Q&A with Greg Palast
By Michael Causey, Washington Independent Writers President (http://www.washwriter.org)
By fans he’s been called “a cross between Sam Spade and Sherlock Holmes.” He’s been called a lot worse by opponents. But muckraking journalist, author and TV reporter Greg Palast wouldn’t have it any other way. His new book, ARMED MADHOUSE: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal ’08, No Child’s Behind Left and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War, is a recent New York Times bestseller. Palast swapped e-mails with WIW in early October to discuss a wide range of issues including why he had to leave the U.S. to get published and what motivates him to keep at it.
How hard has it been for you to get your work published given that much of it goes against the status quo and mainstream media?
I had to leave the country. Couldn’t get a damn thing published in the USA. I faxed an article to The Guardian—they printed it, it was debated in Parliament, on BBC.
I’m best known for uncovering how Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush knocked off tens of thousands of Black citizens off the voter rolls of Florida just before the 2000 election. They were supposedly felons, but their only crime was Voting While Black.
This expose, and the ones on the theft of 2004, on the Bush-Ladin connection, on Enron, on Hugo Chavez, on Iraq — these were all front page stories in the U.K., in Europe, in Latin America—here, NADA. Look it up: NPR has never mentioned the purge of Black “felons” in Florida; the [New York] Times didn’t acknowledge that story for four years.
I wrote a story in TomPaine and in the London Observer titled, “Kerry Won.” I was contacted by the New York Times Washington Bureau days after the election, after I’d written my report indicating massive fraud in the 2004 vote. The Times reporter had two questions for me:
1. Are you a sore loser? [and]
2. Are you a conspiracy nut?
He hadn’t the least interest in my offer to provide him evidence of votes uncounted and a racist voter-challenge campaign by the GOP (a story I reported on BBC Television, with documentation). Instead, the Times ran a story the next day headlined, “INTERNET THEORIES OF BUSH LOSS, SPREAD BY BLOGS, EASILY DEBUNKED.”
And that’s all the news that’s fit to print in the USA.
What would you advise aspiring investigative journalists to do today to find a platform for their work?
Leave the country. I mean it. And whatever you do, stay the f*** away from journalism schools. It’s nearly impossible to go through training in press-release re-writing and come out sane and useful as a journalist OR a human being. Look at Bob Woodward.
You’ve had to fight censorship in your career. What advice do you give others facing censorship either from their publication…
Get ready to quit your job. Another reason not to go to journalism school. If you needed their [lousy] little paycheck, they own…your soul, your mind, [and] your story. If you volunteer to be a pet on a lease, don’t be surprised when they feed you dog food.
…or officials taking an eternity to respond to FOIA requests etc.?
First, be patient. Not every story has to come out instantly.
Second, don’t be patient. Write the story of their stonewalling.
Third, sue’em. The Guardian does that endlessly with US agencies. Judicial Watch USA is helpful there and so is EPIC [Electronic Privacy Information Center, www.epic.org ].
Talk about the reaction you have gotten on your book tour. Everyone loves positive comments and questions, but you have to get a lot of flack from right-wing types who disagree with you. How do you handle them?
The following is my entire interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox network radio show, to which he’d invited me as a phone guest:
Hannity: So this is Greg Palast?
Me: Yes. Hello, Sean.
Hannity: Greg Palast, the BBC Television reporter?
Me: Yes, BBC carries my reports.
Hannity: Well, Palast, you know what you are? You’re a PUTZ, Palast. You know what a PUTZ is? Well, you’re a PUTZ!!
And he hung up. End of interview.
National Petroleum Radio [National Public Radio, NPR] was a little better. I’m generally not permitted on the national shows, but it was difficult for them to leave me off of the NPR outlet in San Francisco where my books had topped the bestseller list.
NPR host: “I’m really surprised to find that your book has a lot of very interesting information in between the unsupportable conspiracy theories….”
Turning to the actual writing, how much time do you devote to research and how much to the actual writing? Are you a slow or fast writer?
Palast: 50/50. I’m a fast writer but a SLOW researcher—that is, it takes a lot of damn time to get this work down. However, I spend a LOT of time re-writing, because I want to make the s*** readable.
Whether it is with nonfiction works like yours or novels with a message, can writers really make a difference in the world? It seems like TV and movies are where the public’s eyeballs tend to focus.
You got that right, Jack. That’s why I also do TV and DVDs. My stories didn’t touch the USA until Michael Moore put my discoveries in his films. Books don’t mean s*** to the mainstream nor, let’s face it, to progressives. Why I report for TV and make films, though, I consider that a sidelight because my mortal soul is invested in books whether anyone pays attention or not.
What motivates you? Does your energy level or inspiration ever flag? If so, how do you handle that?
Resentment is my fuel. I grew up working class, from the a** end of LA. My daddy couldn’t make the phone calls to get me into Yale nor out of Vietnam. When I see millionaire [dudes] like George Jr. or Osama, a billionaire’s son, put the rest of us poor schmucks in the line of fire, I get so angry I could kill. But I’m a pacifist, so I get funny and write.
Greg Palast is the author of the just-released New York Times bestseller, “ARMED MADHOUSE: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal ‘08, No Child’s Behind Left and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.” Read his articles and watch his reports at www.GregPalast.com.
For Media Requests contact: interviews (at) GregPalast.com