Amy Goodman Interviews Palast on Mexico Vote — and Dan Rather


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

DEMOCRACY NOW! JULY 12, 2006

AMY GOODMAN: That report filed by investigative reporter Greg Palast from Mexico City. Special thanks to Rick Rowley and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Tactical Films. Greg Palast flew in from Mexico City last night and joins us today in our Firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Greg.

GREG PALAST: Glad to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Very interesting report. It certainly isn't over. Now, today, a major protest?

Mexico City: Mass Protests

GREG PALAST: Yeah, well, what's exciting here is that you've got a guy who's really the un-Gore. That is, Lopez Obrador, sometimes known as AMLO by his initials, this guy is not conceding. And it's not over with at all. In fact, the only person I know that's said that it's over with is George Bush and his spokesman Tony Snow, who said the Electoral Commission has chosen a winner. They have not. Even Calderon is not so bold as to say it's over.

Lopez Obrador is calling today for -- beginning today for people to march from each of the 300 Mexican voting districts from around the country to the capital. There were a half-million people in the capital, as we showed in the film, on Saturday. So a couple million people are expected to arrive in the capital Saturday. This is going to continue on until at least the end of August, because they are demanding a recount of every single vote. Now, it's a simple paper ballot, which you can easily open up and look at.

One of the big issues is that there is nearly a million -- 904,000 -- votes that are supposedly blank, just like -- it's very almost identical to the hanging chad situation of Florida in 2000, where the Democrats were saying, well, count the votes. AMLO is not doing the Gore thing of saying count a few votes. He's saying count every single vote. Let's open them up. Let's look. It's very, very easy to understand these paper ballots. Why are there a million ballots missing? Why are ballots being stuffed? There's really no ballot security there.

And now, today, Calderon, as of last night, Calderon has said, yes, he would agree to some selective recounting. But there is a very good chance this election will be annulled.

AMY GOODMAN: The first paragraph in the Washington Post today, "Felipe Calderon, the free trade booster who was declared the winner of Mexico's disputed presidential election, said Tuesday he would accept a partial recount, but that a complete recount would be absurd and illegal."

GREG PALAST: Right. What he's hanging on is a rule that there is no particular rule which says that you have to recount every vote. Well, what's unusual, they have the really excellent condition for the voting process in that it's all paper ballots, very easy to recount, but the ruling party is saying don't recount. When we say "don't recount," you have to understand the counts in the first place are done in these remote areas, 130,000 polling stations, some of which don't have any observers from AMLO's party at all, tens of thousands. And the results are coming in are ridiculous. 100-to-1 against AMLO. These are precincts that came in at the very last minute and put him over the top.

So the question is, are we going to recount every one of the precincts? That's the only way that they're going to get a fair vote. But one of the interesting things is that no one in Mexico believes that this is over with at all. There's a very, very good chance that the election not only may be switched as to who's declared winner, but there is a good chance that the Elections Tribunal which has not ruled yet -- that's a different group than the Elections Commission -- the Elections Tribunal will decide by August whether, in fact, the election has to be annulled and a new election held. There's a lot of talk among political leaders there quietly that annulment of the election is a strong possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: You were at the news conference that AMLO -- the initials, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- held where he showed the videotape, which he said showed a PAN supporter stuffing a ballot box.

Ballot Stuffing

GREG PALAST: Right. Well, what I did is, as we showed in the film, I actually went out and got the sheets. I was to make sure that AMLO wasn't putting one over on us by having one of his own guys stuff a ballot box. And we got the sheets, and it was pretty clear that it was stuffed. But that's one precinct out of 130,000. The point of that was, if you look at just the ballots left around, if you don't vote for president or there's these empty ballot sheets, which anyone could just grab and stuff into a box, there is zero ballot security at all in Mexico. It's just astonishing. So even if you do count, that's not to say the count will be fair, but at least there is some chance of finding out what's in those packets. And every time they've opened up -- to me, because I've been covering elections shoplifting for years, to me what was interesting was that they have opened up 240 ballot boxes out of the 100-something thousand, and each of those 240 has shown additional votes for AMLO. If he just gets two more votes per polling station, it's over. Then he becomes president.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of becoming president, President Bush called Calderon. He was one of a handful of foreign leaders who called Calderon to congratulate him. Lopez Obrador is condemning those who would speak out now and before the Electoral Commission has announced results.

GREG PALAST: Frankly, I think it even embarrassed Calderon himself, the ruling party's candidate, because it made it look like Uncle Sam was petting their little cousin and trying to influence the decision on the outcome. Calderon is a bit weary of saying "I have absolutely won. It's over with." And it was quite embarrassing for Bush to be congratulating him. It's like, as if the Mexican president had called up Al Gore the day after the Florida vote and congratulated him. It's not over with, by any means. And it was quite embarrassing, in addition.

So, for Calderon, in fact, to make it look like he wasn't George Bush's puppet and Bush wasn't influencing the election, Calderon actually took a big shot at Bush and said, "Tear down that wall. Build no walls." So he was trying to create some distance between himself and Bush. It was very embarrassing for the White House to be stepping in.

And as you saw from the film, from our report, we were able to find out the White House looked to be trying to influence the election by grabbing the voter rolls, which, by the way, unlike the United States, the voter rolls in Mexico are private and secret, because they also contain all kinds of personal information about each voter. And so they are actually confidential. And we did find out that the ruling party, the PAN, had obtained the private voter rolls and used them for campaigning, which is against the law. And we did ask them about this, and they were very embarrassed, and they couldn't give us a good explanation about why it was they suddenly had all the voting rolls and had polling information next to each voter. That's against the law in Mexico.

Now, whether they use George Bush's list or not -- obviously, they have their own routes to get those voter lists -- but it's astonishing the lengths that this administration would go to to interject itself into the Mexican election. In fact, its obvious attempts at intervention and very ham-handed, have completely embarrassed Calderon to the point where the ruling party actually attempted to arrest ChoicePoint, the U.S. government contractor, which grabbed the voter rolls, and they put out warrants for company agents' arrest. The company itself now has apologized to the Mexican government.

AMY GOODMAN: On a different issue, and speaking of President Bush, as we wrap up, Greg, and we'll certainly continue to follow what's happening in Mexico, in the last few weeks since we spoke to you last, Dan Rather has left CBS. In your book, Armed Madhouse, you talk a lot about Dan Rather, Dan Rather taking on President Bush. As he was leaving, all of the reports around the country were about how he had fell for a kind of scam, false information about President Bush when he -- around the whole story of his military records and serving in the Guard. Can you talk about that?

GREG PALAST: Well, first of all, we ran the original story on BBC television. I was a reporter showing that George Bush's father, George, Sr., used his influence directly to get his son out of the war in Vietnam and into the Texas Air Guard. Rather repeated the story and added a little side story about a memo, which has nothing to do with the main story about whether basically George Bush's family used influence to get him out of the war. We have never, at BBC, unlike Dan Rather -- I mean, obviously, I haven't resigned -- BBC has never retracted a comma of our story at all. The problem for Dan Rather is that he wanted it both ways. I mean, he wants to be -- he wanted to do this tough report, but then not stand by it. CBS retracted completely the report about the Bush family using its influence. That was completely wrong of them to do. And to me, it looks as if what CBS was doing was making an example of Rather for putting out a tough report.

AMY GOODMAN: And the general story went, it had been proven that he had false documents, and yet the investigative report done by Dick Thornburg and others actually never took on the issue of documents and, if they were false, why did the White House not prosecute, because this is falsifying federal documents.

GREG PALAST: Right, there's absolutely no grounds whatsoever. Supposedly this document, the accusation, the whisper -- it's more of a whisper and a rumor than blank accusations that a lieutenant colonel of the Air Guard, Bill Burkett, falsified a document used by Dan Rather. I know Bill Burkett. I've taken a look at this. There is no grounds whatsoever to believe that the document was falsified. The story in chief stands. Neither Burkett nor anyone else can verify whether this little document --

AMY GOODMAN: Right. They're not verified.

GREG PALAST: It's true. We can't verify this thing at all. I mean, it's really -- what it is is a little sideshow distraction that was used to beat Dan Rather and to punish a reporter for trying to take on the President of the United States. That's what it's all about. It's about punishing reporters and making an example of Rather. Believe me, they know that Greg Palast, frankly, is in exile, reporting from England. They know that Dan Rather's carcass of his career has been thrown out on the tarmac. There is no reporter in the United States who is ever going to touch that story or any other story which reflects on the Bush family's extraordinary power.

AMY GOODMAN: It's just been announced that Dan Rather has signed a deal to host a show on HDNet. Well, Greg Palast, I want to thank you for being with us. Greg Palast, well known for exposing the 2000 election, first for the BBC, then eventually it got into U.S. papers after.

GREG PALAST: And for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: And thank you so much for reporting for Democracy Now! in Mexico City. Greg Palast's latest book is Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf, China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Frontlines of a Class War.

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