or so paid Pigford claims. Worse, the media has helped promote the narrative that those raising concerns about fraud in Pigford are racist.
You’re about to watch a video clip where Othello Cross, an attorney for Pigford claimants with about fifteen years of experience on the case, admits that he is personally aware of hundreds of cases of fraud in the state of Arkansas alone. Furthermore, he explains how easy it was to commit that fraud and receive a $50,000 check from the government; it’s appropriate to deduce from Cross’s revealing statement that the actual number of fraudulent claims is likely much higher than the hundreds he knows about.
You’re about to watch this clip for the first time, but the USDA watched it over a week ago — I sent it to them for comment about 10 days ago.
I’m writing this a little before sunrise at a hotel room in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m traveling with my family — my wife, three of our kids and two cats — and gathering facts and conducting interviews about the Pigford vs. Glickman settlement that was designed to remedy the decades of discrimination that black farmers in this country faced from their own government, specifically the USDA. ThePigfordtale is one that the mainstream press has barely covered, so I’ve had no problem finding people close to the story who want to tell the world their side of it. My family has driven through four different states in the past 10 days, and I’ve videotaped more than five and a half fours of interviews, in addition to spending countless hours on the phone in both on and off the record conversations.
One thing that’s emerged from every conversation I’ve had is that America’s black farmers are this country’s unsung heroes. Farming is hard enough work on its own, but when you add the additional weight of fighting the government’s “good old boy” network that existed in many places, the resilience of the black farmers is amazing.
Anderson Cooper is certainly capable of doing good journalism, but in many cases he simply can’t overcome the clichéd convention of what passes for news reporting on television. Here’s the scenario that nearly every news show on TV uses — get two talking heads that are supposedly on different sides of an issue and let them duke it out like Rock Em’ Sock Em’ Robots.
A recent example of this was Cooper’s embarrassing but typical-for-TV piece about the recent passage of billions to settle more claims inthe Pigford v. Glickman settlement. Pigford is about black farmers who were discriminated against by the USDA in the 1980s and 1990s. There was a consent decree on the case years ago and over a billion dollars in claims were paid, most for a straight settlement of $50,000 that required a lower standard of proof than the average civil case. Many black farmers claimed that $50,000 was chump change while some, mainly on the right, claimed that many of the claims were fraudulent.
Just this week, Congress passed another billion or so to pay for even more claims so Anderson Cooper did the He Said / He Said thing and brought on longtime black farm activist Dr. John Boyd to represent black farmers and Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King to argue againstPigfordbased on the fraud charges. Ding! Let’s get ready to rummmmmble!