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Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney Photo: Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

All the News That Fits the Agenda
How The New York Times and other U.S. media distorted the story of U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, driving her from office and protecting the Bush administration from tough questions about Sept. 11, the Florida election fraud, and the Bush family’s shady friends
By Greg Palast

Have you heard about Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. congresswoman from Georgia?

According to those quoted on National Public Radio, McKinney is “a loose cannon” (media expert) whom “the people of Atlanta are embarrassed and disgusted” by (politician), and she is also “loony” and “dangerous” (senator from her own party).

Yow! And why is McKinney dangerous/loony/disgusting? According to NPR, “McKinney implied that the [Bush] administration knew in advance about Sept. 11 and deliberately held back the information.”

The New York Times’ Lynette Clemetson revealed that her comments went even further over the edge: “Ms. McKinney suggest[ed] that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war.”

That’s loony, all right. As an editor of the highly respected Atlanta Journal Constitution told NPR, McKinney “practically accused the President of murder!”

Problem is, McKinney never said it.

That’s right. The “quote” from McKinney is a complete fabrication. A whopper, a fabulous fib, a fake, a flim-flam. Just freakin’ made up.

Hi, Lynette. My name is Greg Palast, and I wanted to follow up on a story of yours. It says, let’s see, after the opening—it’s about Cynthia McKinney—it’s dated Washington byline August 21. “McKinney’s [opponent] capitalized on the furor caused by Miss McKinney’s suggestion this year that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war.” Now, I have been trying my darndest to find this phrase . . . I can’t . . .

Lynette Clemetson, The New York Times: Did you search the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

Yes, but I haven’t been able to find that statement.

I’ve heard that statement—it was all over the place.

I know it was all over the place, except no one can find it and that’s why I’m concerned. Now did you see the statement in the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

Yeah . . .

[Note: No such direct quote from McKinney can be found in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.]

And did you confirm this with McKinney?

Well, I worked with her office. The statement is from the floor of the House [of Representatives]. . . . Right?

So did you check the statement from the floor of the House?

I mean, I wouldn’t have done the story. . . . Have you looked at House transcripts?

Yes. Did you check that?

Of course.

You did check it?

[Note: No such McKinney statement can be found in the transcripts or other records of the House of Representatives.]

Clemetson: I think you have to go back to the House transcripts. . . . I mean, it was all over the place at the time.

Yes, this is one fact the Times reporter didn’t fake: The McKinney “quote” was, indeed, all over the place: in the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and needless to say, all the other metropolitan dailies—everywhere but in Congresswoman McKinney’s mouth.

Nor was it in the Congressional Record, nor in any recorded talk, nor on her Web site, nor in any of her radio talks. Here’s the congresswoman’s statement from the record:

“George Bush had no prior knowledge of the plan to attack the World Trade Center on September 11.”

Oh.

And I should say former Congresswoman McKinney.

She was beaten in the August 2002 Democratic primary. More precisely, she was beaten to death, politically, by the fabricated quote.

Months before the 2000 presidential elections, the offices of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered the removal of 90,000 citizens from the voter rolls because they were convicted felons . . . and felons can’t vote in Florida. There was one problem: 97 percent of those on the list were, in fact, innocent.

They weren’t felons, but they were guilty . . . of not being white. Over half the list contained names of nonwhites. I’m not guessing: I have the list from out of the computers of Katherine Harris’ office—and the “scrubbed” voter’s race is listed with each name.

And that’s how our president was elected: by illegally removing tens of thousands of legal African-American voters before the race.

But you knew that . . . at least you did if you read the British papers. I reported this discovery for the Guardian of London. And I reported again on the nightly news. You saw that . . . if you live in Europe or Canada or South America.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

In the United States, the story ran on page zero. Well, let me correct that a bit. The Washington Post did run the story on the fake-felon list that selected our president—even with a comment under my byline. I wrote the story within weeks of the election, while Al Gore was still in the race. The Post courageously ran it . . . seven months after the election.

The New York Times ran it . . . well, never, even after Katherine Harris confessed the scam to a Florida court after she and the state were successfully sued by the NAACP.

So, I can’t say The New York Times always makes up the news. Sometimes the news just doesn’t make it.

At BBC Television, we had Florida’s computer files and documents, marked “confidential”—stone-cold evidence showing how the vote fix was deliberately crafted by Republican officials. Not a single major U.S. paper asked for the documents—not from the state of Florida, nor from the BBC. Only one U.S. congressperson asked for the evidence and made it public: Cynthia McKinney of Atlanta.

That was her mistake.

The company that came up with the faux-felon list that determined the presidency: a Republican-tied database company named ChoicePoint, one of the richest, most powerful companies in Atlanta.

Before I started with the BBC in London, I took a one-day television training course with the Washington correspondent for Fox News.

We filmed Al Gore. Specifically, we filmed the 11 seconds of Gore’s impromptu remarks . . . which we’d been given two hours earlier by his advance ladies. They wore blue suits.

The man for the Associated Press wrote a lead paragraph of Gore’s impromptu remarks one hour before Al walked in and said them. The network reporter copied down the AP lead line. I copied down the AP lead line.

Saudi Prince Abdullah

After we got Al Gore’s 11 seconds and footage of someone in the crowd saying, “Wow, Al Gore really talked different from the way Al Gore usually talks,” we set up in front of the hotel where Al Gore talked. The important network reporter looked sternly into the camera and spoke in a very important voice. I squinted into the camera and spoke in a very important voice.

I can’t remember what I said.

He can’t remember what he said.

No one can remember what we said.

No one should.

Did I mention that (ex-) Congresswoman McKinney is black? And not just any kind of black. She’s the uppity kind of black.

What I mean by uppity is this:

After George Bush Senior left the White House, he became an advisor and lobbyist for a Canadian gold-mining company, Barrick Gold. Hey, a guy’s got to work. But there were a couple of questions about Barrick, to say the least. For example, was Barrick’s Congo gold mine funding both sides of a civil war and perpetuating that bloody conflict? Only one congressperson demanded hearings on the matter.

You’ve guessed: Cynthia McKinney.

That was covered in the . . . well, it wasn’t covered at all in the U.S. press.

McKinney contacted me at the BBC. She asked if I’d heard of Barrick. Indeed, I had. Top human-rights investigators had evidence that a mine that Barrick bought in 1999 had, in clearing their Tanzanian properties three years earlier, bulldozed mine shafts . . . burying about 50 miners alive.

I certainly knew Barrick: They’d sued the Guardian for daring to run a story I’d written about the allegations of the killings. Barrick never sued an American paper for daring to run the story, because no American paper dared.

The primary source for my story, an internationally famous lawyer named Tundu Lissu, was charged by the Tanzanian police with sedition, and arrested, for calling for an investigation. McKinney has been trying to save his life with an international campaign aimed at Barrick.

That was another of her mistakes.

The New York Times wrote of McKinney that Atlanta’s “prominent Black leaders—including Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP and former Mayor Maynard Jackson—who had supported Ms. McKinney in the past—distanced themselves from her this time.”

Really? Atlanta has four internationally recognized black leaders. Martin Luther King III did not abandon McKinney. I checked with him. Nor did Julian Bond (the Times ran a rare retraction on their Web site at Bond’s request). But that left Atlanta’s two other notables: Vernon Jordan and Andrew Young. Here, the Times had it right; no question that these two black faces of the Atlanta establishment let McKinney twist slowly in the wind—because, the Times implied, of her alleged looniness.

But maybe there was another reason Young and Jordan let McKinney swing. Remember Barrick? George Bush’s former gold-mining company, the target of McKinney’s investigations? Did I mention to you that Andy Young and Vernon Jordan are both on Barrick’s payroll? Well, I just did.

Did the Times mention it? I guess that wasn’t fit to print.

I suppose it’s my fault, McKin-ney’s electronic lynching. Unlike other politicians, McKinney, who’s earning her doctorate at Princeton’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, enjoys doing her own research, not relying on staff memos. She’s long been a reader of my reports from Britain, including transcripts of BBC Television investigations. On Nov. 6, 2001, BBC Newsnight ran this report with a follow-up story in the Guardian the next day:

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Probes Before 11 September

Officials Told to ‘Back Off’ on Saudis Before September 11

FBI and military intelligence officials in Washington say they were prevented for political reasons from carrying out full investigations into members of the Bin Laden family in the U.S. before the terrorist attacks of September 11. US intelligence agencies have come under criticism for their wholesale failure to predict the catastrophe at the World Trade Centre.

But some are complaining that their hands were tied. FBI documents shown on BBC Newsnight last night and obtained by the Guardian show that they had earlier sought to investigate two of Osama bin Laden’s relatives in Washington and a Muslim organisation, with which they were linked.

And so on. There was not one word in there that Bush knew about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance. It was about a horrific intelligence failure. This was the result, FBI and CIA/DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) insiders told us at BBC, of a block placed on investigations of Saudi Arabian financing of terror. We even showed onscreen a copy of a top-secret document passed to us by disgruntled FBI agents, directing that the agency would not investigate a “suspected terrorist organization” headed in the United States by a member of the bin Laden family. The FBI knew about these guys before Sept. 11 (with their office down the street from the hijackers’ address).

The CIA also knew about a meeting in Paris, prior to Sept. 11, involving a Saudi prince, arms dealers, and Al Qaeda. Although the information was in hand, the investigation was stymied by Bush’s intelligence chiefs. This is what McKinney wanted investigated.

Why were the Saudis, the bin Ladens (except Osama), and this organization (the World Assembly of Muslim Youth) off the investigation list prior to Sept. 11, despite evidence that they were reasonable targets for inquiry? The BBC thought it worth asking; the Guardian thought it worth asking—and so did Congresswoman McKinney. Why no pre-Sept. 11 investigations of these characters?

And what was the reason for the block? According to the experts we broadcast on British television, it was the Bush administration’s fanatic desire to protect their relations with Saudi Arabia—a deadly policy prejudice which, according to the respected Center for Public Integrity of Washington, D.C., seems influenced by the Bush family ties, and Republican donors’ ties, to Saudi royalty. McKinney, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, thought the BBC/Guardian/Observer investigation worth a follow-up congressional review.

According to NPR, her “loony” statement was made on the radio news show Counterspin. (Not incidentally, Counterspin is produced by an NPR competitor, the nonprofit Pacifica Radio Network.) I have the transcript; it’s on the Web. Her charge that Bush knew about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance and deliberately covered it up can’t be found.

What can be read is her call for a follow-up on the revelations from the BBC and USA Today on the information about a growing terror threat ignored by Bush . . . and whether the policy response—war, war, war—was protecting America or simply enriching Bush’s big arms-industry donors and business partners. Fair questions. But asking them is dangerous . . . to one’s political career.

The BBC report that got McKinney in hot water mentioned the Bush administration’s reluctance to investigate associates of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which the FBI secret document termed “a suspected terrorist organization.” They may be. They may not be. McKinney’s question was only, why no investigation?

Just after McKinney’s defeat, the courier of Osama bin Laden’s latest alleged taped threat against the United States was busted in Africa: He was on the staff of WAMY. Shortly thereafter, Prince Abdullah, the Saudi dictator, invited WAMY leaders to his palace and told them, “There is no extremism in the defending of the faith.”

So if you listen to U.S. radio and read U.S. papers, you are told this: Abdullah’s protector and godfather, George W. Bush, is sane and patriotic, and McKinney, who wants to investigate these guys, is a loony and a traitor. Got it?

Ted Koppel’s Nightline did a kind of follow-up to the BBC elections story. Our BBC team discovered that of the 180,000 votes never counted in the Florida 2000 presidential race, a sickeningly disproportionate number came from black counties. In Gadsden County, where more than half the population is black, one in eight ballots was marked “spoiled” and, thus, never counted.

Koppel’s team got on the case, flying down to Florida to find out why thousands of black votes were never counted. They talked to experts, they talked to important white people, and Koppel reported this: Many blacks are new to voting and, with limited education, have a difficult time with marking the sophisticated ballots. In other words, ABC concluded, African-Americans are too fucking dumb to figure out how to vote.

Hey, if true, then you have to report it. But it wasn’t. It was a fib, a tall tale, made-for-TV mendacity, polite liberal electronic cross-burning intellectual eugenics.

Here’s the real scoop: All races of voters make errors on paper ballots. But in white counties like Leon (Tallahassee), if you make a stray mark or other error, the vote machine rejects your ballot, and you get another ballot to vote again. But in black counties like Gadsden, you make a mistake and the machine quietly accepts and voids your ballot.

In other words, it wasn’t that African-Americans are too dumb to vote but that European-American reporters are too dumb to ask, too lazy to bother, too gutless to tell officialdom to stop lying into the cameras.

Back in the edit room with Mr. Washington Network TV Reporter, we were ready to bake the cake, the Gore story. We had all the ingredients.

“Take out your watch,” said the Fox man.

“You get 90 seconds,” he said. “That’s what you get. You got an intro, 40 seconds of narration, two sound bites, and end with a stand-up to camera.”

I repeated, “Forty seconds narrate, two sound bites, stand-up.”

He said, “Two sound bites and a stand-up. Every story. Every time.”

He said, “What do you think?”

I said, “I think I’m leaving the country.”

Greg Palast is an investigative reporter for BBC television and author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Penguin/Plume 2003). This article is based on his contribution to the compendium Abuse Your Illusions, released this month by Disinformation Press. Oliver Shykles, Fredda Weinberg, Ina Howard and Phil Tanfield contributed research for this report.


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