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ERIC: Before you got into journalism, you were an investigator. You worked for the government researching the case against the builders at the Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island back in 1988.
GREG: Yeah, I did some heavy-duty racketeering cases. I found out that the scuz balls at LILCO were lying about the cost of the plant. They told the regulators that the plant would cost 1.8 billion, even though their internal memos said it would cost 3.2 billion. Then it wound up costing 5.5 billion. And they covered up the fact that there was no safe way to evacuate the site in the event of an accident.
ERIC: The LILCO scandal completely shook up the politics of nuclear power.
GREG: The jury awarded the state of New York 4.3 billion dollars, a decision that was later thrown out. But that's another corruption story. LILCO did have to close the plant and sell most of their operations to the State. Now you think that might make the news, but we couldn't get any coverage in the US.
ERIC: Why do you think the American media was so resistant to your revelations?
GREG: The reason we have no real news reporting in this country is that it requires a lot of time, money, and risk. I also did the Exxon Valdez investigation for the Chugach natives of Alaska their villages were the ones slathered with oil in 1989 but I couldn't get that fucking story out either. Most journalists, even if they're covering the Exxon Valdez incident, will write about something packaged for them by the source, like a government report, a press conference, or a press release.
ERIC: They use material coming from the people that they are supposed to be investigating?
GREG: Yeah, literally. Exxon will make a videotape about how nature has cleansed the beaches of Alaska and give it to every TV station in the country. Well, I was up in Alaska a couple of years ago. In the Prince William Sound area, the gravel is still full of oil, fourteen years after the goddamn crackup.
ERIC: In '96, you decided to move into journalism yourself and started spending most of your time in London, where you got a very positive response to your investigatory journalism. You became a reporter for the London Observer, the Guardian, and the BBC's Newsnight.
GREG: In the late '90s I wanted to do a piece about Southern Company, the original electric power pirates. This is the same company that's now sucking the blood of Californians, taking government bailouts while creating an artificial power shortage. They were expanding into Britain then. I just faxed my idea to the Guardian. Right away, I got a call saying, "Holy shit, do you realize what you've written here? This is going to be explosive." It was explosive. There were Parliamentary hearings. After I did a couple more pieces for the Guardian, the Observer asked me to write a column.
ERIC: This year, you finally moved back to the U.S.
GREG: A lot of things have changed. My book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, has been on the New York Times bestseller list, with no sign of sales abating. It has surprised everyone, including my publisher. But I made the decision to come back to the U.S. before that happened. Let's put it this way I was successful, but I didn't know it. I finally realized that I had a huge underground Internet readership that I had hardly been aware of. So I said, "Okay fuck it, I've been in journalistic exile for years. Why am I a prophet cast out of my own land?" I'm here now, get used to it.
ERIC: Has your focus changed with your return to the U.S.?
GREG: I'm trying to help create a network of alternative news media. In fact, I think the term alternative is weird. Either it is news or it ain't.
ERIC: You've called the lack of information circulating in America an "electronic Berlin wall."
GREG: Yeah, it's a huge problem. Tomorrow in Utah there is a meeting of two hundred independent radio stations. Right now, they are not coordinated into any type of network. If you could link these independent radio stations together, you could challenge Fox.
ERIC: You'd get the power of numbers.
GREG: If these stations came together as a group, you would reach a lot of people. If you could coordinate shared content on the web between sites like Guerrilla News Network, Buzzflash, and TruthOut, I think you'd see some swing in power. I'm working to create a coordinated operation, so that we aren't just a bunch of scattered personalities and pirate operations. Rather, we would become part of an information army.
ERIC: You're also working with Jim Hightower, the author who calls himself "America's number one populist."
GREG: Jim is putting together mass public meetings, called "Rolling Thunder," in Austin and Philly. I'm going to be a part of that. I'm also making connections to what I call the independent right wing media which has libertarian tendencies like the Alex Jones Show out in Austin. From the right, Jones is asking the same questions about the monopoly of the American news media.
ERIC: Were you on his show?
GREG: He had me on for two hours explaining how the I.M.F. and the World Bank force certain nations to give up their resources water, fossil fuel, forests in order to receive funding. But remember, Alex Jones is supposed to be rightwing fruitcake radio!
ERIC: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy has a chapter called "Jim Crow in Cyberspace," that recounts your investigation of the voting irregularities in Florida in 2000. You contend that the decision by Florida's Secretary of State to purge the voter rolls on the state's computers cost Al Gore tens of thousands of votes.
GREG: In 1998 Florida passed a law that required the creation of a central voter file regulated by an elected and therefore, partisan official. The stated aim was to make the files more accurate to eliminate duplicate registrations and purge those who are legally barred from voting, such as convicted felons. But it turned out that only a handful of the purged voters were felons most of them were African-American Democrats wrongly barred from voting.
ERIC: The practice of centralizing voter files has now spread to other states.
GREG: Yeah, we don't want the "Floridation" of the nation, as I call it. In 2002, Congress passed this nasty little law called the Help America Vote act, which requires every state to computerize its voter rolls in centralized files, as Florida did.
ERIC: You expect that a lot of other black people will be eliminated from election rolls across the country.
GREG: Exactly. At the moment, the local election boards are pretty much balanced between Democrats and Republicans throughout the nation. You can only steal so many votes at a time. When you move control to the state level and put the decisions in the hands of a single political official, you get the Katherine Harris phenomenon.
ERIC: You were investigating this chain of events in early 2001. In your book, you recount your frustration that the media wouldn't cover it.
GREG: I handed the story to CBS. They called Governor Jeb Bush's office, and his people said, "We didn't do it." That was the end of it. To an American journalist, an official denial means the end of an investigation, period. It's like a cross in front of a vampire.
ERIC: You ended up in Florida with a BBC TV crew in February 2001, trying to interview election officials.
GREG: Yeah, I went into the Florida Department of Elections office with documents that showed they stole the election. The Director of the department, Clayton Roberts, literally ran away from me. I'm on camera chasing this guy down the hall. Now that isn't done on American television. It's not polite. It's like farting at a debutante ball. Thank god for the BBC. The producer said, "Let them run, we'll film that."
ERIC: What about the other journalists in Florida who were looking into the voting irregularities?
GREG: A lot of journalists will go to a press event and shout at Katherine Harris, "Goddamit you stole the election, didn't you?" That's not going to work, because there is no research behind it. You have to present her with a copy of a contract that says the State of Florida paid Database Technologies millions of dollars to make a voter list in which thousands of black voters were excluded as felons without adequate verification. That's the kind of research these people fear.
ERIC: This spring, you and Martin Luther King III initiated a national petition drive to roll back the Help America Vote Act.
GREG: Yeah, but more importantly, we are telling the Florida election officials that we are watching them. Light is a disinfectant. The more we say we are watching them, the harder it will be for them to steal elections. The idea is to scream. It's like all organizing, from the Vietnam War to the consumer movement. You bitch and scream and holler.
ERIC: You grew up in a working-class neighborhood in L.A. How did that influence your career as an investigator?
GREG: My mother worked at a school cafeteria. My father sold crappy furniture. I grew up with a huge chip on my shoulder. I despised all of the privileged pricks whose daddies got them out of Vietnam.
ERIC: But you didn't go to Vietnam. You attended the University of Chicago.
GREG: Not through my daddy's influence, but by sheer luck. I was a scholarship kid. At that time, there was an affirmative action initiative that gave you an extra break if you grew up in a poor area. I got scholarships, just like Bill Clinton, also trailer park trash. I ended up at the University of Chicago, studying economics under Milton Friedman.
ERIC: Why economics?
GREG: I wanted to learn how to follow the money. I used the skills I had learned in economics and accounting to investigate corporate bad guys, doing undercover work for labor unions and consumer groups. I was living on food stamps and air, but after a few years, I was recognized as one of the top guys in the field. When I investigated Southern Company for a coalition of Georgia civic groups, I was paid gigantic money, because there was big money at stake. Then the government paid me a million dollars to investigate the Shoreham nuclear plant.
ERIC: And you used those earnings to finance your work?
GREG: Yes. I got a windfall without having to change what I was doing, so I figured I would use it to continue to do what I want to do. If I have to fund part of an investigation myself, I'll do it. But there are limits. I don't want to give my publisher or the BBC the impression that I will endlessly subsidize their operations.
ERIC: How many people do you have working for you?
GREG: I'm part of a gigantic team. I'm just the nose in front of the camera. We have four people here in New York, and a big group of people helps us in London. We have developed a huge network of volunteers who do research, organization, and public relations. I could not have written my book without the help of some of the Internet research groups. I can just say, "Hey, I need to find out all the voter registration rules for every state." There are guys out there who know ten times more than I do about some of these subjects. And we're in touch with a lot of insiders and whistle blowers, which is very helpful.
ERIC: Your extended team seems unique in modern news journalism.
GREG: Jack Anderson, the last great investigative reporter-columnist, wrote a syndicated column that appeared in almost every daily paper in America in the '60s and '70s. Anderson had a brownstone in New York where his huge team worked and lived. He had to do it with a team. If you try to do this lone-wolf reporter shit, it'll never work.