Palast wants to blow your mind
Who's afraid of Greg Palast? According to the best-selling, left-wing muckraker, here's who should be: Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney and the entire American press corps
By Edward Nawotka
SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Investigative journalist Greg Palast doesn't do anything the easy way. He wires himself up and tries to get the political and corporate elite to admit to malfeasance. He "liberates" confidential documents from places such as the World Bank.
Though Palast is a born and bred American, his incendiary stories usually appear in the U.K., on BBC television's "Newsnight" and in the Guardian newspaper. In the U.S., he's shunted onto fringe radio stations such as Pacifica. Among the mainstream media outlets, only Harper's magazine has dared run his stories. Even so, his 2004 book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," was a best-seller here.
Palast's new book, "Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal 'O8, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War," is breathless and cryptic and must be read to be believed. (Or, for many, disbelieved.) It appears to offer documentary proof that there really are secret and not-so-secret rulers of the world.
I spoke to Palast, who regularly appears on television wearing a Sam Spade-style fedora and trench coat, by phone from San Francisco, where he was launching his U.S. tour with an appearance on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! radio show. He is, if anything, even more provocative in conversation than he is in print, if only because he doesn't have the opportunity to footnote some of his more lurid accusations — not all of which the American-Statesman can vouch for. When I asked him how it felt to go head-to-head on the best-seller list with right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, whose book "Godless" went on sale the same day as "Armed Madhouse," he suggested that her popularity is a mirage, accusing her supporters of simply buying her books en masse and dumping them in the ocean. He offered no proof for this assertion.
Austin American-Statesman: You talk about there being a class war in the U.S. and describe the flooding of New Orleans as its "Gettysburg." Would you explain?
Greg Palast: It's the second time that this happened. When the levees burst in 1927, it was a period of time when everybody said the Republican Party was going to control the U.S. government for the rest of the century. But then one Democratic politician stood up and said, "The rich are killing us." This one guy — Huey Long — stood up and said we need pensions, we need government protection, we need regulation of the power companies that have gone wild and are ripping us off. And he created a program that was later renamed the New Deal and the Democrats ran this country for decades on that. It took bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans for us to realize this is happening again, but (the Republicans) are doing their best to stamp it out.
One of the things that comes across in the book is your faith in the power of the press to make change. Do you still believe in that?
I see the power of the press to disinform. In 1929, Huey Long was able to deliver his message by using a new, uncontrolled medium by going over the airwaves. He was the first to deliver a message that wasn't controlled by the newspaper barons. It was called radio. Now we've got the Internet. That's all we've got at the moment.
You're a big fan of Long's.
I'm a big fan of getting around the privileged class. So, you know, we do have a Huey Long today. He's called Hugo Chavez. When the levees broke in New Orleans we had a president who sent in rescue teams and desalinization plants. It was Chavez, but our State Department sent back the planes. In the book I report on Chavez's assassination — I just thought I'd do it in advance. You know, I reported on two stolen elections (2000 and 2004). Now I'm reporting on 2008 being stolen. I figure if I do it in advance I might be able to affect things.
So what makes your reporting different?
First of all, I wear wires and do secret recording and get oil executives to fess up to planning with Dick Cheney's team what they are going to do with the oil fields of Iraq. Then I've got to go find the documents. It takes two years of hunting and looking. First I had a sense it was there, then there is the confirmation it is there, then I finally get it. Once you get the stuff, a lot of it is highly technical and interpreting it and confirming it is very complicated. No one has the time or interest. Then again, the U.S. press doesn't want to confront power. For example, I had these "caging lists" that came out of the Republican computers. How was I going to prove this was actually a scheme to wipe out black voters? Well, you can stand in their doorway and literally ask, "What is this stuff?" Sometimes you get your answer when the guy turns pale and bolts. The BBC often accepts that as confirmation.
So do you consider yourself a great reporter?
I always appreciate praise, but I don't. You or any other reporter in America could do what I do if you had editors and producers who gave you months to go out and find proof that the Republicans shoplifted the state of Ohio.
You praise the Internet as the medium of the future, yet it is often criticized for factual inaccuracies, often due to the speed at which stories are posted online.
Let me ask you how accurate were Judith Miller's reports on weapons of mass destruction in The New York Times? Of course the Internet has all sorts of garbage on it, but it's also one of the few places you'll get the hard stuff. Anyone can drive a car: a drunk or an ambulance driver.
You blame a lot of our troubles on Texans, from Bush to James Baker. Are you trying to say we should be ashamed of being Texans?
No, it was Texans (such as journalist Jim Hightower) who exposed George Bush. But if there's one place that the class war could not be clearer, that's in the Lone Star State.