Gregory Palast is almost certainly the greatest investigative journalist you’ve never heard of. An award-winning reporter in Britain, where he writes for The Guardian and The Sunday Observer, as well as hosts the BBC’s 60 Minutes-esque Newsnight, Palast abandoned his native America when the mainstream press declined to publish his groundbreaking, hard-hitting exposes, known for stripping bare abuses of power. Case in point: his recent series on how Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris conspired to illegally purge the Florida voting rolls of thousands of former felons whose voting rights had been restored by other states, the vast majority of whom were (not coincidentally) Democrats. In the few venues that have bothered to report it in the United States, it’s caused scarcely a ripple. Palast will be in Cleveland on Tuesday to debunk reigning myths about the much-touted phenomenon known as globalization.
Free Times: How did you become an investigative journalist?
Greg Palast: I started out as an investigator for American state and local governments; I’m an expert in the regulation of industry. For instance, I worked for the Chugach natives of Alaska to expose the fraud involved in the grounding of the Exxon Valdez, and for the government in its prosecution of the Shoreham nuclear plant scandal in New England, the biggest racketeering case in history. There we won a $400 million settlement from the builders and the utility, which we proved had lied about the plant’s safety. It was a natural progression from there into journalistic investigations.
FT: Ever do any work in Ohio?
GP: Yeah, I discovered with the steel industry that it’s not cheap Japanese imports that are responsible for the loss of American steel jobs. The jobs at companies like LTV went with the introduction of continuous casting and automation. The truth is that when markets were tight, American steelmakers chose to crank up prices rather than produce and sell more steel, which helped foreign companies get a foothold in the market. They raised prices when markets were tight, then closed plants when markets went slack. Unlike the foreign competitors, they felt no obligation to maintain their workforce.
FT: The promo for your upcoming appearance for the Cleveland Council on World Affairs says that British Prime Minister Tony Blair called you a liar. What’s that about?
GP: I did an undercover investigation in which I penetrated his cabinet and circle of closest advisors to show how U.S. and British companies are able to buy insider access. I posed as a businessman interested in getting legislation changed, and a cabinet minister told me that for 5,000 pounds, he would get me into 10 Downing Street, where I’d get what I wanted done. It was the biggest scandal of the Blair administration, and forced the resignation of several ministers, even though Blair said I was a liar.
FT: What’s your beef with American newspapers?
GP: Just look at my Florida theft-of-the-election story. When it came out in Britain, hundreds of people asked me, “When will Bush resign?” It’s a dual shame: first the election shenanigans, then the almost total lack of reporting about them. Mainstream American papers don’t like to publish controversial stuff, particularly if it has to do with investigations of industry. The Washington Post did print my story on the scam of utility deregulation in California, but for the most part, while I’m mainstream in Europe, I’m non-stream in my home town. I should say, though, that I am currently filming a documentary for PBS on the presidential election rip-off.
FT: Your talk in Cleveland is on the myth of “globalization.” What does the term even mean?
GP: The way it’s usually bandied about, it’s pretty vague. It has something to do with the future, with giving Bolivian peasants cell phones and wiring Eskimos to the internet. If you’re against it, that means you must be against the future, and the communication revolution, and the concept of bringing the world together. You’re a Luddite. But it’s funny; I haven’t yet met an anti-globalization activist who is against the internet. Let’s get real no one’s against the natives in Alaska getting on the net and downloading their porn just like everyone else.
FT: So if it’s not about wiring the Sahara for cable, what is it about?
GP: I’m talking about groups like the International Monetary Fund [IMF], the World Bank [WB], and the World Trade Organization [WTO]. Think of those wacko right-wing conspiracy nuts that are always screaming about one world government. Well, they’re completely right that one exists, though while they think it’s the Jews or communists who are running it, in reality it’s the white WASPs that run the IMF and WB. When I talk about globalization, I’m taking it upon myself to pull together the facts that reveal what the IMF actually does.
FT: What does it do?
GP: It goes around to poor and needy countries and imposes something it calls a “poverty reduction strategy.” First this involves “liberalizing capital markets,” which means making it easy for American banks to move money into and out of the country. When things are good, money flows in; when they’re bad, it flies out. At the same time, the IMF requires them to maintain the value of their currency. But when the economy takes a downturn and the money flows elsewhere, a country has to raise interest rates to levels that would make a Lower East Side loan shark salivate to bring it back. In essence, these countries end up buying back their own money, but at incredibly high rates. And this is just the beginning of the IMF’s involvement.
FT: You claim to know the dirty inner secrets of the IMF. How is that possible?
GP: I’ve had large numbers of secret hidden documents slipped to me. The IMF really is its own secret world government; all of these reports are stamped “for official use only” and “restricted distribution.” They know if the details of what they’re doing gets out, there’d be people in the streets. In fact, there were 400 major demonstrations, riots and actions against these organizations across the world in 1999 alone, but only about a dozen were in the West, so you don’t hear about them. You will, though, if you come to my Cleveland talk; it’s going to be fun.