The New York Times
"What would Americans think if they knew that
their best newspaper, The New York Times, had allowed
one of its national-security reporters to negotiate
a book deal that needed the approval of the CIA?"
writes Allan Wolper. "What would they say if
they knew the CIA was editing the book while the
country is days or weeks away from a war with Iraq
and is counting on the Times to monitor the intelligence
Editor and Publisher, January
With Reporter Trainings
The Pentagon is training civilian
reporters on its military bases for war reporting.
"One hundred twenty journalists trained last
November at the Quantico Marine Corps Base and the
Norfolk Naval Station; another wave of reporters
trained last month at Fort Benning, and another
session is scheduled this month at Fort Dix in New
Jersey," Democracy Now reports. "The training
teaches reporters battlefield survival, military
policy and weapons expertise." In a lively
roundtable discussion on Democracy Now with military
reporters and a Pentagon spokesperson, Harper's
publisher Rick MacArthur calls the Pentagon's reporter
training "innovative public relations"
and a "con job."
Now, January 14, 2000
Of The Lambs:
The Failure Of U. S. Journalism
how the president of the United States was elected:
In the months leading up to the November balloting,
Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State,
Katherine Harris, ordered local elections supervisors
to purge 64,000 voters from voter lists on the grounds
that they were felons who were not entitled to vote
in Florida. As it turns out, these voters weren't
felons, or at least, only a very few were. However,
the voters on this "scrub list" were, notably,
African-American (about 54 percent), while most of
the others wrongly barred from voting were white and
in November, this extraordinary news ran, as it should,
on Page 1 of the country's leading paper. Unfortunately,
it was in the wrong country: Britain. In the United
States, it ran on page zero - that is, the story was
not covered on the news pages. The theft of the presidential
race in Florida also was given big television network
coverage. But again, it was on the wrong continent:
on BBC television, London.
this some off-the-wall story that the Brits misreported?
A lawyer for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission called
it the first hard evidence of a systematic attempt
to disenfranchise black voters; the commission held
dramatic hearings on the evidence. While the story
was absent from America's news pages (except, I grant,
a story in the Orlando Sentinel and another on C-Span),
columnists for The New York Times, Boston Globe and
Washington Post cited the story after seeing a U.S.
version on the Internet magazine Salon.com. As the
reporter on the story for Britain's Guardian newspaper
(and its Sunday edition, The Observer) and for BBC
television, I was interviewed on several American
radio programs, generally "alternative"
stations on the left side of the dial.
invariably asked the same two questions, "Why
was this story uncovered by a British reporter?"
And, "Why was it published in and broadcast from
like to know the answer myself. That way I could understand
why I had to move my family to Europe in order to
print and broadcast this and other crucial stories
about the American body politic in mainstream media.
The bigger question is not about the putative brilliance
of the British press. I'd rather ask how a hundred
thousand U.S. journos failed to get the vote theft
story and print it (and preferably before the election).
about "investigative" reporting. The best
investigative stories are expensive to produce, risky
and upset the wisdom of the established order. Do
profit-conscious enterprises, whether media companies
or widget firms, seek extra costs, extra risk and
the opportunity to be attacked? Not in any business
text I've ever read. I can't help but note that the
Guardian and Observer is the world's only leading
newspaper owned by a not-for-profit corporation, as
is BBC television. But if profit-lust is the ultimate
problem blocking significant investigative reportage,
the more immediate cause of comatose coverage of the
election and other issues is what is laughably called
America's "journalistic culture." If the
Rupert Murdochs of the globe are shepherds of the
new world order, they owe their success to breeding
a flock of docile sheep, the editors and reporters
snoozy and content with munching on, digesting, then
reprinting a diet of press releases and canned stories
provided by officials and corporation public relations
this story of the list of Florida's faux felons that
cost Al Gore the election. Shortly after the UK and
Salon stories hit the worldwide web, I was contacted
by a CBS network news producer ready to run their
own version of the story. The CBS hotshot was happy
to pump me for information: names, phone numbers,
all the items one needs for a quickie TV story.
also freely offered up to CBS this information: The
office of the governor of Florida, brother of the
Republican presidential candidate, had illegally ordered
the removal of the names of felons from voter rolls
-real felons, but with the right to vote under Florida
law. As a result, thousands of these legal voters,
almost all Democrats, would not be allowed to vote.
problem: I had not quite completed my own investigation
on this matter. Therefore CBS would have to do some
actual work, reviewing documents and law, and obtaining
statements. The next day I received a call from the
producer, who said, "I'm sorry, but your story
didn't hold up." Well, how did the multibillion-dollar
CBS network determine this? Why, "we called Jeb
Bush's office." Oh. And that was it.
wasn't surprised by this type of "investigation."
It is, in fact, standard operating procedure for the
little lambs of American journalism. One good, slick
explanation from a politician or corporate chieftain
and it's case closed, investigation over. The story
ran anyway: on BBC-TV. Let's understand the pressures
on the CBS producer that led her to kill the story
on the basis of a denial by the target of the allegations.
(Though let's not confuse understanding with forgiveness.)
First, the story is difficult to tell in the usual
90 seconds allotted for national reports. The BBC
gave me a 14-minute slot to explain it.
the story required massive and quick review of documents,
hundreds of phone calls and interviews, hardly a winner
in the slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am school of U.S. journalism.
The BBC gave me two weeks to develop the story. Third,
the revelations in the story required a reporter to
stand up and say the big name politicians, their lawyers
and their PR people were freaking liars. It would
be much easier, and a heck of a lot cheaper, to wait
for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to do the work,
then cover the Commission's canned report and press
conference. Wait! You've watched "Murphy Brown,"
so you think reporters hanker every day to uncover
the big scandal. Bullshit. Remember, "All the
President's Men" was so unusual they had to make
a movie out of it. Fourth, investigative reports require
taking a chance. Fraudsters and vote-riggers don't
reveal all their evidence. And they lie. Make the
allegation and you are open to attack, or unknown
information that may prove you wrong. No one ever
lost their job writing canned statements from a press
- and this is no small matter - no one ever got sued
for not running an investigative story. Let me give
you an example close to home. The companion report
to my investigation of the theft of the election in
Florida was a story about Bush family finances. I
wrote in the Guardian and Observer of London about
the gold-mining company for which the first President
George Bush worked after he left the White House.
Oh, you didn't know that George H. W. Bush worked
for a gold-mining company after he lost to Bill Clinton
in 1992? Well, maybe it has to do with the fact that
this company has a long history of suing every paper
that breathes a word it does not like - in fact, it
has now sued my papers. I've gotten awards and thousands
of letters for these stories, but, honey, that don't
pay the legal bills.
there's another little matter working against U.S.
reporters running after the hard stories, papers printing
them or TV broadcasting the good stuff. I'll explain
by way of my phone call with a great reporter, Mike
Isikoff of Newsweek. Just before the elections, Isikoff
handed me some exceptionally important information
about President Clinton, material suggesting corruption
in office - the real stuff, not the interns-under-the-desk
stuff. I said, "Mike, why the hell don't you
run it yourself?" and he said, "Because
no one gives a shit!" Isikoff was expressing
his exasperation with the news chiefs who kill or
bury these stories on page 200 on the belief that
the public really doesn't want to hear all this bad
and very un-sexy news. These lambchop editors believe
the public just doesn't care. But they're wrong. When
I ran my first story in the London Observer about
the theft of the Florida vote, Americans by the thousands
flooded our Internet site. They set a record for hits
before the information-hungry hordes blew down our
giant server computers. When BBC ran the story, viewership
of the webcast of Newsnight grew by 10,000 percent
as a result of Americans demanding to see what they
were denied on their own tubes. Obviously, some Americans
care. And it's for them that I say, This is Greg Palast
reporting from exile.
investigative reporter Gregory Palast's column, "Inside
Corporate America" is published every other week
in The Observer, London (Guardian Media Group).
reprint, to comment, or to read other Palast reports,