The Rip Post             The Rip Post Interview:
          
DAVE LINDORFF



Dave Lindorff, Reporter
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Award-winning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff has been working as a journalist for 30 years. A regular columnist for CounterPunch (www.counterpunch.org), he also writes frequently for In These Times (www.InTheseTimes.org) and Salon magazine (www.salon.com), as well as for Businessweek, the Nation and Treasury&Risk Management Magazine. In the late 1970s, he ran the Daily News bureau covering Los Angeles County government, and in the mid-'90s, spent several years as a correspondent in Hong Kong and China for Businessweek. Over the years he has written for such publications as Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Village Voice, Forbes, The London Observer and the Australian National Times. He is the author of three books--This Can't Be Happening! (Common Courage Press, 2004), Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For Profit Hospital Chains (Bantam, 1992), an investigative report on the for-profit hospital industry, and Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003), the only independent examination of this important capital case. A two-time Fulbright Scholar (Shanghai, China and Kaohsiung, Taiwan), he is a 1975 graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and received a B.A. in Chinese in 1972 from Wesleyan University. In October 2004, he was awareded a coveted "Most Censored Story of 2003" award by Project Censored (for his Oct. 16, 2003 story in Salon about the Pentagon's quiet efforts to gear up the machinery for a return to the draft). A founding member of the National Writers Union, and a member of the steering committee of the NWU Philadelphia local, for the past seven years, he has lived with his family just outside Philadelphia.
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RIP POST: Why did you write the columns, and the book, Dave? Big bucks? Trying to get on "Oprah" and "Larry King?" Trying to be a player? Huh? Can we expect a denunciation from Scott McClellan soon?

LINDORFF: I’ve been struggling along as a freelance writer for over 25 years, and I thought it was finally time to cash in, so I wrote a book attacking little Bush, figuring that this is where the money is!  Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.  No, actually, this book is an outgrowth of a series of columns and investigative articles I’ve been writing since the 9/11 attacks. Last January I was talking with the publisher of my last book, and somewhere along the way in the conversation, one of us came up with the idea of putting some of that work together into a book.  There are just so many jaw-dropping things that have been done in the last few years—so many idiotic things, so many laughable things, and so many tragic and scary things, that it just cried out to be put together in one place.

RIP POST: I understand that some of your columns have elicited death threats. Why take the risk of expressing your feelings about the direction of the country?

LINDORFF: Well, death threats are a badge of honor in this business.  These came in response to a piece I just wrote headlined “Our heroic baby killers in Iraq.” It was really about how the policy of the Bush administration and the Pentagon, to keep U.S. casualties down to a politically acceptable level requires the heavy and indiscriminate use of high explosives—blockbuster bombs and tank shells mostly, plus helicopter gunships—and thus high civilian casualties. The fact that we are killing two times as many civilians as we are killing enemy fighters means that the “collateral damage” should refer to the enemy fighters, not the civilians. This is a war crime, and the people who are implementing that policy can hardly be called heroes. Well, if the jerks who claim to be soldiers who fired off the death threat e-mails to me had bothered to read what I wrote, I wasn’t condemning the troops or pilots, for whom I feel a great deal of sorrow and compassion. I was condemning the armchair generals and chicken-hawk politicians who put them in the position of having to kill women and children.  At least it’s nice to know that alleged soldiers are reading my columns.

RIP POST: There have been many books and film documentaries that are spectacularly critical of this administration---an unprecedented number, I'll bet. How does your book differ?

LINDORFF: I think my book differs in not just going after the Bush crew. Kerry, after all, voted for this mess—the war and the so-called Patriot Act—as did most Democratic elected officials.

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RIP POST: You broke several big stories that were picked up by the media in the past couple of years, including the possibility of bringing back the draft, and the fact that Homeland Security's phone number for reporting suspected terrorists actually rang up "America's Most Wanted." Tell me how you broke these, ahead of every newspaper and news network in the world?

LINDORFF: Interestingly, I was tipped off to both stories by one of the world’s great unheralded newsmen, Bernie Beck. Beck produces surplus value for the San Francisco Chronicle. As I understand it, in his job he runs across great stories all the time, which his publication then ignores or shows no interest in. He then notifies people like me and I go, “Holy Shit! That’s a story!” Then I investigate.  I think in the case of Operation TIPS, Beck sent me an email noting that the Justice Dept. was asking on its website for volunteers for a citizen spy program that Attorney General Ashcroft hoped would eventually have 20 million citizen spies spying on their neighbors and reporting them to authorities. My response was to go on line and sign up. I waited a few weeks, hoping to get a decoder ring and a pamphlet telling me how to conduct my spying operation. When nothing came but a letter thanking me for joining and asking me for the names of other people who might want to sign up, I called the Justice Department. I said I was a citizen volunteer and wondered where I should call to report on the suspicious neighbors I had already spotted. They told me that they’d set up this 800-number as a hotline. So I called it. I was expecting to get some hard-nosed FBI agent, whom I would then confront as a journalist, asking how he or she was going to evaluate my accusations. Instead, though, I got a perky woman on the line who said, cheerfully, “America’s Most Wanted”  I was in shock. The Justice Dept. was turning its citizen spy network over to Fox-TV!  I ran this shocking story of the ultimate in privatization—homeland security—in Salon magazine. It got picked up by the CBS Evening News, Congress flipped out, and killed the program. The thing that struck me was that CBS should have done this story itself, but it was scared to. Instead, they waited months until some “wacky Internet journalist” did it, and then they reported on my reporting on the story. That was safer.

The draft story was similar. Beck sent me a note saying that the Pentagon was recruiting lots of people to fill up the draft boards, local and regional, which had been languishing and disfunctional after years of being ignored. I looked into it, called some draft board members and the Selective Service, and got confirmation that they were gearing up to be able to kick start a new draft. It was an explosive story. The government continues to deny that they are about to reinstate the draft, but  with troops stretched to the limit, and recruiting and re-enllistments collapsing, they won’t have any alternative, and the work they’re doing to resurrect the draftboard apparatus proves that it is on the road.

RIP POST: One of your stories is being honored as one of the "Top 25 Censored Stories" of the past year or so, correct? What was the story, how was it censored?

LINDORFF: This is the draft story, which I ran in versions in Salon and Counterpunch and which is also featured in my book. I think Project Censored’s notion is that this and many of the other winning stories are important issues that were completely ignored or covered up by the corporate media, and that thus had to be broken by the alternative media, as mine was (Salon is an internet magazine).

RIP POST: You were the first person to (very clinically) draw comparisons between pre-war Nazi Germany and the Bush administration policies (and the articles are in your book.) You took tremendous flack for this. It's well beyond the imagination of most people how such a thing can be possible. As a friend of mine said about potential "Patriot" Act abuses, "nothing has happened yet!" Can you summarize the comparison? Didn't O'Reilly take a swipe at you?

LINDORFF: I think I caught flack from all over the right-wing media—the Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review, Rush Limbaugh, O’Reilly. You have to figure if they got this upset about a guy writing on a site like Counterpunch, I must have really hit a nerve.  Anyhow, what I did was to say not that Bush is Hitler or that the Republicans are Nazis, but that the Bush team had used 9/11, and later the War in Iraq, the way Hitler and Goebbels used the Reichstag Fire—the burning of the German parliament building—and the invasion of Poland. In the first case, the tower attacks and the Reichstag Fire, it was taking a national disaster and using it to sow fear, as well as to point to certain alien groups—Commies and Jews in one case, aye-rabs in the second, to create a nation of quivering wusses ready to surrender their freedoms and political beliefs in hopes of protection. Then there was the creation of what was supposed to be a dandy little war to burnish the patriotic image of the maximum leader. Unfortunately, in both Hitler’s and Bush’s case, the little war turned out to be a big war that didn’t go as well as planned.

RIP POST: I understand you did not seek publication, but that it sought you. Explain?

LINDORFF: Well, that’s not exactly right.  The articles that the book is based upon were things that I proposed to Salon magazine, or submitted to Counterpunch magazine. The book, I’m really not sure about. It’s not clear to me whether it was my idea or Common Courage Press publisher Greg Bates’ idea. It may have emerged like an algae bloom in the course of a conversation we were having about what I should do next following my 2003 book “Killing Time,” which Greg also published.

RIP POST: A reader recently declared that writers like me (and you, I assume) deliberately try to deceive the public into thinking that "we (the USA) are the bad guys." Comments?

LINDORFF: Objectively speaking we are the bad guys. We invaded a country that posed no threat to us, thus establishing a new rule of the jungle in international relations that we tried to leave behand after World War II.  I would add that when you fight a war in which you kill civilians at twice the rate that you are killing enemy combatants, the “collateral damage” is the killing of enemy fighters, not civilians. This is flat out a war crime and a gross violation of the Geneva Accords, yet it is official U.S. Military policy, which is to keep U.S. casualties to a politically acceptable minimum by using high explosive ordinance instead of troops to “go after” the insurgents. So yes, we have met the enemy and it is us.
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RIP POST: What do you say to people who don't understand that you can "support the troops" but not the policy? Is there really any getting this point across?

LINDORFF: Well, I’ve been trying.  I don’t know. I guess when the troops start coming home saying that they don’t know why they’re over there, and that we should be getting out, maybe eventually the majority of Americans, the ones who get their news through a straw attached to their TV monitor, will eventually pick up the message.

RIP POST: You were among the first, if not the first, to note the similarities between the Iraq mess and Vietnam. Do you see any "successful" way out of Iraq, or are we eventually looking at the equivalents of "Vietnamization," "peace with honor," and the country turning into a theocratic dictatorship?

LINDORFF: The way out of Iraq is the way we went in. By ship and plane.  Now. There is nothing gained by the U.S. “staying the course” or “helping Iraq get back on its feet.”  The U.S. is now the problem in Iraq. Heck, the latest statistics from the Iraqi puppet government’s own Ministry of Health say that the U.S. Is killing more civilians in Iraq than the rebel insurgency is killing. What’s that tell you? We are the problem. We are the ones that make Iraq a hell on earth. We are the ones who make Iraqis afraid to walk the street, start up a business, go to school, etc., etc.  If we leave, things will get better, because they can’t get any worse and will stay like this as long as there are 135-140,000 heavily armed and legally unchecked guys driving around the country firing off heavy artillery.

RIP POST: How far do you think the Bush administration will go, militarily, to pursue its policies, if reelected?

LINDORFF: I look for B-52s and the carpet bombing of most of Western Iraq.

RIP POST: I note that the Carlyle Group has taken control over several nuclear weapons laboratories in Northern California. What do you know about this, and what does it mean?

LINDORFF: The Huns are taking over Rome. The Bush guys want the Cold War back. It was easier to fight.

RIP POST: You've been an investigative journalist for over 30 years, and you are the author of several books, including “Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”  What are your feelings about the state of "mainstream" journalism today?

LINDORFF: You can only use the word “journalism” in quotes now in the case of most of the corporate media. Most of what passes for journalism on television is entertainment and propaganda. Newspapers are only marginally better, some more than others.  I think that most reporters and editors have ceased to view what they do as a calling, and see it now as just a career path.  Just the idea that you can go to an undergraduate college and major in “journalism” is appalling to me. Journalism at its best should be about having some minimal understanding about a lot of things, about how the world works, and then going out and looking for issues that need to be explained to the reading/viewing public so they can gain a better understanding of and control over their lives.  If you just go from highschool to college, and then in college take a lot of technical classes in how to write a lead, how to edit video tape, etc., you don’t have the educational background, much less life experience, to really do what a reporter needs to do.

RIP POST: There is still superb reporting being done be courageous correspondents out there, and I don't mean Judith Miller, but it doesn't seem to have much impact on the American public, which still doggedly supports the spectacularly failed policies of the Bush/Cheney administration on Iraq, terrorism, international cooperation, tax relief for the wealthy, etc. Why?

LINDORFF: You’re right. There is a lot of good work being done, even by mainstream reporters working in the corporate media. But then the problem is that the public isn’t interested. The public needs to take an active role in reading or watching news reports. It requires an effort to be inquisitive, to read beyond the jump, to watch a long investigive report on TV. And people don’t want to make that effort. They want to have it in short sound-bytes and big headlines, with the whole thing laid out for them so they can know what to think without trying.

RIP POST: Despite Jayson Blair and CBS's document scandal (and others), most journalism in the country is very solidly backed up, yet Fox manages to pass off wild innuendo and laughingly right-wing-slanted reporting as "fair and balanced"---and the public swallows it. Comments?

LINDORFF: It’s like I said before. People want “journalism” that doesn’t require any work on their part. They don’t want two points of view in a story. They want to be told how to think. Fox does that really well. It’s propaganda, and that is what a huge percentage of Americans want, even if they don’t know it.

RIP POST: Every day you read facts---not commentary---about scandals in this administration that stagger the imagination. Cheney receiving a deferred salary from Halliburton alone should be enough to merit impeachment. Then you have Enron, the energy policy cover-up, the sheer lying about WMDs in Iraq, and on and on. Nothing Clinton did---and not very much Nixon did---measures up with the smallest scandals of this administration. How is it that these FACTS do not wake up the American people to the reality that this administration is stunningly corrupt and dishonest?

LINDORFF: I have never in my life seen such public cynicism. That’s what has happened. We’ve had so much corruption and so little real genuine public service in government, and since the Reagan era, such a public acceptance of greed as a virtue, that I think nobody cares anymore about wrongdoing. It’s like the U.S. has adopted the civic culture of Mexico or China.

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RIP POST: Every day you read facts---not commentary---about scandals in this administration that stagger the imagination. Cheney receiving a deferred salary from Halliburton alone should be enough to merit impeachment. Then you have Enron, the energy policy cover-up, the sheer lying about WMDs in Iraq, and on and on. Nothing Clinton did---and not very much Nixon did---measures up with the smallest scandals of this administration. How is it that these FACTS do not wake up the American people to the reality that this administration is stunningly corrupt and dishonest?

LINDORFF: I should add that our educational system, and our media, which hypes unscientifically all manner of stories, like the medical scare stories, the “dirty bomb” threat, etc., don’t encourage critical thinking or even scientific thinking. Astonishing percentages of Americans believe the world was created in seven days about 6000 years ago, that Eve was made from Adam and that men have one fewer ribs as a consequence, that the moon landing was staged on a set, that Hussein was behind 9-11, and that Elvis is still alive and hiding in a witness protection program, humming Blue Suede Shoes at home with the windows closed. These kinds of people will believe anything. They don’t let facts get in the way.

RIP POST: Why were so few people able to understand that the Neocon-driven Bush administration was exploiting  9/11 to ramrod "Global Pax Americana" through? Playing on nationalism and fear to rally support?

LINDORFF: Jingoism works.  If you wave the flag, people salute. Just go in a movie theater. I’ve been in theaters where they play the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s just a tape in a theater for gods sake, and everyone stands up!  People in America still think we have the best living standard in the world (ha!), the best healthcare system (!), that we’re the most moral, the smartest. All you have to do is travel somewhere else, and go outside the hotel on the tour plan, and you discover that lots of people have it better than we do, that lots of people are smarter than we are, and that many countries are far more moral. But hey, who travels? And of those who do, how many speak the language of the country they visit, or even leave their hotels and go out on the town?

RIP POST: Why do so many people---the majority of the country---still fail to comprehend this? That the plans to invade Iraq and "pre-emptive strike" policy were in the works long before 9/11?

LINDORFF: It’s the same problem. People don’t want to hear about complexity or subversion or impropriety in government, unless it’s something simple like a sex scandal.  I think there’s a collective desire on the part of the American public to avoid absorbing facts that conflict with a preconceived image they have of the U.S. as a Norman Rockwell society, maybe with black people added.

RIP POST: The 9/11 Commission findings, and the incisive analysis by many an observer, makes it clear enough that intelligence failure, in large measure, brought about 9/11. Yet experts and government officials for the last twenty years were saying that it was only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack occurred on U.S. soil. Why was so little done to shore up security against such an eventuality in that time?

LINDORFF: For the same reason that the government spends more than it collects in taxes, pollutes the environment, guts educational spending and robs the Social Security Trust Fund. Nobody gets elected for planning ahead.  What the Bush guys realized, which earlier political leaders since the 40s missed out on, was that there was a real plus in scaring the shit out of the public, and the terror thing really works.  Never mind that terrorism is just a nuisance, not a threat to the survival of the nation. The Bush guys are telling us that our way of life is threatened, and so we have to give up our rights, our democratic freedoms and traditions, we have to go to war—permanent war—or we’ll be destroyed by a handful of guys from the Middle East who want to kill us all. It’s ridiculous.
    But prior to this approach, there was nothing to be gained by spending a lot on anti-terrorism efforts. It wasn’t glamorous, it was costly, and nobody cared.
    
RIP POST: The PNAC document practically yearns for a "Pearl-Harbor-like event" to galvanize public support for its policies. The Bush administration was warned ad nauseum by Richard Clarke and Sandy Berger (and others) that Bin-Laden and terrorism should be a top priority. Yet the administration all but ignored the threat of terrorism during its first 9 months---up until 9/11. I believe this was deliberate. I suspect that Dick Cheney essentially directed the administration to ignore the problem in order to withstand a terrorist "hit" at home and get the "Pearl Harbor-like event" needed to implement PNAC tenets. Perhaps he wasn't expecting anything as devastating as 9/11. What do you think?

LINDORFF: I’m not ready to say that the Bush team knew 9/11 was coming and let it happen because they wanted a “Pearl Harbor”.  Like the theory that Roosevelt knew the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor, I don’t think the evidence is there. That’s not to say I don’t think these guys would do such a terrible thing. I believe they would if they had a chance.  Maybe they did. But generally speaking, my approach to conspiracy theories is to ignore them if there’s not good evidence to believe them. I don’t think we need to. What they did after the attack was grotesque and cynical enough. They clearly used the attacks to the hilt, shamelessly, to their own political advantage.

RIP POST: After 9/11 and the ensuing obvious rush by the Bush administration to invade Iraq, Bill Moyers started the "Now" program on PBS, a rare journalistic example of credibility, sanity, smart commentary and good investigative reporting. Moyers didn't have to do this. His heart isn't so hot, and he's well along in years. I believe he acted out of patriotism and concern for the survival of democracy here, and I believe he was heroic in so doing. Comments?

LINDORFF: Bill Moyers is one of my heroes. Right up there with Studds Terkel and John Hess.

RIP POST: You wrote in a recent column that distasteful as it is, leftists must vote for Kerry. Why? And why is it so distasteful?

LINDORFF: I believe that in modern America third parties are hopeless. We don’t have a labor union base to keep a third party focussed, so they tend to shatter into little egocentric sects fighting over their own agendas and ideologies.  A Third party was possible back in the 30s when you had a huge blue-collar working class and a major nucleus of European immigrants with labor union and socialist political traditions.  Now we have none of that.  Third parties tend now to be the work of an educated fringe of anarchistically inc lined young people—not a good base for a political movement.

I also believe that we are facing the very real threat of a de-facto one-party state, a kind of proto-fascist set-up where the republicans control all the levers of power—the congress, the executive, the courts, and the state governments, and the democrats are kept alive on life-support for the porpose of providing the illusion of an opposition and a democracy. If I’m right, then as sorry as the Democratic Party is today, it is critical for us on the left to help to preserve a vestige of power in one branch of government—the presidency—while trying to recover ground in the other areas-state governments and the courts.

Kerry is just another Democratic Leadership Council hack. He stands for nothing but his own success. He voted for the war, for the Patriot Act, he voted for Scalia’s nomination to the Supreme Court, he has backed away from his onetime opposition to the death penalty. He’s another Bill Clinton without the charisma, such as it was. I don’t trust him. That said, I think he can be pressured to sometimes dothe right thing, which is an improvement over Bush. I know that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s the best I can do.

RIP POST: Do you have any prediction for the election? Jimmy Carter notes that the Florida voting situation is "unacceptable." Amusing that a guy who helps supervise elections in Third World countries can't give a passing grade to Florida. . .
LINDORFF: It would take a miracle for Kerry to win. If the election is close, the Republicans will steal it.

RIP POST: Do you think the majority of voters realize how important this election is? I hear from many who groan the usual cynical cliche that "it makes no difference who is elected."

LINDORFF: I don’t think most people give a damn who wins. I predict voter turnout won’t top 50 percent.

RIP POST: Whom do you most want to read your book, and what do you hope its publication might accomplish?

LINDORFF: I’d like my book to be read by progressives, whom I hope it will rouse from their worldly cynicism. I’d like it to be read by people who have been mesmerized by Fox TV and CNN, and who need to have a dose of critical thinking. And I’d like it to be read by the decent Republicans (there are a few), who have been closing their eyes to the craven, power-hungry nature of the crew that’s in the White House bearing their name.  Basically, I’d like 50,000-plus people to buy the thing...


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