Greg Palast, the fifty-three-year-old investigative journalist with the trademark fedora and trench coat, is a master at unraveling the tangled threads of political stories and sifting through the “bullshit,” as he puts it. A true independent, he harbors no great love for either the Democratic or the Republican Party and calls journalism schools “brain-death factories.”
Palast has made few friends with his no-holds-barred investigations. His exposé of corruption in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet drew fire from the British tabloid the Mirror, which ran a huge cover photo of Palast accompanied by the headline “The Liar.” His reporting stood up to scrutiny, however, and Palast won the British equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for the story.
Palast grew up poor in California’s wealthy San Fernando Valley — a situation that left him “a scarred human being,” he says half-jokingly. He earned scholarships to California State University at Northridge and UCLA, and he did his postgraduate work with conservative economist Milton Friedman. Palast became a forensic economist — someone who analyzes damages and liability in legal cases — and went on to do undercover investigations with the United Steelworkers of America, the Enron workers’ coalition in Latin America, and assorted environmental and consumer groups.
Palast went into journalism out of a desire to tell a wider audience what he’d discovered in his investigations about the wrongdoings of powerful elites — or, as he puts it, “I couldn’t kill the rich, so I had to write about them.” When the U.S. press showed little interest in his reports, Palast moved to Great Britain, where he went to work for the Guardian newspaper. After he revealed that Enron, the failed Texas energy corporation, had illegally given money to the British government, Palast was hired by the BBC.
On the BBC’s Newsnight, Palast has covered many stories the American mainstream media won’t touch, such as how the 2004 presidential election could have gone to John Kerry if not for alleged vote tampering in Florida and New Mexico. He has won six Project Censored awards and received the American Civil Liberties Union’s Upton Sinclair Freedom of Expression Award in 2004. Now back in the U.S., Palast is a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine and can be seen in the documentaries Bush Family Fortunes and New Orleans: Big Easy to Big Empty. He lives in New York City with his wife and twin nine-year-old girls.
While waiting for Palast to arrive in his office for this interview, I noticed a mysterious metal case. Inside was a voting machine from Broward County, Florida, purchased on eBay by one of his assistants as a souvenir of Palast’s groundbreaking story on election fraud in Florida during the 2000 presidential race. The rest of the office — a converted apartment in lower Manhattan — was cluttered with empty cardboard boxes, bags of styrofoam packing peanuts, and several hundred copies of Palast’s latest book, Armed Madhouse (Dutton), a sardonic examination of corporate and government fraud. (A new edition, subtitled From Baghdad to New Orleans — Sordid Secrets & Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild, was released last month.) On one wall was a framed copy of the New York Daily News from December 6, 1988. “LILCO Lied, Jury Finds,” read the headline. Palast’s economic investigation — he wasn’t yet a reporter at the time — had helped the government win its case against the Long Island Lighting Company, which was found to have lied about the final cost of its Shoreham Nuclear Power Station in order to justify a rate hike. Palast writes about the case in his book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Plume).
At last Palast arrived, dressed in holey overalls and a sweat shirt that had obviously gotten much use. The trademark trench coat was nowhere in sight. As we headed to the Atlas Cafe, Palast spoke on his cellphone, scheduling an appearance on Air America radio. He stopped by a store to pick up some antacid, then offered me a tablet as if it were chewing gum.
It was a warm fall day, and we sat outside. Though the sound of traffic was deafening, it was no match for Palast’s voice. We talked for more than an hour. Then his cellphone rang, and he abruptly stood up and shook my hand. Before I knew it, the interview was over, and Palast was running down the street.
Cooper: How did you go from being a “forensic economist” to appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight?
Palast: I couldn’t stand it. I was doing all these investigations and reading the “paper of record,” and they’d either miss the story or get it dead wrong. And that’s the New York Times — a good paper. For example, I was working on the Exxon Valdez case for the natives of Alaska, who wanted the truth about what caused the oil spill. I ended up finding, among other things, that it wasn’t a drunk skipper who steered wrong and hit a reef. That’s not how ships move.
Cooper: What did happen?
Palast: The ship’s radar was shut off because it was too expensive to maintain. That was one cause. The other was that the ship didn’t have enough safety equipment to contain the spill. I mean, tankers hit reefs all the time, but the accidents don’t all destroy a thousand miles of coastline. They’re supposed to have safety equipment. But the media focused on the ship’s captain, so the real story didn’t come out.
Then I did an investigation of racketeering at the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station on Long Island. If you were reading the Times and Newsday and the rest, you’d have thought the government was abusing the racketeering laws to take down this poor power company for political purposes. But we’re not talking about some innocent mom and pop operation. We’re talking about corporate executives who deliberately lied under oath, perjuring themselves again and again, prepared to incinerate half of New York so they could steal $4 billion. And after they were convicted, the jury’s verdict was thrown out.
Cooper: So you wanted to tell the public what you knew, but you had no journalism degree.
Palast: No, and it was very helpful not to have one. I didn’t learn any sloppy reporting habits or how to rewrite press releases. In fact, I was very naive. The first big story I was assigned by the London Observer [the Guardian’s Sunday sister paper] was to investigate Tony Blair. So I did it as I would have done a serious criminal economic investigation: I set up a front. I got inside his cabinet. I recorded conversations secretly. And this investigation was costly. The big hotel suites and everything else cost like ten thousand pounds. My editors had never seen anything like it. The story almost brought down the prime minister, and I got the equivalent of Britain’s Pulitzer Prize for it. That’s because I didn’t know shit about journalism. If I had, I would’ve just made a few phone calls and written, “This guy said this,” and, “That guy alleged that,” and, “Who can say?”
Cooper: What did you find out about Prime Minister Tony Blair that was so damaging?
Palast: His cabinet was selling legislation to the highest corporate bidders, especially American corporations and power companies such as Enron. The politicians weren’t profiting personally so much — though Blair’s right-hand man indirectly got a questionable loan. The American companies were trying to buy access in the crudest way they could, which was to offer support and funds for Blair’s party. And Blair was eager to prove that he was a corporate toady and not a rabid, left-wing socialist. He did a good job.
Cooper: Would you say that your decision to become a writer was driven mostly by your passion to expose fraud?
Palast: I came to journalism out of anger and resentment. I don’t have a great, overriding philosophy, like Marxism or something, but I do have this overriding resentment against the privileged. All of them.
Cooper: Does that stem from your childhood?
Palast: Yeah. I was an underprivileged child, and I’ve never gotten over it. [Laughter.] I just hate pricks like the first George Bush, who could make a phone call and get his son out of fighting in Vietnam. (I was ready to go, but my lottery number was 347, so I lucked out.) In fact, I covered the story, before Dan Rather did, of how George W. Bush got a free ride out of military service through his daddy. That story wasn’t about George W.; it was about privilege. And it was about following the money, the paybacks, which have never been reported here: millions of dollars to keep it quiet. It was mostly a scam to get the sons of Democratic officials out of Vietnam: Texas Congressman Lloyd Bentsen’s son and Texas Governor John Connally’s son. They added George W.’s name in part so that they’d have a Republican involved, to give them a measure of political safety.
Cooper: If it was such a clear-cut case, why did Dan Rather cave in so easily?
Palast: He believed in the system. He was a part of it, or the system was a part of him. By the way, I interviewed him on Newsnight. Now that he’s a pariah, he figures he can hang out in the leper colony with me. [Laughter.]
The thing is, you can have one or the other: freedom or prestige. We’d all like to say whatever we want and get all the prizes and awards and money from the powers that be, but that ain’t going to happen.
Cooper: In your book Armed Madhouse you write, “Dick Cheney’s the only guy in America who’d rather have a hurricane than a blow job.” What do you mean?
Palast: I mean look at the value of Hurricane Katrina to the Republicans. They had lost Louisiana. The state had a Democratic governor, a Democratic senator, and it was definitely going Democratic in the next presidential election — all because of the black vote in New Orleans. Then the problem washed away. A year later, seventy-three thousand people are still living in trailers, and 80 percent of the evacuated population has not returned. That’s almost the entire Democratic voting population of New Orleans.
Cooper: You’ve been passionate about uncovering voter fraud, beginning with the 2000 presidential election. But there was fraud long before that. Can you put it into a historical context?
Palast: The idea that America’s a democracy is a fucking lie. We’ve had one fixed election after another. By my calculations, Hubert Humphrey beat Richard Nixon in 1968. Of course, Humphrey was a jackal as well. But what is not widely understood is that we’ve always had a system in America of not counting certain votes. My good friends on the Left are afraid that the Republicans are going to steal the next election by computer — that the software is going to allow Karl Rove to change the vote. Well, most people who worry about that are white. Black people know they’ve stolen the vote the old-fashioned way for centuries. First they said blacks couldn’t vote. Now they just don’t register them to vote, and if you’re black and you do manage to register and find your polling place, they don’t count your vote. Yesterday I spent twelve hours using my forensic-economics background in statistics to figure out that 1.6 million black voters have been denied registration and flushed off the voting rolls illegally. The percentage of black people attempting to register is about 77 percent — the same as the percentage of white people. But whereas 75 percent of whites end up on the registries, only about 60 percent of blacks do. What happens to those missing registration forms?
My friend the Reverend Jesse Jackson is busy doing voter-registration drives, but it’s like filling up a leaky bucket. They don’t have to change your vote by hacking the software if they keep you off the registry. Around 5 million people attempted to register over the past two years, and more than four hundred thousand were rejected for all kinds of bogus reasons.
Cooper: What sort of reasons?
Palast: What I uncovered in Florida was the game of purging people from the voter rolls by calling them felons when they aren’t. That was easy to do. And the Democratic Party isn’t going to come to the rescue of black people who are accused of being felons, because they don’t want to answer the question, “Do you want these criminals to vote?” It doesn’t matter if they’re not criminals. There are only seven states now that don’t let people with felony convictions vote, but that’s 2 million people, about 46 percent of them black.
In Ohio the big issue was the Diebold computerized voting machines. Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell was thrilled when all those white folks marched into his office and said, “Don’t you dare use those Diebold machines!” He was happy to keep the punch-card machines in the ghettos, because he could still ensure we wouldn’t see those votes. Ohio had about eighty thousand punch-card ballots on which the vote for president was blank. Do you think eighty thousand people waited in line for six hours so they could not vote for president?
Cooper: What about the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Did it accomplish nothing?
Palast: No, it accomplished plenty. I can’t say that it’s all grim. That kind of exaggeration makes people throw up their hands and say, “Forget it.” The history of America has been this back and forth between successful popular movements — the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the abolitionist movement — and the counterrevolution, which operates using sneaky means. You get the big trumpeting law, and then they quietly fuck you. The problem is, they’re getting better at fucking you.
Cooper: So where are the Democrats?
Palast: Their hands aren’t clean either. The Democrats are behind the worst cases of vote manipulation, in Georgia. The Florida Republicans have nothing on the Georgia Democrats, who would have a majority black party if they hadn’t purged eighty thousand blacks from the voter rolls. Do you think white Georgia politicians would ever get the Democratic nomination if they let all the black voters register? The white Democrats have a fear of a black party. They would rather lose seats, even lose the governorship, than have a majority black party, because the white Democratic Party elite would lose their posts. If they hadn’t kept black people from registering, they’d have Cynthia McKinney back in Congress.
Cooper: What’s the story on former Congresswoman McKinney?
Palast: When we reported the felon purge in Florida on Newsnight, she was the only U.S. congressperson who called the BBC and asked for more information. She did her own damn research. She wanted the facts. And she really helped nail that case down when no one else would. But to break it, she had to go up against the biggest employer in her district, the ChoicePoint corporation, which performs background checks, among other things. So she did.
Then she read another story of mine, about the killing off of the investigation of the bin Laden family prior to September 11, 2001. She began to ask questions about it — questions almost identical to those raised by Florida Senator Bob Graham. But she didn’t have the white-man exemption. So her opponents took her questions and twisted them around so that it sounded as if she’d said that Bush knew about the impending attack and didn’t tell anyone because he stood to make money.
Cooper: Which is not what she was saying?
Palast: No. Nor is it what I was saying. So they made her look like a nut case. They smeared her. And they smeared me.
Cooper: What were the connections you found between the Bushes and the bin Ladens, and how did they affect the 9/11 plot?
Palast: First of all, Bush didn’t know in advance. And it wasn’t an inside job. What I did put forward was that the Bush administration called off the investigation of the bin Laden family in the U.S., even though the family was suspected of having operated a terrorist organization. Believe me, the bin Ladens have harbored some creepy people and been involved in questionable doings. They are directly funded, however, by Saudi King Abdullah, who was then Crown Prince Abdullah, and there are many political and financial connections between Saudi royalty and the Bush family. Bush blinded U.S. intelligence agencies as a favor to his Saudi buddies. Our intelligence on terrorists leading up to 9/11 was poisoned by this see-no-Saudi-evil business. This is pretty much old hat now, but when I first reported it, I was called a conspiracy nut. Since then Bob Graham and the 9/11 Commission and congressional investigators have repeated it. Am I still a nut?
They can smear me all they want. My work is still broadcast by the English language’s most prestigious news outlet, the BBC, on its flagship program, Newsnight. And they let me investigate whatever I want. It’s pretty hard to beat that.
“NPR” should stand for “National Petroleum Radio.” I was interviewed on NPR once — once — and they basically said, “Gee, you have a lot of interesting facts among your unprovable conspiracy theories.”
Cooper: Why isn’t Newsnight shown on American TV? Is there no way to watch it in the U.S.?
Palast: You can watch it on the Internet, but that’s all. You have to understand that BBC America is a commercial operation, and they’re after the PBS and NPR market. It’s not the same BBC you get in Britain.
Cooper: NPR and PBS are considered by some to be on the Left.
Palast: That’s a joke. “NPR” should stand for “National Petroleum Radio.” I was interviewed on NPR once — once — and they basically said, “Gee, you have a lot of interesting facts among your unprovable conspiracy theories.” PBS won’t allow me on for any reason, ever. Neither will report on any controversial issues — the voter purges, for example — until after it’s safe to do so.
Cooper: Who else in Congress or the government is trying to expose these wrongdoings?
Palast: For the past six years it’s been the Congressional Black Caucus. If it weren’t for black activists, black media, and black elected officials, I wouldn’t be anywhere. They were the ones who insisted on bringing attention to my reports over here in the U.S. — and not just the ones about vote manipulation. They take on all the issues. My job is really following the money; discovering voting fraud was just a byproduct of those money investigations.
Cooper: So in regard to the voting fraud, what do you recommend people do?
Palast: Stop whining about it and register black voters. I mean, they can’t steal all the votes all the time. We’ve got to register people for the twentieth time if necessary. When I was in school during the war in Vietnam, I went out and registered two hundred people in Oakland. It was probably one of the most useful things I did — much more meaningful than going to jail for protesting in Washington on May Day.
Cooper: Before the 2006 midterm elections, you predicted Republicans would keep both houses. What happened?
Palast: Paul Krugman at the New York Times was right on this one. He said it was going to be a Democratic landslide, and it was. But that doesn’t mean the Republicans didn’t try. We’re still looking at 3 million votes stolen. The Republicans ran a massive challenge campaign, which the New York Times finally noticed because Yonkers was awash in white Republicans with BlackBerries and lists of black voters to challenge at the polls.
But the New York Times didn’t make a simple deduction: if it’s happening in Yonkers, maybe it’s happening in Ohio; maybe it’s happening in Florida. There were 3 million votes that either got blocked or weren’t counted in 2006. And, of course, only in the one district where white people were affected did we see some reporting. That was in Florida, where eighteen thousand votes were eaten by touch-screen machines. I spoke with Ion Sancho, the supervisor of elections in Leon County and the number-one expert on voting in Florida, and he said there’s pretty good evidence someone made sure the machines wouldn’t work. And if the machines don’t work, you can demand a recount until you’re blue in the face; they can’t recount electrons. Everyone was afraid of someone hacking into the software and changing the Democratic votes to Republican, but that’s not how it’s done. The machines just don’t work. They don’t record votes. That’s what they did to black voters in Broward County.
There is a simple answer, by the way. In New York State, we rerun congressional races all the time. If eighteen thousand votes are missing, and the margin’s less than eighteen thousand, you rerun the race. Instead the Democrats are going to hit that snooze button and go back to sleep thinking that the election was clean because they won.
Cooper: We saw unusually low oil prices leading up to the 2006 election. You’ve suggested they were manipulated, but isn’t it normal for prices to come down in the fall?
Palast: Not that much. And supposedly there was no refined product last summer; that’s why gas prices were so high. So how come in the fall we had this massive inventory of refined product? Did we build some refineries I don’t know about?
We also saw this in 2004, when the Saudis boosted production for a few weeks just before the election, resulting in a drop in oil prices. In 2006 I asked one of the chief traders of one of the biggest oil-trading operations on the planet, one of the inside top executives, “Did you play with the oil prices to help out Bush?” and he said, “Absolutely.”
But there was a second aspect. The Saudis dropped the price not just to help out the Republicans, but also to punish Iran. The Saudis are Sunni Muslims; the Iranians are Shiite Muslims. The Shiites and Sunnis are battling for control of the oil fields. The Saudis thought that Iranian President Ahmadinejad was getting too big for his britches, so they decided to take him down a few notches by reducing the price of oil by fifteen bucks per barrel. Remember, the Iranians’ nukes won’t reach Los Angeles, but they sure as hell will reach the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Everyone was afraid of someone hacking into the software and changing the Democratic votes to Republican, but that’s not how it’s done. The machines just don’t work. They don’t record votes. That’s what they did to black voters in Broward County.
Cooper: Let’s talk about the “war on terror.” We’ve gone five years without an attack.
Palast: The color-coded alerts must be working. [Laughter.] The color codes supposedly tell us what state of alert we’re in — in other words, what we’re doing and what we’re not doing to prevent an attack on any given day. I mean, we’re the only country in the world that tells the terrorists when we’re not looking. It’s a terrible joke. And we’re not under attack. The war is over, guys. I declare victory. Go kiss in Times Square. It’s done.
Cooper: So you don’t believe there will be another huge terrorist attack in the U.S.?
Palast: There’s always someone who wants to hit the U.S., and with our flawed system we have no way of dealing, so someone will get us at some point. But it may not be al-Qaeda. It may be the Chechens. Don’t forget that the Oklahoma City bombing, the second-biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history, was planned by white supremacists in Idaho.
Cooper: When Bush landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier to announce “the end of major combat operations in Iraq,” you called it “Osama’s mission accomplished.”
Palast: Osama bin Laden made it clear he wanted U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia. Two days before Bush had himself dumped on the deck of the aircraft carrier — he could’ve been a sack of cauliflower; he didn’t land any fucking plane — the Defense Department quietly announced that it was pulling all troops out of Saudi Arabia.
Palast: To cravenly signal bin Laden that Bush would give him what he wants. Bin Laden basically had one big demand: U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca and Medina, two major Muslim holy places. Bush did exactly that. And he did it two days before the big “mission accomplished” extravaganza, so that no one would notice that he’d basically given in to terrorist demands.
Cooper: A lot of people on the Left think that poverty was the driving force behind the 9/11 attacks.
Palast: Oh, sure. All those poor Saudi billionaires. It’s tough! You have to look at terrorism and al-Qaeda as part of a global gang war over control of oil. Osama bin Laden believes that because his family built Saudi Arabia — and it wasn’t the House of Saud; it was the bin Laden family that created modern Saudi Arabia — the “House of bin Laden” should control all that oil. He started al-Qaeda out of frustration, because the Saudis were politically weak, and oil prices were low. And he blamed those Shiite “dogs” the Iranians. He thought Saudi Arabia should control the oil by creating a caliphate of oil states. That’s why al-Qaeda’s number-one target has never been the United States. It has always been Iran. Bin Laden wants to make sure that the Shiites in Iran don’t create a new axis of oil powers, which may include, for example, Venezuela, because President Hugo Chavez is allying himself with Iran. It’s a complicated story, and not at all about Muslims versus Christian crusaders.
Cooper: You don’t buy that?
Palast: It’s bullshit. Palestine has zero to do with the politics of al-Qaeda. Look at bin Laden’s writings before September 11. He mentions Palestine once, and that’s in a list of twenty-five countries that concern him. Later he figured out that it was good public relations in the Muslim world to attack the so-called “Zionists.” He doesn’t care about Palestine, because there ain’t any oil there, just dirt.
The reason we’re still in Iraq is not to end the insurgency. If we left, the insurgency would end in about forty-eight hours, because Iran would move in. And believe me, the Iranians will have no compunction about leveling every town in Anbar Province to eliminate al-Qaeda and its sympathizers.
Again, this is about who controls the oil, and we want our Sunni friends in Saudi Arabia to control it and keep the price down. Osama has his own program to control the oil and get the price up, but he has run out of gas, literally. The rise in oil prices has taken away his ability to enlist other Saudi billionaires in the cause. He doesn’t care about the poor. They’re cannon fodder to him.
Cooper: You part ways with many oil-industry observers on the topic of “peak oil”: an approaching threshold at which oil production will level off, then decrease, while demand continues to increase.
Palast: Peak oil was invented in 1956 by Shell. It was Shell Oil that published M. King Hubbert’s original paper on the topic for the American Petroleum Institute. Now, why would Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute publish this paper? To create the impression of scarcity. The truth is that there’s so much fucking oil, the price should be back down to twelve bucks a barrel. That’s how much Mother Nature gave us. They want us to believe, even though we’re swimming it, that we’re heading toward a peak, and then we’re going to fall off a cliff on the other side. And every time there’s a spike in oil prices, the peak-oil fanatics say, “Look, there’s the proof.” They told us, “There’s the proof,” in 1956, and again in 1976, and again in 1986, and now in 2006. But the price of oil is back down to twenty-two dollars a barrel, because the Saudis say so.
We’re not running out of crude, dude. We’ve got plenty. The question is “At what price?” At twenty dollars a barrel, we’re dead out. At a hundred dollars a barrel? We’ve got all the oil you want. How many Mercedes can you buy for fifty bucks? None. I guess we’re all out of Mercedes.
Cooper: But shouldn’t we be turning to alternative energy sources?
Palast: Oh, we should. But we shouldn’t push people toward other forms of energy by lying and saying, “We’re running out of oil!” Because you know what happens when we do that? We get fucking nuclear power. That’s what. And you know what else we get? Higher prices for petroleum from tar sands in Canada. We won’t get green technology by telling people we’re running out of oil. Oil went up to seventy-five bucks a barrel, and I didn’t see a single solar panel go up in New York City. Not one.
We have to stop pumping carbon into the air, not because we’re running out of carbon-based fuels, but because carbon will kill us. And it makes us political hostages to bloodthirsty maniacs. It’s destroying our economy. Why do we even need to say we’re running out of oil?
The environmentalists like to talk about “win-win” scenarios. You know: corporations can make money by going green. What a crock of shit. Forget it. If they could do that, they would’ve done it already. Environmentalist Amory Lovins, who’s made millions of dollars working for big corporations, goes around saying, “Everyone wins.” Well, if everyone wins, then how come the skies are black and people in China are dying of arsenic poisoning? It’s bullshit. The only way we can get anything done is by limiting consumption by law and through a national commitment to use less carbon-based fuel. Let’s stop goosing around and clean up the planet.
Cooper: You refute peak oil by saying there’s plenty of oil in the ground. But Hubbert, who came up with the peak-oil theory, never predicted the oil would be completely gone when we reached the peak.
Palast: No, but his estimate of the world’s reserves was way off. His paper says 1.25 trillion barrels of oil. That’s it. No more. A statement like that is either true or false. In this case it’s false. We have a trillion barrels in known reserves at this very moment. But I’ll grant you that Hubbert was smart enough not to say that we’re running out of oil.
We’re not running out of crude, dude. We’ve got plenty. The question is “At what price?” At twenty dollars a barrel, we’re dead out. At a hundred dollars a barrel? We’ve got all the oil you want.
Cooper: What do you think will happen if supplies do get low?
Palast: We’ll just switch from petroleum to heavy petroleum, which comes from Iraq, Canada, and Venezuela — more than 90 percent of it from Venezuela. That’s why right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson wants to kill Hugo Chavez.
Cooper: You’ve called Chavez the “Nelson Mandela of Venezuela.”
Palast: Yes, but I always worry about making any leader out to be Jesus. A politician’s a politician.
Cooper: Isn’t it true that he suppresses human rights?
Palast: No. Name three Venezuelans whose rights have been suppressed. We’ve got prisoners at Guantánamo. We have political prisoners in the United States. Where are his political prisoners? In fact, Chavez gave a pass to the men who kidnapped him. If anything, I think he’s been too light. Under U.S. law there’d be a hell of a lot more people in jail. Chavez’s opponents have tried to assassinate him. They have sabotaged industry. He’s gone pretty easy on these characters.
It’s true the Venezuelan government has put people in prison for taking money from the U.S. government to fund their political campaigns, but we don’t allow that either. The Indonesians who gave money to Bill Clinton are serving hard time in D.C. Foreign powers cannot put money into our political campaigns, and when we put it into someone else’s political campaign, we should expect people to go to jail if they get caught.
And remember, the Venezuelan media hate Chavez. Unlike ours, their media actively debate politics, and they are against him. But he hasn’t shut down the media.
Cooper: Hasn’t he put limits on them?
Palast: No. The moguls who control the media in Venezuela claim Chavez is suppressing them. Oh really? If they’re so lacking in freedoms, what are they doing having lunch with Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter? It reminds me of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity on Fox News screaming about the “liberal media bias.” Or Bernard Goldberg, who was on CBS television for almost thirty years, ranting about the liberal media. If CBS is so liberal, why did they keep him on the airwaves for so long? I’m not even allowed on CBS television.
The problem with Chavez is, here’s the one guy who’s standing up to Bush, but the Democrats are saying they don’t want any international allies. Fine. The Democrats have the beaten-party syndrome. Born to lose. Of course, they don’t deserve to win. The only good thing about the Republicans stealing elections is that the Democrats aren’t in office. I mean, thank God we don’t have Al Gore as president. He’s very close to the power companies and the oil industry. Mr. Free Market, Mr. NAFTA. Gore would’ve been far more conservative than Clinton. And Clinton was conservative. The Republican Party gave us the food-stamp program, and Clinton took it away. Let’s keep our facts straight about who stands for what. In the class war, Gore is on the side of the rich.
Cooper: You make a lot of people angry. Are you worried that some of them are out to get you?
Palast: Not in the United States. There are a bunch of nut cases who live here — I’m thinking of publishing a coffee-table book on death threats — but they’re all just blowing shit out their noses. Now, in other places around the world, when they threaten you, they mean it. I’m a coward. I stay out of those places.
Cooper: How do you sleep at night, knowing all that you do?
Palast: Sometimes I don’t. I’m glib and flip when I talk to people, but when I’m by myself, I get upset about this shit. I’ll pick up the Times and slam it against the wall. I mean, today there was a headline: “State Makes It Easier For Felons To Vote.” What kind of fantasy bullshit is that? And yesterday, “Blacks In Mississippi Stop Whites From Voting.” It makes me angry, because the truth doesn’t come out.