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Friday, September 24, 2004

Greg Palast on the Media Freedoms in the US

Greg Palast has given an interview to Hustler magazine. Most of the interview is dedicated to the issues of press freedoms in the US,- or, rather, how the mainstream media outlets choose to exercise those freedoms.

It is rather curious that this sort of interview was published in Hustler and not, for instance, The New York Times. While I have little interest in pornography, I certainly need to acknowledge Hustler's achievements in presenting controversial opinions which still need to be voiced,- especially in the times when the journalistic mainstream shies away from such opinions.

Greg Palast speaks about potentially scandalous issues which most Americans likely never heard about. The interview is centered around Mr Palast's explosive book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
HUSTLER: What kind of material do you have in the book?
PALAST: How about this for an example: After Daddy Bush left the White House, he went to work for a company called Barrick Gold Corporation in Canada, something you haven't read in the United States. The first thing he does is pick up a big, fat check and stock options from Barrick Gold Corporation for, essentially, selling them the presidential seal and the presidential Rolodex. And he writes letters to dictators like [former president of Indonesia] Suharto, saying, "Give these nice guys gold-mining concessions."
HUSTLER: What is Barrick Gold?
PALAST: It was founded with money from Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer. You may remember that Adnan was the bagman in the guns-for-hostages, Iran-Contra scandal. The sheikh got out, then Bush got in. You have to ask yourself a question: What would a Canadian gold-mining company do with a used president? Well, it turns out that before he left office, Daddy Bush put in motion an expedited process for laying claims to gold in the United States. It allowed Barrick Gold Corporation and a couple of other operators to lay claim to the largest gold mines in America. To stake a claim on $10 billion worth of gold ore, Barrick paid the U.S. Treasury less than $10,000.
HUSTLER: I would have gone for that myself. I could have scraped together $10,000.
PALAST: All I can say is that Barrick was very, very grateful for the gold mine. But the public got the shaft, and Daddy Bush got the job. And George W. got the donations. That's the other thing that has been unreported here: People don't realize how much easy squeezy [campaign money] is flowing in. That includes things like parallel spending and soft money and hard money, which, by the way, hasn't ended. You know that our Congress has passed campaign-finance reform, so-called. What they did was eliminate soft money, but they doubled the amount of hard money. It's just Viagra for campaign donations. Our big problem is that we held something closer to an auction than an election in America. A lot of the reason [George W.] Bush raised all that cash-that easy squeezy-is because of his father's business connections. You're never quite sure where the Bush family's bank account ends, and the campaigns and our American policy begin.
While there is a natural connection between political and business activities, one would think that it is a media's natural responsibility to explore and report on such connections. And it Mr Palast's account is correct, then it would appear that the US media is not doing a terribly good job of such reporting. And, given that there are no official attempts to deny his account, it is likely correct.

Mr Palast also asserts that corporate interest stood in the way of preventing 9/11 before it happened, and investigating it afterwards.
HUSTLER: Your book also mentions Bush and intelligence failures prior to September 11, right?
PALAST: CIA and FBI agents told BBC Television, for which I was reporting, that they were ordered not to investigate Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks such as al Qaeda. The FBI agents "accidentally" left a file about the Bin Laden family on the desk of one of my researchers. They called up and said, "Oops, we left our file on your desk by accident. You haven't read it, have you? Well, we'll be back to pick it up in 30 minutes-unless you need 45." The FBI agents handed us material dated September 13, 2001, two days after the attack. It was on that date that the FBI was finally released to go after two members of the Bin Laden family, who they had already identified as being involved with a suspected terrorist organization. But by September 11, they were flown birds.
HUSTLER: What happened to other members of the Bin Laden family living in the U.S. after 9/11?
PALAST: Just after the no-fly restriction was lifted, a private Saudi Arabian jet airlifted the Bin Laden family members out of the country before the FBI could talk to them. Everyone thinks there's just one black sheep in that family, but the FBI agents were telling us at BBC that they think there's a couple of gray sheep, and they had some questions for the family members. There were a lot of people
dead under the rubble at that moment when those people left.
HUSTLER: What had American policy been regarding the Bin Laden family prior to the Bush Administration?
PALAST: Bill Clinton had already put a go-slow on investigations of Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks. Clinton had always taken the position that we can't annoy our dear friends, the Saudis, even if our dear friends happen to be funding terrorists like the al Qaeda network; however, he never actually stood in the way of investigating them, whereas George W., according to FBI and intelligence agents, said, "You can't go there. You may not look. You may not investigate the American Bin Ladens."
HUSTLER: So the FBI and CIA agents were pissed at George W.?
PALAST: They are furious. He blindsided our intelligence agencies. How could a trillion-dollar intelligence operation like the CIA not foresee the most deadly attack on America since Pearl Harbor? The answer is not because Bush knew about September 11 in advance. Rather, they were told not to look because of connections that are political, personal and financial between the Bushes and the Saudis. When these agencies were told not to look, there was a lot not to look at. There was a 1996 meeting between the al Qaeda financial arm, Saudi billionaires and key international arms dealers. There was a discussion about which Saudis would pay how much to al Qaeda. Now if I can find out about it, and the French intelligence had a mole in the meeting, you can bet that our trillion-dollar CIA could find out about it; so why wasn't there follow-up? Why wasn't there action? How about a note to the Saudis saying, "Do us a favor: Stop giving money to people who are killing us."
HUSTLER: What about the Bin Laden and Bush connections to the Carlyle Group?
PALAST: The Bin Ladens were investors in a very private and a very exclusive operation called Carlyle, which is an investment group. Carlyle is one of the biggest private corporations on the planet; so they report to no one, and they're responsible to no one, except their little coterie of owners, which is made up of an ex-president and dictators. Daddy Bush worked for, and still continues to be on a retainer for, the Carlyle Group, representing the company in Saudi Arabia and in Asia. His son, our President, was also put on the board of one of the companies owned by Carlyle, Caterair, and he was paid on the order of $50,000 for them to access his great business acumen. Caterair went under, but they never asked for their money back.
HUSTLER: What about George W.'s oil ventures?
PALAST: He had several oil ventures and could never find oil in Texas, which is almost impossible, as you know. On the other hand, he had a company, Spectrum Seven, which was bought out by another company, Harken Oil. Before that, he had Arbusto, which means shrub. He could never find oil, this guy. But he did find Saudi Arabians who put money into Harken and got him on the board where he was paid consulting fees. Then, despite the fact that the company seems to be going south, a miracle occurred. That is, the Bahraini government insisted on giving Harken Oil a contract to drill in the Persian Gulf. This is a dry-land Texas company suddenly being given an offshore oil lease by a country that had previously been doing business with Amoco. They picked this little, teeny company out of nowhere, which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the guy was the son of the President of the United States.
While there is nothing wrong with being in the oil business, it appears that George W Bush has a strong conflict of interest when it comes to conducting policy in oil-rich regions. And Middle East happens to be just such a region. And it also happens to be where the most crucial world events happen today. The logical summation of these observations must be that due to a conflict of interest, George W Bush ought to be disqualified from formulating the US foreign policy, especially in the capacity of President.

Palast gives a powerful account of the state of journalism in the US today. We must note that the blame lies on all of us, not just the corporate powers, for in a situation where there is no direct state oppression it is still our choice whom to support and finance in the media.
HUSTLER: What has happened to the news media in this country?
PALAST: I vomit every time I see Tom Brokaw.
HUSTLER: And Dan Rather-
PALAST: I feel sick at heart when I see Rather, because he's actually a journalist. He came on my program, Newsnight [in England] and said, "I can't report the news. I'm not allowed to ask questions. We're gonna send our children and our husbands into the desert now, and I can't ask a question, because I will be lynched." This is what Rather said in London. He looked defeated and awful, and I was thinking, Why am I feeling sorry for this guy who is worth millions? He should turn to the camera and say, "Well, now for the truth. Over to you, Greg, in London." The problem is that he can't report the story of the intelligence agents who are told not to look at the Bin Laden family, not to look at Saudi funding of terror.
The journalists themselves are also to blame, says Palast. And I think he's got an excellent point there.
HUSTLER: What makes Rather afraid to do his job?
PALAST: It's not just that there are brutal shepherds like Rupert Murdoch out there to beat the dickens out of any reporter that asks the wrong questions; it's all about making news on the cheap. You know, for some of these editors, cheap and easy is a philosophy of life. To do a heavy-duty story on Bush, his oil and Bush and his gold-mining company is beyond them. A little bit of the Harken stock scandal came out, but that story was already seven years old. To some extent they know that there are certain things you cannot say. Rather says he would be necklaced for telling the truth.
HUSTLER: He said that? What did he mean?
PALAST: In South Africa, under apartheid, if someone didn't like you, they put a burning tire around your neck. That was called "necklacing." On my show, Rather said, "If I ask any questions, I'll be necklaced." And I'm thinking, Oh, that's a good image. It's sad, but if Dan Rather doesn't have the cojones to ask a question, then you name a reporter who's gonna step out and ask about what's going on. It's not that the corporate guys say, "Don't run that story," although that has happened to me many times in North American media, but also the shepherds pick the lambs who won't ask the questions. For example, there was a reporter, some poor producer, who wanted to run a story about how Jack Welch had lied about polluting the Hudson River. The story didn't run. Shockeroo. That was for Dateline NBC, owned by General Electric, of which Jack Welch was the chairman of the board. Or as in the case of Venezuela, I was stunned to come back from Caracas to find a picture on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle of 100,000 people marching against the president of Venezuela. Sounds like he's a terrible guy and people hate him. What they didn't say was that half a million people were marching for him. At least the Soviet Russians knew that the stuff in Pravda was coming out the wrong end of a toilet, whereas, we live under the pretense that the New York Times prints all the news that's fit to print.
HUSTLER: I won't read the New York Times. That publication has no credibility with me.
PALAST: The New York Times ran a story, front page, the first week of September 2001, talking about gold-mining companies in Nevada and how they seem to be getting let off the hook by the Bush Administration on environmental rules. They didn't mention two things in that front-page article: They didn't mention the owner of the big gold mine-Barrick-and they didn't mention who had been on their board-the President's daddy. I brought that up to an editor of the Times. They said, "How dare you? No one has ever accused the New York Times of cowardice," and [former Times writer] Seymour Hersch leaned over to me and said, "That's the guy who had me pushed out of the Times."
HUSTLER: They haven't really told the truth about Bush and the 2000 election, either.
PALAST: I've got brand-new, deeply evil stuff about that in the new book. What happened was that, five months before the election, Katherine Harris, acting under orders from Jeb Bush, knocked 57,000 voters off the rolls. They were suspected of being evildoers and felons and, therefore, not allowed to vote in Florida. Here's the news: Of the 57,000 people, 97% were innocent of crimes, but they were guilty of being black. Half of them were African-American or Hispanic-in other words, Democratic voters. Was the state guessing who the people of color were? In Florida, it's like South Africa; they list your race right on your registration. There was no guessing. These people not only lost their vote, but lost their president. BBC figures Gore lost 22,000 votes this way, but you didn't read that in the U.S. press. You didn't read in the U.S. press that they say they're going to allow the voters back on in 2003. That means that they were screwed for the election of 2002 as well. I ran the story of the theft of the election on the BBC. Then a hotshot with CBS News calls me and says, "Oh, that's a great story, can we have a piece of it? We want something new." I said, "Yeah, I got something for you: Jeb Bush's office, the governor of Florida, is involved in knocking off the voters too, not just Katherine Harris, and there's a letter dated September 18, 2000, which directs county-elections officials to deliberately violate the law and not register a bunch of people who are Democrats. These are people who committed crimes in other states. Jeb can't legally stop them from voting, but he did anyway. And he knows that these people are Democrats, because there's something about going to jail that turns people [into] Democrats, about 93% [of ex-cons vote Democrat]."
HUSTLER: So, people who were either black or who had previously gone to jail were just automatically eliminated?
PALAST: Right. Jeb sent out the letter anyway, September 18, 2000, despite two court orders saying he couldn't do that. I had an insider in his office, some poor woman, shaking, saying, "I gotta read you this letter." She knew about the court orders. Okay, so I said to CBS, "That's a story." CBS News didn't run the story-one night, two nights. I said, "What happened?" They said, "It didn't stand up." I said, "How do you know the story didn't stand up?" "Well, we called Jeb Bush's office, and they said, 'We didn't do it.'" Oh. Hotshot Dan Rather investigative news team. They said, "The letter doesn't exist. It's not in the computer files; it's in no one's files, not in the governor's files. It's nowhere to be found." Then Katherine Harris writes a hysterical, screeching letter to Harper's magazine, calling me twisted and maniacal, but she didn't say I was wrong. She said, "Yeah, we knocked off these people, but it's not my fault; I got a letter from the governor." I called up her office-I didn't say, "This is Mr. Twisted and Maniacal"-I said, "Um, excuse me, I got a letter from your Secretary of State saying that she had a letter from the governor, before the election, regarding removing people from the voter rolls. Could you fax that to me?" Suddenly, the letter that CBS says doesn't exist is faxed to me. I've got it in my hot little hands, the letter that was in Katherine Harris's desk; so CBS just took an official denial, because they're not gonna say, "The President's brother, the governor of the state of Florida, fixed the election"-that we had a coup d'├ętat by computer.
So, in essence it took Mr Palast one phone call to find a confirmation for a story that CBS News was unable to obtain. That may, of course, have been a case of laziness on the part of the CBS News, however, I find it quite reasonable to ask whether that was laziness or lack of willingness to learn the truth.

Greg Palast is certainly a very energetic and dedicated journalist. I think he is setting an example that the media in the US critically needs to follow. For now, however, alternative media appears to be where those interested in the truth as it is ought to go to.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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