It took the left a week to figure out how to attack the New York Times after of the paper of record published a front-page investigative article on Pigford. But the pushback has begun in earnest, using the Big Lie that criticisms of fraud, greedy lawyers, and political maneuvers are actually racist attacks on black farmers.
Left-wing allies like MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry,The Nation, and Colorlines magazine all went into attack mode against the Gray Lady for having the audacity to tell the truth about the multi-billion dollar fraud scheme that President Barack Obama has backed since his days as a Senator.
There are two longstanding and fallacious arguments that arise whenever there is substantive criticism of Pigford and related farmers’ settlements. They come up so often that they are worth learning, because they constitute practically the entire rhetorical arsenal for defenders of the fraud. They are:
- That criticism of the famers settlements is racist.
- That criticism of fraud in the famers settlements is “an attack on farmers.” This is usually expressed as “an attack on black farmers,” which effectively combines both arguments into one.
The “racist” criticism is merely a politically correct form of ad hominem; it doesn’t address the content of the arguments but attempts to shame, demean, and dismiss the person or organization making the argument. In this particular case, the organization being attacked as racist and the person being savaged is Times reporter Sharon LaFraniere–who formerly covered southern Africa for the Times, hardly the post a racist would choose.
The switch-a-roo argument consists of claiming that criticizing fraud in the famers’ settlements is somehow an attack on black farmers. It’s completely untrue; the criticisms are against the giant loophole that allows anyone to collect a $50,000 check for maintaining that they “attempted to farm” without providing any substantive proof.
Nobody is attacking black farmers; they are attacking lying fraudsters who pretended to be farmers. No matter, though, because this line of defense has two perverse side effects. First, it allows the famers’ settlements’ defender to sidetrack the conversation into a discussion of the mistreatment of actual black farmers, often with drawn-out, personal stories that are heartbreaking but that have nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of the “attempted to farm” fraud. Second, this switch effectively shuts up the real black farmers, who have been some of the biggest critics of the fraud.
Colorlines rounds up the left’s dishonest critiques in a piece titled, “Is the ‘Pigford’ Pushback a Case of Resistance Against Reparations for Black Farmers?” The article was written by Brentin Mock, who has worked with institutional left stalwarts The American Prospect and the Southern Poverty Law Center in the past. Not only does Mock commit fallacy #2 in the headline but makes sure to repeat it in the first sentence:
Ten scholars from major universities have risen to the defense of black farmers who were accused in a New York Times article of exploiting and defrauding a settlement made to remedy decades of discrimination in financial lending.
Black farmers were not accused of exploiting and defrauding a settlement, so no defense of them is needed.
Melissa Harris-Perry took up the subject and does something very typical at MSNBC–convening a panel consisting entirely of people who are on the same side of the topic. MSNBC’s slogan is not “fair and balanced,” however.
The panel (video below) spends a great deal of time on the plight of the black farmers, a group conspicuously absent from the panel. Panelist and congresswoman Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) described the New York Times article as a “gross mischaracterization” of the process without giving a single example of where the article went wrong.
Rep. Sewell also points out that her grandfather, who was a farmer, never collected from Pigford, but this points out one of the problems that Breitbart News has consistently pointed out: it was easier for fraudsters to collect than actual farmers like Rep. Sewell’s grandfather.
Harris-Perry questions the “motivations” of the Times piece, while guest Karen Finney sees dog-whistle racism in the term “inefficient,” since President Obama is black, and the implication of the article–sensed by few others, oddly–that black people are lazy (the piece makes no such claim). Ms. Finney also describes Pigford critic Rep. Steve King (R-IA) as “crazy,” a blatant ad hominem that MSNBC’s viewers are sure to devour.
Harris-Perry also says that the Times article is critical of Congress and asks Sewell if she was offended. In fact, the article points out that the Obama administration sidestepped Congress in setting up the women and Hispanic/Latino famers’ settlements.
The Nation editor Richard Kim also appears on the panel and actually goes so far as to call the farmers’ settlements “reparations,” saying:
If we think of this as reparations, the point of reparations is actually to be historically minded and to understand the many times in which discrimination impacted this group of people. And that’s probably the best way in which to frame this, as a historical inquiry and about justice.
I find Kim’s argument fascinating and believe it could very possibly be a rhetorical trial ballon. He’s using the word “reparations,” not in the context of “slave reparations” but in the general sense of a reparative function. This is not, however, the context most people associate with the word “reparations” in a political conversation. It’s worth watching to see if others try this ploy as a way of excusing the proven “reparations” aspect of the Pigford scam.
The Obama administration is concerned about the Times piece, and the USDA has apparently sent out orders for employees not to discuss the case with reporters. If they want to clear up allegations of fraud, transparency about the claims process would be the easiest way to do that–but the goal here is cover-up, not clarity. This first wave of counterattacks consists of the same weak arguments that Pigford defenders have served up for years–but don’t expect them to be the last.