Minority Reporter

Brett Schaeffer

Award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Greg Palast spent the past five years in Lon­don report­ing for both the Guardian and Observ­er news­pa­pers and BBC tele­vi­sion. A for­mer legal inves­ti­ga­tor, Palast says he went over­seas because the Amer­i­can media were no longer report­ing inves­tiga­tive sto­ries but sim­ply regur­gi­tat­ing the par­ty line, whether it was com­ing from Wash­ing­ton or cor­po­rate lead­ers.

His new book, The Best Democ­ra­cy Mon­ey Can Buy, is a col­lec­tion of Palast’s sto­ries most­ly unseen by Amer­i­can read­ers. Per­haps the most famous sto­ry he broke revealed how Florida’s top offi­cials cleared the state’s vot­er rolls of faux felons, pri­mar­i­ly African-Amer­i­cans, dur­ing the 2000 elec­tions. Thou­sands were list­ed in the state’s com­put­er records with phan­tom con­vic­tions — either before they were born or years into the future — and were sub­se­quent­ly pre­vent­ed from voting.

In These Times spoke with Palast about the state of the Amer­i­can media in June.

You’ve returned to live in the Unit­ed States after five years in Lon­don. Why come back now? 

I’m an Amer­i­can. It’s weird, you leave the coun­try and you find your­self becom­ing a fuck­ing patri­ot, because there are a lot of good things about Amer­i­ca. … Amer­i­ca is like this weird hall of mir­rors in which you see some of the most fright­en­ing things you can imag­ine and then, you know, pur­ple moun­tain majesties” in both the phys­i­cal and moral sense. That’s some­thing the left should start think­ing about: What’s real­ly won­der­ful about Amer­i­ca? That’s why I’m here. I’m an Amer­i­can. I like it.

Let’s talk about Flori­da. You report­ed — imme­di­ate­ly after the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — that the vot­ing machines in dif­fer­ent Flori­da coun­ties were set dif­fer­ent­ly. The machines in the pre­dom­i­nant­ly white coun­ties allowed vot­ers to make a mis­take and have a sec­ond chance to vote; in the pre­dom­i­nant­ly black coun­ties, a mis­take on the bal­lot meant the vote was void­ed. Why was this sto­ry over­looked by most of the Amer­i­can press? 

The Wash­ing­ton Post said they looked at my stuff, and they didn’t see any­thing seri­ous. [In June], they final­ly run a sto­ry say­ing the machines were set two dif­fer­ent ways. … Extra­or­di­nary find­ing: In black coun­ties you made a mis­take, you couldn’t vote again; in white coun­ties you made a mis­take, you vote again. So you had mas­sive spoilage of black bal­lots. … What I am con­cerned about [is that] once they uncov­ered this, they cov­ered over it with a whole bunch of cocka­mamy stuff about why it’s a pol­i­cy prob­lem, it’s a vot­ing-machine-reform prob­lem. … So they make it this issue of tech­ni­cal cam­paign reform. It’s not. It’s about all the ways you steal a vote.

What’s the sta­tus of Florida’s guber­na­to­r­i­al elec­tions in November? 

The 2002 race between Jeb Bush and prob­a­bly Janet Reno is going to be the ugli­est, nas­ti­est race we’ve seen in a long time in the Unit­ed States.

Are you going to write about it? 

I intend to. I’m try­ing to nail down BBC tele­vi­sion to send me back to Flori­da to cov­er the race. I want to do it as a doc­u­men­tary.

What news out­let in the U.S. could you do that for? 

I think I’ll try to go to main­stream papers. … They don’t go as far as I do by fol­low­ing out the path show­ing it was delib­er­ate … but are they going to let me report these sto­ries? We’ll see what hap­pens. It’ll be an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment. One of the crit­i­cisms of me, and I think I have to respond to it, is that I’m not around, and I don’t try hard enough to get this stuff into the main­stream out­lets.

What’s the prob­lem with the Amer­i­can press? 

In Britain there are rules; they’re writ­ten down. I don’t like it. It’s cen­sor­ship. But that’s the rule. … In the Unit­ed States, nothing’s writ­ten down. We’ve got a free press. [It’s] just [that] if you don’t know where the invis­i­ble bor­ders are, you can lose your fuck­ing job. … 

Here’s an exam­ple: Read­ing the New York Times the oth­er day, Steven Green­house — a great labor reporter — does a front-page sto­ry about how Wal-Mart has been sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly not pay­ing its work­ers … [and] vio­lat­ing the wage laws. You’ve clocked out, but now you’ve got to clean up the storeroom.” 

Was it won­der­ful for the Times to run that sto­ry on the front page? Yes. The prob­lem? One: The story’s 10 years old. Two: It says law­suit con­tends.” The New York Times did noth­ing. … They didn’t say we dis­cov­ered Wal-Mart’s been doing this. They’re say­ing someone’s suing them for doing this. 

So if you read that news care­ful­ly — what is prob­a­bly one of their best reporters doing a praise­wor­thy report — even that is a piece of shit. And that’s the New York Times at its best. … So now what am I sup­posed to do? Ask these guys for a job? What do I do when they say, What do you think of our paper?” [Laugh­ing] It’s not as soft as Charmin.

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