Uncovering the Story

One of America?s hardest-hitting reporters works for British media


| July / August 2003


Remember the 2000 election fiasco in Florida? The controversial recounts? The dimpled, pregnant, and hanging chads? The 5?4 Supreme Court decision that ended it by installing Bush in the White House?

The accusations by Republicans that Bush won fair and square and that Democrats were just sore losers who should ?get over it? might have stuck if it weren?t for the hard work of Greg Palast, an American investigative reporter working for the BBC.

The BBC? That?s right. Palast, one of the most dogged journalists working in America, doesn?t have much of an audience in his own land. He uncovers abuses in government and big business for the BBC?s Newsnight program and for Britain?s left-leaning Guardian and Observer newspapers. Many of these stories, he says, could not be done in the American media.

?If I want to write a report that?s investigative, and I want it to be in the mainstream press, it?s gotta be in the mainstream of another nation,? says the 50-year-old Palast, a one-time labor organizer who studied with the influential conservative economist Milton Friedman and went into journalism six years ago out of frustration with the major media?s inability to ?get the story right.?

Part of the problem with the mainstream media in the United States is self-censorship on the part of journalists that even CBS anchor Dan Rather, in a May 2002 BBC-TV interview, admitted ?keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions. . . . I do not except myself from this criticism.?

While Rather ascribes the timidity of the U.S. media to fear of a patriotic backlash from viewers, Palast sees the owners of the media as the real problem. ?A lot of self-censorship is commercially driven, and part of it is the fear of being outside what is an acceptable range of discussion,? he says of reporters? refusal to cover politically explosive issues in any depth. In other words, don?t touch anything that might make advertisers angry or reflect poorly on friends and associates of the owners of a paper or broadcast station.