The massive subtext missed by mainstream media’s sensationalistic coverage of the Shelley Sherrod incident is the plight of the African American farmers waiting on a $1.25 billion settlement from the federal government. Interestingly enough, during an exclusive post-everybody-from-the-Agriculture-Secretary-to-the-White-House-apology interview on MSNBC’s morning politics program Morning Joe, Sherrod herself, with help from MSNBC analyst Lawrence O’Donnell (who gets hat tip for triggering the brief exchange), talked up the Black farmers:
“… and they haven’t completely dealt with the Black farmers, yet. Because there is the whole issue of $1.25 billion – and it’s not costing taxpayers any money. That whole issue of completing that lawsuit, yet you have all of these others now.”
Joe Scarborough, eager to move into “teachable moments,” casually dismissed her point a few seconds after: “I haven’t been in the loop.” Translated: let’s not get into that now.
Getting into that would mean raising questions about why the Senate, in typically uncaring fashion, failed to approve funds for a settlement already ordered by a federal court and inserted into budget language by the White House. A former Republican Congressman and political rising star from Florida, Scarborough’s dismissal of Sherrod’s point could be an attempt to shield GOP colleagues from yet another embarrassment over insensitivity to minorities and the downtrodden. Reports Bridgette Outten in Politic365.com:
CNN reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “blasted Senate Republicans for holding up the process, saying they have ‘rejected over and over again any legislation that has had the Pigford settlement in it.’”
House Minority Leader John Boehner said many of the GOP legislators are supportive of settling the claims.
Well then settle it.
While mainstream media is happy to give conservative activist Andrew Breitbart more play and string out the series of gaffes which led to Sherrod’s firing, unreported is the original basis for Vilsack’s hasty decision: the $1.25 billion Black farmer settlement. Vilsack expressed fear in those initial moments of viewing the edited Biggovernment.com clip, shaken by the potential of the hoax “… compromis[ing] [the USDA’s] capacity to close the chapter on civil rights cases.” Rather than take that moment to actually “close the chapter” with a forceful call for immediate approval of funding for the settlement, Vilsack and the White House appear to gloss over that detail, failing to bring it up in any public statements about the Sherrod incident. Political hacks in the Administration, like the unemployment benefits extension issue, haven’t seen the pre-election attack-mode value in it, yet.
That few outlets, with the exception of many African American media outlets from Politic365.com to Black Enterprise, are completely missing the boat on this major piece speaks to the larger problem of a legacy of willful or deliberate ignorance by mainstream press.
Meanwhile, the Senate abruptly stripped funding for the settlement, among other critical domestic initiatives. Originally, the settlement funds were inserted by the Obama Administration as a supplemental in a $60 billion emergency war funding bill. As of Thursday, the Senate passed the war funding bill without the Black farmers settlement, arguing against any unrelated monies that could add to the federal deficit. Reports Andrew Taylor in the Associated Press:
After a take-it-or-leave-it vote by the Senate, House Democrats face little choice but to drop more than $20 billion in domestic spending from a must-pass bill funding President Barack Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan.
The Senate rejected the House measure, passed earlier this month, by a 46-51 vote that fell short of a majority, much less the 60 votes required to defeat a filibuster.
Instead, the Senate Thursday stripped out the $20 billion in House add-ons and returned to the House an almost $60 billion measure passed by a bipartisan vote in May.
The NAACP lacks similar vigor on the Black farmer issue while mired in spats with the Tea Party and rushing to judgment on a defenseless Black USDA official, leaving Black farmer lobbyist John Boyd on his own. Perhaps, as a way to save face, NAACP lobbying muscle behind Boyd’s lone star effort could help resuscitate the settlement funding issue before Congress rushes into August summer recess. Vilsack and White House, while mad quick to condemn Sherrod into racial martyrdom (for, ironically, the erroneous claim that she discriminated against a White farmer), are slow to simply circumvent Congress and use available funding for frustrated Black farmers waiting on their settlement. Some suffer in a brutal economic climate and are on the verge of foreclosing family farms. Public apologies mixed with plastic “reconciliation” job offers for an enhanced diversity post in the USDA won’t do it. There’s an old Caribbean saying: “It takes money to go to market.”