The Cost of Crying Racism, Ctd.

May 7, 2013

Conor Friedersdorf has a good post up today looking at the progressive media's reaction to the recent New York Times story on the massive fraud committed by hucksters making fake claims of racial discrimination. I just want to hone in one particular point that hearkens back to something I wrote a few weeks back on the story.

In it, I noted that one of the few congressman who stood up to the fraudulent payouts said that almost no one else would join him. "Never underestimate the fear of being called racist," he said. As Conor writes, leading liberal lights like Adam Serwer were content to level just such charges as the case was bubbling up through the conservative media: "the pervasiveness of conservative anger over the Pigford settlement augurs a new low for conservative anti-anti-racism, in which remedying an exhaustively documented instance of racial discrimination is objectionable not because the claim itself is illegitimate but because it represents a transfer of income from whites to nonwhites."

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the lesson was a simple one for conservatives (and, tangentially, members of the media at large): "You criticize this program, and we're going to call you a racist. It's a nice little career you have there. I'd hate to see something like an accusation of racism muck it up for you. You probably want to do TV some day. Maybe you even have aspirations of working for the Post or the Times. You've heard of this little thing called GOOGLE, right?" So people piped down. It wasn't worth the hassle. Why go digging into something that will get you into trouble? Leave that to the Breitbarts of the world. There are plenty of things to be outraged about; no need to stick your hand into this hornet's nest. What's $4.4 billion anyway?

Are things any better now? After all, the New York Times has shown that billions and billions of dollars were pumped into a terrible program rife with fraud and that political considerations played a huge role in ensuring that the fraud continued. The media has to have learned a lesson. Certainly we can refrain from chucking around accusations of racism willy nilly, right?

Whoa whoa whoa. Hold your horses there, bucko. Let's not get crazy. This was a one-off occurrence. This was a lone wolf program. You really think there are multiple such projects? You want to even investigate the possibility? Well, look, Gawker's Cord Jefferson has some words for you:

many will look at Pigford as further evidence that blacks are lazy takers and that federal programs intending to right America's historical and racist wrongs are always wasteful. In other words, it's going to give fuel to racists who will in turn go on discriminating against blacks and Latinos, who will in turn push for institutions to help them get ahead in a racist country. [Emphasis mine]

The not-so-subtle threat here is, like Serwer's, a rather pernicious one. "Oh, you want to look into these programs benefiting racial groups? Well, maybe you should reconsider that. Or maybe you're a racist? Keep poking around, and let's see what sticks."

Over at, Lee Stranahan notes that the Nation's Richard Kim said that "probably the best way in which to frame this [is] as a historical inquiry and about justice." In the same segment, Melissa Harris-Perry (she of All Your Kids Are Belong To Us fame) suggests that worrying about $4.4 billion of fraud is coded racism. "I have been waiting for a front page story about Pigford," she said. "But then the front page story that we get ends up sounding to me—I have to say it—like some kind of agricultural welfare queen anxiety." Don't you dare talk about this as fraud or an unearned handout, racist! It's all about social justice! Kevin Drum, meanwhile, warns he is "not looking forward to the inevitable ugliness this is going to generate." We should all watch it. We don't want to give him a sad, do we?

"Never underestimate the fear of being called racist." That fear's not going away any time soon if the progressive media has anything to do with it.