Dec 5, 2013
Truthdigger of the Week: Greg Palast
Posted on Sep 22, 2013
“These are a fraction of my personal files,” Palast said as my eyes traveled the room. “All of my reporting is original. I have records on banks, oil companies and public officials going back decades.” (Later in the night he would tell me he didn’t become a reporter until late in his 40s. After studying economics with Milton Friedman (by no means his hero) at the University of Chicago, Palast went to work for labor, consumer and environmental groups across the world. In two decades investigating corporate fraud, he directed the largest racketeering case in U.S. government history and led the inquiry into double-dealing in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster. One of his cases led to a $4.3 billion jury award.)
It wasn’t just his work that escaped notice in the mainstream news. With the exception of Harper’s Magazine, The Nation and a few fringe publications, and shows like “Democracy Now!,” Palast himself couldn’t get published in America; only select British and European newspapers and broadcasters would touch him. And now I could literally see why. He pulled down a binder and laid it open on the desk. “My investigations can lead to some damning charges,” he said, passing over its pages. “All of this stuff has to be thoroughly fact-checked. Most publishers either lack the resources or don’t want to spend the money, and all of them are afraid of getting sued.”
The irony was delicious. One of the few investigative reporters actually worthy of the name was being denied work in his own country precisely because does his job. The nation’s biggest publishers and editors have abandoned one of the best of their own. They refuse to use their considerable time, wealth and resources to employ journalists like him to report the news, and the American public is made ignorant as a result. Furthermore, they have the gall to present themselves as fearless crusaders for truth. I already had a low opinion of the corporate side of my profession, but I hadn’t seen the pieces put together in quite this way. The crookedness and hypocrisy rankled me.
Palast had satisfactorily explained why his work was not incorporated into conventionally accepted and told narratives of world events. But his answer spoke to another issue I hadn’t brought up explicitly. That’s the question of his relationship to his professional peers, and how exactly he, a genuine independent, fits into the current news establishment. In other fields this topic might rightly be regarded as irrelevant, but among journalists whose work bears upon the public, it is a matter of public significance.
How best then to account for this network of casual disapproval? In my direct experience, Palast does something that is taboo in almost every profession: He is uncommonly open with himself—a free-wheeler. You don’t have to meet him to guess this. He curses at will, writes like a crime novelist and says whatever he wants in his own voice, personally. (See the video interview below for a prime example of this.) His open disregard for the hierarchy of his profession and its accompanying rules and traditions suggests he did little if any groveling to advance himself. His meteoric rise in a new and cutthroat field relatively late in life—which no doubt spared him many experiences that can harden or stunt those who enter journalism when young—supports this thesis. Moreover, he appears in his public appearances always to be having fun. These dimensions make his work more interesting, and his character a model for independent-minded youths (as well as explaining why many young journalists are strongly drawn to him). All I can surmise from a set of bizarre criticisms I’m otherwise helpless to explain is jealousy and fear on the part of tight-laced if otherwise committed professionals. As Noam Chomsky once said, Palast “upsets all the right people.”
I’ll now return to the question that occasioned this article. Did Greg Palast stop Lawrence Summers from chairing the Federal Reserve? After noting to me that his job is to “expose Summers, not take him down,” he was unwilling to say whether the “End-Game Memo” was the deciding straw. He knows politicians and others in Washington read his reports—he’s seen his investigations inside official files on George W. Bush and other of his targets. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the chair of the Senate subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer protection who early and openly opposed Summers’ confirmation, is among his audience, Palast said. And Brown would have been in a position to make the memo a matter of congressional record by publicly laying it on Summers.
Still, the reporter did not get carried away with the news of Summers’ withdrawal. “You knock one infection out and another appears in its place,” Palast said, referring to America’s persistent disease of government by the amoral rich. “They’ll get someone else in there. Unfortunately, that’s how it works.” Additionally, Obama announced in his response to Summers’ exit that he intended to continue “to seek [Summers’] guidance and counsel in the future.”
Only those with access to the committee’s hearing files know what Summers’ auditors were planning, and only Summers and a handful of others know what he and the establishment he represents were willing to endure. But it’s reasonable to assume that without the dirt Palast dug up, leadership of the most important bank in the country by the person Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer charged with making “the financial industry culprits whole, while abandoning” the public would have been much more likely. For his probable role in the derailment of a man on his way to take a place at the top of banking shenanigans in the United States, we honor Greg Palast as our Truthdigger of the Week.
Hear Palast talk about his work and what makes a good investigative journalist in the treasure of an interview by Luke Rudkowski of “We Are Change” below.
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