BuzzFlash Interviews Greg Palast
June 6, 2002
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH GREG PALAST, IN WHICH HE REVEALS THE LETTER HE RECEIVED FROM KATHERINE HARRIS, CRUELLA HERSELF
Three times is the charm. This is BuzzFlash's third interview with Greg Palast (see http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/archives.html for prior BuzzFlash interviews.)
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GREG PALAST: I just got a letter from Katherine Harris - Cruella herself. Maybe she read my book right? I wonder if she read my entire book or simply looked at the summary in Harper's, because I think she should read the entire thing. I want to make sure we have all her titles correct. She's not just the Secretary of State. Let's not forget that she was campaign chairwoman for the Bush for President Campaign. She's never complained that there might be a bit of bias in how she handled the purging of the Florida voter registration rolls which she was in charge of. Katherine Harris wrote that "Mr. Palast erroneously claims that my predecessor and I removed lawful voters from the Florida registration rolls when in fact, the legislature mandated that we remove these people." Well, yes, but Katherine Harris wrote the law, and she implemented it.
The law says remove ex-felons. It doesn't say to remove a bunch of innocent black people. Excuse me -- read the law again. It says ex-felons, not people who are innocent, but may vote for Al Gore.
I mean, whether Katherine Harris likes it or not, it is not a felony to want to vote for Al Gore. Being a Democrat or being an African-American is not, by itself -- it puts one under suspicion, I grant -- but it's not the final word in whether someone is, in fact, a criminal. If they vote for Al Gore more than once, that's criminal.
Katherine Harris said that I have maniacally partisan conclusions, which assumes that I voted for Al Gore, and I did not. Whereas, she is not maniacally partisan. She's simply chairwoman of George Bush's campaign who erased 57,000 voters who just happened to be African-Americans and others who just happen to vote Democrat.
BUZZFLASH: That's hilarious.
GREG PALAST: Katherine keeps citing that bastion of truth, the Palm Beach Post. According to the Palm Beach Post, there were felons that voted, and the Post knows that felons voted, and Katherine "knows" that they voted for Al Gore. I should note that, if this is true -- and she's Secretary of State and has the name of someone who voted who shouldn't have voted -- then how come she hasn't had them arrested? That's her job. Why not have the police go have them arrested. They have committed a felony.
BUZZFLASH: It sounds like she needs a job description.
GREG PALAST: Finally, Katherine Harris responded to me. She hasn't in the past. I'm not saying that she's a coward. I am saying that she's a candidate for Congress.
Here is what she said, "a study conducted by the Palm Beach Post found that quote 'thousands of felons voted in the presidential election. Almost certainly in the election to favor former Vice President Gore.'" Now I've been waiting for the Palm Beach Post to provide this list of felons that voted. I've asked them, and they have failed to provide me this list. I would like to find these guys, because I'd be more than happy to turn over the list to the Attorney General. And I'll take my camera with me, and go to people's homes, and have them arrested, because they've committed crimes. They voted for Al Gore, and they're ex-felons who do not have a right to vote. They've committed a crime. And if the Palm Beach Post has this information, I think they ought to make it public. The Palm Beach Post is claiming that felons voted for Al Gore, but I couldn't get them to name one. And if there were thousands, I mean why can't they give me a name, an address and a Social Security number of one person?
It was the Palm Beach Post that did this cover-up job for Katherine Harris. They have not done journalism. They've done hack, cheap garbage crap because it is completely inexcusable to say that someone has committed a crime when they're only accusing people of crimes. I mean they have no evidence. They did exactly what she did, which is to say the Palm Beach Post has yet to name names or provide any evidence. They've not proven that criminals have voted. And if they can prove it, let's go arrest that criminal. And if it's not true, let's sue the Palm Beach Post for defamation.
It's no different than Joe McCarthy standing up and saying I have a list of communists in the State Department than the Palm Beach Post saying I have a list of voters, but we can't tell you who they are. Give me a break. That's not journalism. That's garbage.
BUZZFLASH: On another subject, I came across a BBC news story that "strangely enough" didn't get too much press here in the U.S. After the Venezuelan coup was suppressed earlier this year and Mr. Hugo Chavez was put back into power, Chavez claimed that there were, in fact, incursions into his country's airspace by foreign vessels. Let me quote to you from the BBC story from Tuesday, May 14th. "Mr. Chavez has said he has radar images showing a foreign military vessel, a plane and a helicopter violating the country's waters and airspace." Do you know anything about this? Chavez seems to suggest that this, along with other evidence, that this shows the Bush administration's involvement behind the coup to overthrow Chavez and put in Pedro Carmona.
GREG PALAST: I certainly know about that accusation because President Chavez told it to me in Caracas in his office. I was meeting with him after he was returned by the kidnappers following the Keystone Cops coup d'etat against him, which almost succeeded and almost killed him, by the way, so I don't want to make too much light of it. Only in retrospect can we laugh about it. But we do know what was not reported in the U.S. as usual.
In particular, there was a report straight out of the United States State Department that Hugo Chavez, on April 12th, had resigned as President of Venezuela. This is a complete fabrication, lie, garbage, nonsense. And the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times -- every major paper in the United States ran it. And by the way, PBS ran it as a stone-cold fact. And the entire factoid -- the entire garbage nonsense of this was nothing better than a false press release from the U.S. State Department. Pure propoganda.
There was no evidence of such a resignation. I went to the Venezuelan embassy and spent hours on the phone on diplomatic lines so I could get to members of Chavez' cabinet, members of the military, people inside, who said he is not resigning. the New York Times ran an apology for having editorialized in favor of the coup d'etat against an elected president.
I don't care if they have stupid, totalitarian tendencies at the New York Times. They're allowed to be against democracy. My big beef with the New York Times was that they didn't apologize for running an absolute stone-cold piece of crap propaganda lie. And the lies were repeated on "60 Minutes."
"60 Minutes" ran a report basically saying Hugo Chavez is unpopular. He's a dictator. He's a communist. And he's a nut. And therefore, the coup d'etat was justified. The reason why there was this factoid about Chavez resigning was it paved the way for the State Department to, in fact, enforce a coup d'etat by saying, well, there's no president there. Therefore, we can come out in favor of the guys who took over.
Venezuela is the example that says that the entire free market globalization is garbage. Argentina is on its knees and all of Latin America is economically busted except for one country -- Venezuela. And no matter how much they try to scare away investors and spook them into this economy, Venezuela has the strongest economy in Latin America because of Hugo Chavez.
Because what he did was he did the old John Kennedy-Franklin Roosevelt program. He increased the minimum wage. He had a housing program for the poor. He's given land away and created social programs in part funded by the move to double the royalties paid by U.S. oil companies. And, you know, Exxon Corporation is the number-one oil producer in Venezuela. Going after Exxon, which, after Enron, is one of the biggest donors to George Bush's political career, is not a good way to keep alive. So Chavez was given the information that the coup was coming, and that's how he saved himself. His first line of defense was just simply to surround the presidential palace with tanks to keep out any attack on Mira Flores, the Venezuelan White House if you will.
The tank commander who was supposed to protect him turned out to be a traitor, so there were no tanks to protect him. So Chavez agreed to his so-called arrest. He was kidnapped. And Chavez agreed, as long as they let everyone else in his cabinet that was inside the palace with him go.
Well the citizenry and the poor marched on Mira Flores, and basically flooded the streets. What I also found, which no one else had reported, was that there were secret corridors and passageways into Mira Flores, and the Chavistas - Chavez' supporters - had placed hundreds of loyal troops to Chavez in those corridors. Then this toy president came in who was the head of the Chamber of Commerce and declared himself President of Venezuela.
BUZZFLASH: Explain how Chavez survived the coup and later reclaimed his presidency.
GREG PALAST: You should have seen this guy, Pedro Carmona, who led the coup. I have pictures of it. He decked himself out in ribbons and braids, and declared himself president in a fake inauguration. How do you name yourself president?
He needed someone to sign his official inauguration papers. So then the head of the bankers' association signed the document saying that he endorsed this guy as president. It's only humorous, like I say, because, in the end, Chavez returned alive. What the toy president didn't know is that there were all these troops right under his bottom. And then Carmona got the call saying you're surrounded outside by a million screaming poor people who'll rip your head off, and we have F-14s who are ready to turn Mira Flores into rubble. And third, you've got Chavez' troops a couple feet away from you, who are ready to walk through the door and undo your inauguration. So the toy president took off the braids and ribbons, and the costume party was over, and surrendered.
BUZZFLASH: Almost as soon as it started. What's terrifying Greg is that not only was the Bush Administration tied to the coup, but the American corporate media complex was nothing more than a voice box for the Bush administration.
GREG PALAST: As long as the New York Times will reprint the State Department stuff as the truth, and not even say, you know, "according to the State Department" or "the State Department believes Hugo Chavez resigned" or "the State Department believes that . . ." I mean, it's amazing.
The media said Chavez is unpopular. Where'd they get this? In fact, not only did they say he was unpopular, but they put out as a fact that his popularity dropped to 30 percent. Where's the 30 percent figure? Who did you get that from? You know what it was? It was the leaders of the coup. The leaders of the coup owned the media, literally, in Venezuela. And they issued these statements. Well, the truth is that there's only one poll that counts. It's called a presidential election. I know that George Bush doesn't have much faith in a presidential election, but Chavez won 58 percent of the vote recently. And I got to tell you -- no one doubts that he won 58 percent of the vote, because the opposition controls the electoral machinery.
Now there was a reporter who did bring that up to the White House: "How can you say he's undemocratic when he was elected by a majority of the people?" And the White House response is quite telling. The White House response was just because someone wins a majority of the vote doesn't make their government legitimate. Which is, of course, what George Bush would say. If you have a majority of the rich, white people, that's what makes your government legitimate.
Pedro Carmona, the guy who led the coup, was treated very kindly by Chavez. Almost no one was arrested who aided in the coup. Let's not forget that sixty people died in this takeover. The leader of the coup, Carmona was simply placed under house arrest, so he had to stay, most of the time, in his high-class apartment building. And he was even allowed, as a member of the National Assembly, to come and vote. He'd just have to go back and forth from his house.
BUZZFLASH: Is he still under house arrest?
PALAST: He's still under house arrest, but, you know, he basically
has a nice little life. (Since the BuzzFlash interview with Palast, Pedro
Carmona has been granted asylum and is now in Colombia.
He just is not allowed to go to Miami like these guys do, and get their instructions. So I asked this guy Carmona, "What makes you think you could just name yourself president?"
He says, "I was asked to be president by civil society." And by the way, this guy was an oil company executive. It seems to the rich of Venezuela, and to the rich in the United States, civil society means the oil companies, the banking association, and the U.S. Embassy, are the ones who should choose a president.
Oh, and, by the way, the American Ambassador Shapiro ran down to Mira Flores after the coup and had his picture taken with the coup leader, Mr. Pedro Carmona himself. Then, the U.S. had the nerve to say we weren't endorsing the coup. Since when does the United States ambassador go running off within 24 hours of a democratically-elected president's kidnapping, and has his picture taken with the kidnappers? I mean, why didn't Shapiro just go off and meet with the guys who killed Danny Pearl? It would have been about as appropriate.
BUZZFLASH: Some American media claimed that Chavez was a communist.
GREG PALAST: Chavez happens to be very much an anti-marxist. Despite the goofy reports I've seen in the U.S. press, he actually despises the Colombian guerrillas. His programs are very reformist. If John Kennedy were still president, he would be a Chavista, because Chavez is just for simple things like land reform, a fair division of resources with the foreign companies, supporting social services. But in today's world, that's considered radical and does not meet the "60 Minutes" test of pleasing the State Department.
BUZZFLASH: Let's go back to Mr. Chavez's claims of the foreign military vessel?
GREG PALAST: It wasn't the Ugandan Navy there. I haven't seen the radar images and I don't have the sophistication to decode the images. But we do know that there was just violation of the airspace. And I have to say the important thing is that we have gotten no denial of any of these charges from the U.S. State Department.
We've gotten from Colin Powell this weird generalized statement that we would never instigate nor support a coup d'etat against an elected government. But he also didn't say the U.S. did not send in guys to help the coup leaders. He didn't say we didn't send warships. And he certainly can't deny the pictures of the U.S. ambassador with the coup leaders, because it's a photograph. So then I asked the leader of the coup what are you doing with the U.S. ambassador?
BUZZFLASH: What did he say?
GREG PALAST: He said, well, it was just an informational meeting. A U.S. ambassador does not meet with the leaders of a coup d'etat while the real president is being held captive for information purposes. Why didn't Chavez's phone line work? Come on. The U.S. State Department effectively endorsed the coup.
BUZZFLASH: Another thing that I wanted to ask you about was the Dan Rather interview on the same news program you work for, BBC's Newsnight. (See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/bush/story/0,7369,717097,00.html)
GREG PALAST: Mr. Rather was on the show, but I didn't interview him. I was tempted to try to bite his hair -- I'm joking. The one thing that is frightening is Dan Rather out of makeup, because he has really aged. But then, of course, so have I.
BUZZFLASH: But this is what's interesting is that here's this very powerful American journalist -- broadcaster who said in the interview, and I'm quoting: "It is an obscene comparison -- you know, I'm not sure I like it -- but, you know, there was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented."
And Dan Rather is referring to how stifling it was for anyone, including him, to talk or criticize or ask tough questions about the Bush administration after September 11th. What's your comment about that? It is deeply strange that he is saying that not on American TV, but over in England.
GREG PALAST: The producer of my program says, well, why don't we ask Dan Rather to come on and talk about this kind of unbelievable influence of the U.S. government on Hollywood. So he really started out with this stuff about how Hollywood has been really changing all its films to go along with whatever the Defense Department wants. Like "Black Hawk Down," for example. The Defense Department changed something on every single page of the script apparently.
The producers said we'd like to interview Dan Rather. And I said he'll never agree to talk. But apparently he was in kind of a confessional mode here. Maybe he knows about my stuff that you can say whatever the hell you want on BBC Television and it will never get back to America. His comments somehow never made it back across the Atlantic.
BUZZFLASH: It's almost like American actors who do commercials in Japan and other places.
GREG PALAST: Right, right, because no one has to worry about it, because you can say anything. So suddenly it was like this big confessional moment.
He's sitting there talking about being part of the propaganda arm of the U.S. State Department. There's that line from Shakespeare in Hamlet -- "words without deeds never to heaven go." And my view is, okay, Dan, you've just confessed. But, you know, you run a news program, Dan.
We can't say you're off the hook with three Hail Marys. What you have to do now is go back to your network and say: no, I'm not going to read this crap anymore. This guy just sits there and reads off a teleprompter. In Britain, we don't call people like Dan Rather journalists, he's what people call a news reader. That's all he is. He's an actor who reads off a teleprompter, and that's what he's doing. Wouldn't it be refreshing if Dan Rather said "They want me to say the following words. They want me to tell you that Hugo Chavez is a dictator and he resigned. And I got to tell you -- I've checked this out. This is complete baloney. This is complete nonsense baloney, and I'm not gonna read this garbage to you. I'm gonna tell you the truth. I'm switching over to Greg Palast's report on the BBC right now."
BUZZFLASH: This is getting to be a little bit of an old story of journalists confessing they didn't do their job after the fact. I know several journalists said that after the Gulf War, in retrospect, they didn't really do a good job reporting on the war. They weren't critical enough. After the war, journalists were shown the pictures of the Iraqi Army in retreat. And the images show miles upon miles of cars and motorcycles and Volkswagen bugs in retreat. And it makes you question whether it was even an army at all.
GREG PALAST: During the Gulf War, you had all these wonderful CNN pictures because the Defense Department gives CNN these films from the cruise missiles And we get to see tick, tick, tick, tick - kaboom. And it's all these glorious pictures where we accurately pinpoint and blow up some ammo dump or something, or some obvious military target. What you didn't get is any pictures of carpet bombing of civilian centers. Or the images of the rag tag army we were carpet bombing in retreat. Then the journalists said, gee, we didn't cover it correctly. But then they do it again, because they want those images. They want the tick, tick, tick, kaboom.
What happens is that American journalists who are critical get cut off. If you give a real report, they'll never let you interview Colin Powell. And Colin Powell's handlers will say Dan Rather made that statement about not all the bombs were as smart as we said they were. Then Dan Rather doesn't get an interview.
I got to tell you right now on BBC, the Prime Minister will not speak to me. No member of the Cabinet will speak to me on camera. Now, if that happened to me in the U.S.A., I would simply be fired. They'd say well, we can't use this guy. At least the BBC says, well, we can't let the Prime Minister tell us who to hire and fire, you know?
I don't want to make it glorious, because I get a lot of crap at the BBC. I think they probably ask "What do we do with Greg?' He can't do an interview with the Prime Minister or any of these Cabinet members."
BUZZFLASH: Let me give another Dan Rather quote from the interview. "It's unpatriotic not to stand up, look them in the eye, and ask the questions they don't want to hear -- they being those who have the ultimate responsibility -- of sending our sons and daughters, our husbands, wives, our blood to face death."
GREG PALAST: He saw the blinding light. This isn't just we could have done it better. But it's as if his entire outlook of news coverage should change. Well, it doesn't make him a good guy. It makes him an idiot. It makes him a hypocrite in his job in where he is a fourth-rate actor pretending to be a journalist
I mean, to me, that's pathetic and I give him no points for confessing on my program simply because I know that he goes back the next day to read the same junk -- so Dan Rather is feeling better about himself because he's gotten this off his chest. But we're still getting the propaganda nonsense. Why doesn't he stand up and say I won't do it?
BUZZFLASH: There's a story of a Russian journalist who was essentially a news reader. And during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet reporter condemned the invasion on the air live. And the Soviet Union put him in a mental institution and said, well, he was sick. The thought of an American journalist being that openly critical would just be hard to imagine.
GREG PALAST: Walter Cronkite knew he was retiring when he became very critical of Vietnam. Pretty much he had said he was going to retire, but he was still on the air. Cronkite got on television, and then began raising doubts about the war in Vietnam, which was a very powerful thing. I'll never forget this. But it's not just that we need their opinion. See, here's the thing. I need more than Rather's opinion. I need him to report the news. Don't tell me gee, we did it wrong, and then the next day, "60 Minutes," his old program, you know, tells lies about the coup in Venezuela.
BUZZFLASH: Greg, thank you so much for your time.
GREG PALAST: You got it. I'm happy to clarify. You guys are the best. You're very welcome.
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