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Norman Lear (1922-2023)

On December 5, 2023, Norman Lear died at his home in Los Angeles, aged 101. A revered screenwriter and producer, Lear used his platform as an activist to found the advocacy organization People for the American Way in 1980. Its aim was to counter the influence of the Christian right in US politics. The organization then sought to bring greater accountability with their Right Wing Watch fact-checking project.

On June 16, 2015, I met up with Lear, who is the proud owner of a rare Dunlap broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence, to talk about voting rights….



Greg Palast: Here I have with me, I have captured the undisputed leader of the liberal…

Norman Lear: Of the free world.

Palast: Of the liberal Hollywood. You’re the undisputed leader of the liberal Hollywood Jewish socialist homosexual conspiracy. How do you maintain control over the media message?

Lear: It’s very difficult. You know, all those communists out there, by the tens of thousands, wrangling them is really, really hard. I work my heart out wrangling communists.

Palast: So, you founded People for the American Way. Now it’s 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was passed. We have a Martin Luther King holiday. We have a black metrosexual president. Why do we still need People for the American Way? Why are you still whining?

Lear: Why am I still whining? I don’t consider it whining, but I love the question. Because we continue to be human beings. Isn’t that terrible? We continue to be our own worst enemy across the globe. There’s nothing God has done, assuming you believe the last earthquake and hurricane and flood and so forth to be God’s work, there’s nothing God has done that man hasn’t done better by way of killing each other. So, we need a People for the American Way, just to help keep one another from…to keep ourselves from destroying ourselves.

Palast: Now, eminent constitutional scholars like Karl Rove and Dick Morris have said that there are literally millions of people, bluish, Democrats basically, a lot of African-Americans, Hispanics, according to these eminent scholars, there are millions of voters who are voting fraudulently. You have aliens, and criminals, and dead people voting. So why?

Lear: Well… You got to look at it, put their hat on and look at it from their side. If you believe that poor people, that people who are struggling to make a living, that cannot keep kids in college, that cannot raise their kids adequately because they don’t have sufficient funds. If you believe them to be automatically un-American, and if they have the wrong skin color, and you believe them automatically to be un-American, you just have to keep them away from voting.

Palast: But what I’m saying is that according to the eminent scholars, Karl Rove and Dick Morris… It’s on Fox by the way. So, it’s not like it’s just made up. It’s on Fox. They said that there are literally millions of people who are dead who are voting, who swam across the Rio Grande to vote. They’re illegal aliens. There are people voting twice, seven times. Like this one guy Willie Nelson, I found he voted 14 times. A massive fraud. So, what’s your explanation for this massive fraud?

Lear: There is no massive fraud, but if one believes in Fox News, that it is gospel, you just have to swallow hard and understand that most Americans are voting illegally. It’s of course ridiculous on the surface, not just on the surface, but as People for the American Way has examined the situation in city after city, and state after state, it is absolutely ludicrous, ridiculous. They are seeking to keep reasonable people who have difficulty with their access as a result of jobs and no jobs, traveling distances, waiting in great lines. They wish them not to vote and they’re doing everything in their power to keep them from voting.

Palast: But we haven’t seen that on the news. You’re saying that people are having a hard time voting. Why don’t we see that in the media? You’re saying that people are being blocked from voting, whether it’s long lines, or being purged from the voter rolls. Where does this come from?

Lear: For some reason, keeping people away from the polls as a news item is not sexy with the media. It’s criminal. It’s a shame, but it’s not covered the way it wants to be covered, the way it needs to be covered for the sake of an American people — and an American form of government that depends on their being informed.

Palast: So, why isn’t this what you liberals call vote suppression? I guess I’m channeling Stephen Colbert… You’re saying that working people, poor people, people of color aren’t getting the right to vote? You liberals control the media. Why isn’t it out there?

Lear: People for the American Way has a young elected officials and has Young People for the American Way. That is people in college, young elected officials are in 50 states, newly elected, recently elected to government jobs, both state and federal. They fight day after day after day come voting time to be sure that the people in their areas are getting to the polls, and it’s killing what the other side finds to put up against them. Calling them, as you say, non-voters because they don’t have a photo ID or they don’t have a driver’s license or they don’t have whatever it takes — or they don’t have the 14 hours to stand on line.

Palast: So, how come that message isn’t in the media that you liberals control?

Lear: Because you people who make documentaries use up so much of the media’s time, they haven’t got the time to put it on the news.

Palast: Okay. Now, another issue, I noticed People for the American Way has something called Right Wing Watch, that you have a particular problem with the philanthropists, David and Charles Koch, and their Americans for Prosperity. So what are you against?

Lear: And their buddy Adelson, who I just read yesterday is cuddling up to the Kochs.

Palast: Yeah, well…

Lear: Cuddling up to the Koch’s, that’s a good title.

Palast: These great philanthropists, who have been donating to our political system through Americans for Prosperity. So, what are you against? America or prosperity?

Lear: I’m against money buying votes. I don’t think the Founders — and I love the expression Founding Fathers, who felt a good deal more like parents than what we’re observing today — wanted to be sure that money wasn’t buying votes. That votes, and the hearts and minds behind them, were buying their elected officials. Were buying, take the word buying back, were selecting and electing their officials, not the dollar bill.

Palast: Now, People for the American Way filed a complaint against the Romney campaign, against the Republican party, because Mitt Romney was in a secret business partnership which took hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars from the auto bailout fund, which your people say is illegal. You can’t be running for president and speculating with a bunch of billionaires on a way to hit the government for billions. What’s wrong with just being a smart businessman while you’re running for president?

Lear: I’d like to play back your question as my answer. It is wrong to use one’s money and one’s personal business connections to buy the votes of the American people. By buying it, I mean, to use that money in the ads and media, television and so forth to persuade them to vote for you — it’s the cousin, if not the twin of buying a vote.

Palast: Well… if the politicians make money, maybe they’re renting the politician. What’s wrong with that?

Lear: Renting a politician, on the surface, something suggests to me it’s not American.

Palast: It’s not American. Now, here’s another question.

Lear: I’ll take another question.

Palast: Okay. Alright. You’ve been at this nine decades now…

Lear: My God!

Palast: So, what’s your advice? How does this continue on? What do you say to people who want to say, and now I’m stepping out of the Colbert voice, really Norman, what should people do to stop this reversal of the Voting Rights Act, to stop the new Jim Crow?

Lear: They’ve got to vote, they’ve got to persist, and it will turn around as the American people from the ground up begin to understand that their life is at stake, the lives of their children in a free country are at stake, and they will turn it around. It has happened before. It will happen again.

Palast: I’ve got to ask you, there’s a lot of moguls in Hollywood who have a lot of cars, and at your age, they’re not involved with putting their money to things like People for the American Way, civil liberties fights.

Lear: Can I just interrupt to say there are a lot of the same moguls in Chicago, in Cleveland, they were all over the country in different businesses. Show business is just another. And by the way, there isn’t anything in Hollywood that isn’t owned by some company way outside of Hollywood.

Palast: My question though is so, why did you take on this crusade?

Lear: I’m an American citizen. I was a boy… Oh, this is important to me to say, I was a boy who went to school at a time when there were civics classes. And I had civics classes every year, and I learned about my First Amendment, and my Bill of Rights, and my Constitution, my Declaration, and the words that were so precious to me and precious to all of us. We lost because they took money out of education, instead of pouring it in to get our young people educated and to compete with the rest of the world. There’s so many business reasons why that make me… forget my own progressive liberal views, business reasons why we are going wrong-headedly so fast, so far. Because we should be educating our youth and they should know about the America they’re living in.

Palast: What about the America you grew up in? What made Norman Lear? Seriously. What made this guy who said, I’m going to take on these fights?

Lear: Well, truly, my civic lessons I learned when I was nine years old. By the way, my book covers everything I’m about to say. I hope you’ll use what I just said.

Palast: I read it. That’s why I’m asking you, I’m letting you plug it too.

Lear: But, you know, my father went away when I was nine years old. He got into trouble. And I was alone and it was alone that I learned about a guy named Father Coughlin…he was a big antisemite, anti-FDR, anti-New Deal, pro-what he was learning about as the country learned about what was happening in Germany, and Hitler, and fascism. And I learned that there were people out there, because he was anti-Semitic, there were people out there who hated me because I was born to Jewish parents. But I had my civics classes, and my civics classes taught me I had a government that protected me from all of this, that said this cannot be, you cannot mix politics and religions. You cannot pick on a religion. And that sustained me. And that’s what I talked about when I won a scholarship to college. I was only there a year because the war came along, but it sustained me all the way through the start of People for the American Way. I didn’t have a father as a kid, but I had the fathers of my country.

Palast: There really is a charge that there is this liberal media conspiracy and no question, you’re the center of the liberal media octopus.

Lear: I’m not the center.

Palast: But, even if you’re not the center, the question is…you talked about People for the American Way, vote suppression, you’ve worked on civil liberties issues. Do the liberals control the media’s voice? Can a guy like Bill O’Reilly get a fair hearing? Dick Morris got a fair hearing? How can they break through and get into the mainstream media with you controlling it?

Lear: Yeah, my heart breaks for Bill O’Reilly, that he can’t break into the mainstream media. The poor son of a gun. I feel so for him. I watched him just last night with… he’s screaming at Megyn Kelly who was screaming back at him. Both of them screaming about something people like me are doing so wrong, wrong is to destroy our country. And I find them, if they weren’t so dangerous, utterly laughable, utterly laughable, and a network that would sustain them in sponsors, that would sponsor them… We have come to a sorry pass.

Palast: I want to show you something. You were talking about vote suppression and how difficult it is for people to vote, but we had 27 Republican secretaries of state have been going through their voter rolls and finding people who are voting twice in two different states.

Lear: There must be a dozen of them in America.

Palast: There are 3 million people, maybe even 7 million people targeted

Lear: Targeted…?

Palast: Voting twice in the same election. That’s how Obama won, according to this information.

Lear: Yeah. Tell me how many people were tried and convicted of it.

Palast: Well, none, but…

Lear: Of course.

Palast: But, okay,…

Lear: I want to repeat your answer. None.

Palast: Well, it’s difficult to find people who are voting twice. Look, this is literally from the inside documents, the lists of the people. These are the actual lists. I have the list here, that I got from the secretaries of sates.

Lear: How many of them are there?

Palast: 27 Republican secretaries of state are purging hundreds of thousands of voters, hundreds of thousands of voters from the voter rolls right now because they caught them voting twice in two different states. Here’s an example, I’m going to read it…

Lear: I’m sure we won’t find many that are black, will we?

Palast: Well, take a look at this. Okay. For example, and this is absolute, stone cold evidence. This is what they’re using. It says, Christopher James Jackson voted in Georgia in 2012. Christopher James Jackson voted again, same election, as Christopher Robert Jackson in Virginia.

Lear: I bet he flew there in his own plane.

Palast: And Barbara Ann Jackson voted in Georgia… and then voted again, same election, in Virginia as Barbara Faye Jackson. This is the absolute proof of massive voter fraud.

Lear: Oh, boy.

Palast: But these people have actually lost their votes.

Lear: Well, the people lost the vote because of this kind of chicanery. I mean, it’s ridiculous. I have to ask the same question. This is America. So, when was anybody tried and convicted of defrauding? I would not insist it can’t happen and doesn’t happen, but it’s ridiculously…[Phone rings] That’s me, could be a child. I never turn the phone off because of daughters.

Palast: Now, you said to me, you asked me how many of these people are Black? Well, they’re using common names to hunt down these ne’er-do-well double voters under a system called Crosscheck, which is created out of Kansas, Kochland, by the Secretary of State of Kansas.

Lear: Oh, my God.

Palast: And for all Republicans, 27 states, all Republican secretaries of state are using this and they’ve targeted literally 7 million people. Virginia’s already removed 41,000. North Carolina’s on its way to removing a quarter million voters, Georgia, half a million voters. You asked how many were Black? Well…

Lear: Or Hispanic.

Palast: Well, they’re common names. But Fox, and even more important, the Republican party, and these Republican officials, are saying a match of those names is absolute proof of double voting… In fact, like we found one guy, John Jackson, who voted 86,000 times. And that’s amazing. Like I said, Willie Nelson voted 14 times. But, you asked how many were Black, and the answer’s we analyzed the list….

Lear: I think that this John Jackson, who voted 86,000 times, I think we should make a special law. That man should be… jail is not good enough for somebody who votes 86,000 times. But, then again, he has to be a very wealthy man, because obviously he doesn’t work. He just votes 86,000 times and has to travel the country to do it. So, he is very wealthy, and I wonder if he’s a friend of the Koch brothers?

Palast: Well…the vast majority of people with the last name Jackson are African-American. And, interestingly enough, our research found that 96% of the people named Garcia are Hispanic, and nearly 100% of the people named Chung are Asian-American.

Lear: I thought they’d be Jewish.

Palast: Yeah. So, this list we’ve found is taking away… it’s 63% more likely that you’ll have a common name if you’re a minority. Do you think that this is a way for them to maybe bleach the voter rolls white or to get rid of double voters?

Lear: Why does it sound to me like it might be to bleach the voter rolls white? I dunno. It’s so peculiar that I would think that isn’t it, given all of this evidence, one man voting 86,000 times.

Palast: This is the evidence that was trumpeted on Fox News. But the information of what’s on these lists has only appeared on Al Jazeera, terrorist tv, far away from America. Why is that? When liberals control the media.

Lear: Liberals don’t control the media. Major companies own the media…. I mean, the problem with the media is too few people own the megaphones that get all of the news and information to the peoples of the world. And it carries their message, whatever their message is. And their message is, everybody that is an American earns the right to vote. And we will see to it that they get the opportunity. That is not their message. Their message is to control the voting, to go along with their patterns, with what they’re looking for as the heads of major corporations and major political interests and major money.

Palast: Wait, why wouldn’t philanthropists, like the Kochs or corporate leaders, great corporate leaders, why would they not want Mr. Jackson to vote? And Ms. Ch Chung?

Lear: But they do… If they’re talking out loud, and if they’re talking to Greg Palast, they will say they do. Their actions are something else.

Palast: So, why do they take those actions? Why eliminate these voters? What is their agenda?

Lear: I am not living in their heads. I don’t know their agenda. I just understand it’s not good for the rest of us. Not good when any American is denied his or her right to vote.

Palast: At your age, you should be out sipping Mai Tais under a palm tree or having strange affairs that will be in the tabloids or something. Why are you doing this work? Why are you spending your time doing this? Fighting for people’s right to vote?

Lear: Because Greg Palast asked me to.

Palast: Why are you fighting for the right to vote?

Lear: Because I grew up caring about this country. And I sit here at close to 93 telling you I care exactly as I did when I was eight, nine years old. I love this country, but there was a time when we were in love with America. I don’t question anybody’s patriotism. Everybody runs around, or half of everybody, with a flag and certainly the Congress. So, they love the country because they’re wearing a pin. But I grew up that way and nothing’s changed. The country has been terribly good to me. I wish it be good, I wish the world to be good for my kids and grandkids. And I care, and that’s no big deal. I mean, I don’t deserve a lot of credit for that. That’s what I was born, we were all born to be. We were lucky enough to be born here.

Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Armed Madhouse, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman

Palast is currently working on a new documentary Long Knife, exposing the Koch Brothers' theft of Osage oil, to be released in 2024.

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