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USDA Responds to Drudge Item on Stimulus

By Ed O'Keefe

A screengrab of the Drudge Report's links to Agriculture Department economic stimulus expenditures (Courtesy

Earl Devaney's dream has come true: A journalist woke up this morning, logged on to and discovered something fishy. Or meaty, in this case.

Back in March, when he took control of the government's stimulus-tracking Web site, Devaney told lawmakers that "There's probably not a reporter in America who won’t wake up and not click on that Web site." His theory was that reporters would help catch cases of waste, fraud, abuse or misuse of economic stimulus dollars.

Matt Drudge did just that this morning, linking to five Agriculture Department stimulus expenditures for frozen ham, mozzarella cheese and canned pork, among others. (See the screengrab above.) He also calls out the installation of a traffic signal at Hickam Air Force Base, costing $541,000; a door repair, costing $1.4 million, at Dyess Air Force Base; and a $351,000 upgrade to the freight elevator at a Brooklyn Veterans Affairs facility.

Why does this matter? As colleague Chris Cillizza has noted in the past, Drudge's news choices have a way of rubbing off on other segments of the news media, especially on cable news and radio talk shows.

Drudge's decision to highlight the expenditures comes on the same day the new Post-ABC News poll finds that more than six in 10 Americans oppose spending beyond the $787 billion already allocated to boost the economy.

In response, the Agriculture Department issued a statement from Secretary Tom Vilsack, clarifying that the $1.91 million contract for frozen sliced ham came from the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which buys food later distributed to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens.

"This program will help reduce hunger of those hardest hit by the current economic recession," Vilsack said.

As for the cheese charges, the Farm Service Agency purchased 837,936 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 4,039,200 pounds of processed cheese.

USDA says the purchases "provide a modest economic benefit of benefiting Americans working at food retailers, manufacturers and transportation companies as well as the farmers and ranchers who produce our food supply."

That seems like a bit of a stretch, but the response is exactly what Devaney anticipated: The news media raised questions about some questionable stimulus expenditures and the Obama administration responded. It's also noteworthy because this is the first time The Eye can recall during the Obama administration that USDA has reacted so quickly to a specific news report.

Expect similar examples involving other news organizations and government agencies in the coming months as even more stimulus dollars get distributed.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 20, 2009; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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There's not a reporter who won’t wake up and not click? What the hell is that triple negative supposed to mean, anyway?

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 20, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh how we all wish that Matt Drudge had "clicked" on DOD expenditures over the last 8 years and given us an account of how much was spent on "no bid" contracts. How wise we all would have become!!

Of course, he will not respond to or mention the clarifications because he would be given both sides of the story. His first rule is to get the sensational and let the "tea baggers" congregate to fume about what they know squiddly squat!

Posted by: hadelaide | July 20, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

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