"Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press"
is one of those unsettling books that will challenge one's basic assumptions about
the news business.
Drawn from the personal experiences of many seasoned journalists who have collected just about every award the profession offers, the book is edited by Kristina Borjesson, who contributes an important chapter about her investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800 for CBS, where she "walked into the buzzsaw."
"The buzzsaw is a powerful system of censorship in this country that is revealed to those reporting on extremely sensitive stories, usually having to do with high-level government and/or corporate malfeasance," Borjesson writes. "It often has a fatal effect on one's career."
Even the book publishing business has its buzzsaw, as Gerard Colby learned. Colby is the author of "DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain." The book was "privished," as Colby learned to his regret.
"Privishing" is short for "private publishing." Perversely, it is a method used by publishers to kill off a sensitive book without the author's permission or awareness.
By reducing the initial print run of a book, refusing to do reprints, cutting the advertising budget and the promotional tour, a publisher can guarantee a book's failure. It constitutes breach of contract, and in fact Colby sued his publisher, but battling a media giant's lawyers is an expensive and difficult proposition.
Why would a publisher want to kill off a promising and well-reviewed book? In Colby's case, because of pressures brought to bear by the powerful DuPont family to conceal shocking family secrets covering decades of business skulduggery and political intrigue.
You are unlikely to hear the contributors to "Into the Buzzsaw" on the talk show circuit. While bomb-throwing conservatives like Bernard Goldberg and Ann Coulter get booked onto hundreds of talk shows to promote their ill-tempered attacks on a mythical liberal media, most talk show hosts don't have the guts to interview journalists like Colby or Borjesson.
Or Greg Palast. Especially Greg Palast.
Palast wrote a most interesting report on Florida politics. It ran on the front page of the country's leading newspaper. Unfortunately, it was the wrong country, Britain.
Palast writes, "Here's how your President was elected: In the months leading up to the November balloting, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, ordered local elections supervisors to purge fifty-eight thousand voters from registries on grounds they were felons not entitled to vote in Florida.
"As it turns out, only a handful of these voters were felons. The voters on this scrub list were, notably, African-American (about 54 percent), and most of the others wrongly barred from voting were white and Hispanic Democrats."
Palast describes his descent into a Kafkaesque world of bureaucracy and lawyers and heartbreak as he attempted to get the explosive story out to an American audience. It finally found its way to the front page of the Washington Post -- in June, 2001.
Then came September 11. Palast, an American who works for the British press, had worked in the North Tower. How was it, he wondered, that the world's most sophisticated intelligence agencies, with $30 billion a year, missed this plot? The answer was simple: "They were told not to look."
"A group of well-placed sources -- not-all-too-savory -- spooks and arms dealers -- told my BBC team that before September 11 the U.S. government had turned away evidence of Saudi billionaires funding Osama bin Laden's network. Working with the Guardian and the National Security News Service of Washington, we got our hands on documents that backed up the story that FBI and CIA investigations had been slowed by the Clinton administration, then killed by Bush Jr.'s when those inquiries might upset Saudi interests."
Palast writes: "The story made the top of the news -- in Britain."
David L. Winkler is a Phoenix, Arizona media activist. Contact him by email