First Amendment Problem

Cynthia Moothart

I understand there’s a new Palast Investigative Fund, which suggests you’re in trouble again. What’s up?

There’re two suits I’m dealing with. One is from the Bush family’s former gold mining company. Most people don’t realize that Poppy Bush had a gold mine: Barrick Gold Mining Corp. Just before Mr. Bush left office at the request of two-thirds of the American people, he changed the rules for gold mine claims, allowing one corporation named Barrick to lay claim to a $10 billion gold mine, the biggest in the United States, and pay the U.S. Treasury $10,000. They then gave President Bush a lucrative job as their senior international advisor. Barrick got the gold mine, the public got the shaft and Poppy got the job. The company said in suing my paper, the Guardian in Britain, that any reasonable person reading these facts would conclude that they’re connected. So I’ve gotta say they’re not connected. To beat these guys we piled up tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills that I personally incurred even though I wasn’t personally sued, my paper was, to defend the truth. Furthermore, this same company bought a gold mining company with George Bush’s help, which cleared a site in Tanzania by running bulldozers across it to push out the miners who were there. And the evidence we received, including photographs and witness statements, was that when the bulldozers ran across the property 50 miners were still in their pits and they were buried alive. I reported that, that Bush’s operation was buying this mine and benefited from this clearance and they demanded that I not just give their side of the story; they wanted me to say that I could verify that no one died.

On the other side of the aisle, a guy named Mario Cuomo is suing me because he didn’t like the way he was portrayed in a single sentence in the book. Actually, it’s a single word that he’s upset about. All I can tell you is that he’s suing in the United States where he’s got a problem called the First Amendment. He’s ready to blow Thomas Jefferson’s head off Mount Rushmore just because the poor guy wrote the First Amendment. I’m sorry. I didn’t write the Bill of Rights, why blame me? But it’s costing a fortune in suits, tremendous losses being incurred to maintain an operation to do really serious deep dig-in old-fashioned sleuth-work investigative reporting. We do everything from undercover work, hidden tape recording, hidden filming; it’s a very expensive operation that even the BBC and the Guardian papers cannot possibly fully support. And therefore, I’ve set up an investigative reporting fund, a not-for-profit foundation that will support this work. I’m not asking anyone to give me a penny toward my endless legal defenses. The problem is it’s made it harder for me to keep putting in my personal savings long defending myself to subsidize the undercover work and research work. That’s what I’m asking people to support.

Does this not-for-profit protect you personally in the future?

The important thing is that the work is protected, that the work continues to be funded no matter how much they attempt to sue me. And of course they can’t sue my fund, so the important thing is that it will keep the work going no matter what they do to me, no one can think that by suing me they can shut the operation down.

Are you a target because so few people are doing investigative journalism these days?

Absolutely. No one ever got sued for reporting what Ari Fleischer said at a press conference. No one ever got sued for repeating a press release from a corporation. The Globe and Mail of Canada, the big newspaper of Canada, was about to run a front-page story about the killings in Tanzania. Instead they basically ran a press release from Barrick saying some human rights groups are accusing this poor corporation of killing people. And they spiked the story by their top investigative reporter, so they didn’t get sued because they simply killed the story before birth. … If you’re a member of Amnesty International, quit, because it reported the killings but when it was threatened it removed all references to it and refused to support the Tanzanians. One of my sources in Tanzania has been charged with sedition for giving me this material. This is serious stuff. And not many people are willing to stand up to the heat.

How do you think the mainstream media reports on the Bush administration?

They’ve become repeaters, not reporters. They’re embedded in the administration. I did the story of how tens of thousands of black voters in Florida were illegally purged from the voter rolls; they were called felons. They were in fact just guilty of voting while black. I got a nasty note from a reporter from CNN who said I’ve been working here, inside the U.S. Justice Department, and they haven’t arrested anyone for this and therefore the story must be bogus.’” In other words, if the government didn’t say so, it didn’t happen. I have the computer printouts that show how it happened. That’s what we call investigative reporting.” And that’s what I’ve been attacked for. In fact, I was threatened again by a lawsuit. There’s no merit to these cases; they just chew you up. They cost huge amounts of time and money. They make it impossible to insure our work. They scare away publishers. They scare away film producers. You’re not going to see this stuff on U.S. airwaves. That’s why we have the investigative fund to say we don’t care what you do to us.

Do you believe among the mainstream media there is a creeping awareness that their complicity undermines coverage?

Here we are trying to supposedly liberate Iraqis, and what America saw were reporters looking at the people we were liberating through the gun hole of a moving tank, whereas BBC reporters were on the ground, unilaterals as they were called and therefore targets. And most BBC reporters sent there speak Arabic. It’s not a minor thing to actually communicate. Right now, I’m really worried that now that the United States successfully installed murdercrats in Haiti that we’re going after Venezuela. You won’t get any real reporting from Venezuela out of the U.S. press. You’ll get no reporting until it blows up and they’ll say the dictator” Hugo Chavez. Dictator” is someone who is elected by the majority of the vote, like Aristide, and a moderate president is someone like Musharraf in Pakistan who is a bloodthirsty backer of the Taliban, or Qaddafi, the Bush administration’s latest Toy Boy with an awful lot of oil.

Immediately following the end” of fighting in Iraq, the mainstream media did a self-critique and put on its hairshirt and said mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. But I don’t really see any difference between then and now.

Zero. I’m doing a one-year anniversary on the war for BBC; I’m filming right now. And I have inside documents that show well before the war they were planning to invade, divide up the assets of this nation and sell its oil. I’ve got the documents. You will see this if you are in Britain or the 40 countries that take the feed. But it’s basically blacked out in America. So it hasn’t changed.

I understand you’ve got a few new projects.

We’ve got a DVD coming out, a one-hour special I did on the Bush family on BBC that no American television station will touch. I have a CD, Weapons of Mass Instruction,” out because I can’t get the story out on American radio except for the oasis like Democracy Now!” and finally, we will soon have the new edition of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, with the new chapter on how they will steal the 2004 election.

How will they steal the election?

There is something called the Help America Vote Act that our president signed a year and a half ago. As soon as the Bush family tells us they’re going to help us vote I get very nervous. And sure enough, it is filled with expanding the purge of voters they did in Florida. Instead of eliminating that horror show, that racial voter pogrom, they’re going to take it on the road nationwide. The second thing they’re going to do is provide billions of dollars to force states to computerize voting. I have some other angles that no one else has picked up yet. It’s a creepy story, and hopefully you’ll get fightin’ mad. They did a test run when Katherine Harris put computer touch screens in Broward County in Florida. In the black precincts the computers went down, and thousands and thousands of black votes were never counted in machines ordered by Katherine Harris, made by an evil little company called iVotronics ES&S. That was a test run not to see that they worked but to see that they didn’t work at the right place. And of course Jeb Bush solved the disaster they had in Broward County by firing the black woman who is the elections official. So they did their test run and now they’re going to take it on the road. And what you’re going to see is a massive non-count of black votes. Here’s the bottom line: In 2000, I’m working with Chris Edley of Harvard Law School on this — using his statistics and numbers and he was a U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner — to determine that 1 million black people cast votes nationwide and didn’t have their votes counted. So the non-count of the black vote is a serious racial problem.

How did you arrive at a million votes?

Actually, it’s the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. It’s quite official if anyone bothers to look. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission and Harvard University Center for Civil Rights. We know 2.9 million votes, we know the exact number of votes that were cast and not counted in 2000 that’s reported precinct by precinct across America. So we have the exact number of not counted. But if you look at the precincts — black-majority precincts have huge a number of non-counts. You see that one in five votes will not be counted, whereas in the white counties one in 60, one in 70 won’t get counted for some technical reason. Doing a simple regression analysis it’s figured one in seven black votes is not counted in the United States. And that’s about 10 times the rate of non-counts for white voters. If you proportion that against the actual numbers of non-counts, it comes out to one million-seven thousand votes cast not counted in 2000. Broward County was the testing zone. It’s the non-counts they’re aiming at. People are over-focused on the ability to hack into the machines and change votes from Democratic to Republican. The biggest danger is the strategic breakdown of machines that will cause the non-vote in strategic precincts. That’s what happened in Broward, where the machines were first tested. That’s what will happen nationwide. Watch.

People say why vote or whatever, we can’t win. That’s not true. We’ve had some very successful movements in the United States, from the women’s movement, the union movement, the populist movement, the consumer movement. There’s only so much crap Americans will eat; Americans are not good at eating shit for too long. At a certain point, there’re only so many aircraft carriers the Grinning Chimp can land on before people get tired of the duck and cover security game they’re playing. Because of George Bush America is unsafe today. That’s the damn truth. And that’s one of the stories I’ll be making clear as well.

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Cynthia Moothart is managing editor for content at In These Times.
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