When TPM asked Andrew Breitbart last July if the release of an edited video of Shirley Sherrod was timed to impact a Senate vote on restitution for black farmers, he said no. Now that she’s suing him for defamation, he’s making that restitution the issue.
But the response to the defamation suit posted on Breitbart’s Big Government website makes no mention of the edited video, the NAACP or the Tea Party. And it does not refer to Sherrod by name. Instead, the news release alludes to her as “a central figure in the Pigford ‘back-door’ reparations case,” and frames Pigford as the central issue in the lawsuit.
The Pigford settlements paid black farmers who said they had been discriminated against by the USDA in the 1980s and 1990s. (The Pigford II settlement, worth $1.25 billion, was signed by Obama in December.) Sherrod and her husband, a civil rights activist, received a multi-million-dollar settlement as part of the first settlement.
“This new lawsuit will not stop the American public from finding out what is really going on, who is directly culpable, and the critical role of the Pigford claimant in all off this,” Breitbart said in the Big Government release. The release calls Pigford “one of the biggest cases of corruption and politically-motivated fraud” in U.S. history.
In an interview with Slate’s Dave Weigel, Breitbart doubled-down on Pigford being the story:
“Those including Ms. Sherrod, who continue to uphold the grotesque premise that the Pigford settlement helped the black farmers, are fully aware that the Pigford house of cards is falling around them,” said Breitbart. “The NBFA is having a press conference three days after I was served. The timing is not a coincidence. Their press statement said that there’s an emerging crisis. We are the emerging crisis. Lee Stranahan is the emerging crisis. Internal investigations by the federal government are the emerging crisis. This lawsuit is a last-ditch attempt to shock me into silence, and it won’t work.”
In 2010, the Sherrod story broke — via a tape sent to Breitbart — after the NAACP passed a resolution asking the Tea Party movement to condemn racism. That, said Breitbart, was the wrong context for the story.
That’s a change from what Breitbart told TPM last July, when our own Rachel Slajda asked him if the video’s release was connected to a then-upcoming Senate vote on Pigford.
“No. Seriously. On everything I hold dear,” Breitbart wrote in an email.
“This was never about Sherrod. It was CLEARLY telegraphed at NAACP — on Thursday when I, gulp, told Ben Jealous to “go to hell” for spending week attacking racism with Tea Party. That the media and White House have turned this into me versus Sherrod is silly. My consistent angle is defending Tea Party from this predictable line of attack,” he said.
Breitbart has not immediately responded to TPM’s request for comment.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com