“I don’t think a tough question is disrespectful.”
~ Helen Thomas, UPI White House Press Corp
By Catherine Austin Fitts
I arrived in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, on Monday. Kiwi’s – as New Zealander’s call themselves – are one of the most literate populations in the world. With four million people on a series of large and small beautiful islands, Kiwi’s are hard-working and intensely interested in their political, economic and cultural life.
I came to Wellington to see Alastair Thompson. For sixteen-years, Alastair has led the remarkable independent news media site Scoop Media and its global networks of independent writers, researchers and journalists.
Scoop Media covers the news – all the news – in New Zealand. Scoop’s day-to-day flow grew out of its coverage of the New Zealand legislature along with the national government and central bank.
Scoop’s initial value proposition was that it would publish everyone’s news. You have a press release? Scoop would publish it. Then web software ranked articles by web hits so that readers could easily see which news stories others considered important. Lots of media publications provide such rankings now. However, Scoop was the first I experienced with this feature. Of course, readers could also choose to read the Editors’ Top Picks or focus on the many categories which make up a good daily paper – health, culture, geopolitics.
In short, Scoop has always been well-grounded in the daily news of a busy and prosperous country. Alastair, as both reporter and publisher, is grounded in journalism’s traditional commitments to objectivity and integrity. And he has the advantage of having covered all aspects of politics, economics and daily life.
Scoop began in a period in which globalization was creating a growing divergence between “reality” and “official reality” and between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” This divergence coincided with corporate media shifting out of investigative journalism and into the engineering and promotion of “official reality.”
The corporate media’s shift created an opportunity for a small team of serious journalists “down under” to step onto the global stage and to make a critical difference. For me, it started with the Enron story.
In January 2002, I sent out an e-mail rant to my network regarding Enron. It consisted of 20 questions designed to show that the official story on the Enron fraud was not possible. I got an e-mail from Alastair in New Zealand asking me if he could publish it. Surprised, but intrigued that anyone in New Zealand would recognize the importance of what was happening with Enron and the implications for the US government and financial system, I said yes.
Two days later, Alastair sent me the Scoop rankings. My 20 questions had ranked quite high. That was the beginning of writing many pieces published by Scoop on Enron over the next year and developing a column called The Real Deal. Part of the beauty of the Scoop model was that anyone interested in following a particular writer could sign up to receive articles as they were posted. So I (and all the other writers at Scoop) could build an audience and find a voice.
Alastair was always hovering, checking, and making suggestions. He had a publisher’s nose for a story, a feel for the audience and the training to keep things in line.
During this period, investigative reporter Jason Leopold also found his way to Scoop and was able to publish the documents and reporting that nailed a portion of the Enron “book-cooking story”
Given that a former Enron executive had been Secretary of the Army at the US Department of Defense – the #1 book-cooking organization in America (more here) – it was quite a coup.
As the Enron story went viral around the globe, none other than Salon.com and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman were shown as having come down on the wrong side of the story. A network of writers, researchers and journalists suddenly realized that the corporate media could no longer control a story.
There was an audience for the truth. And the truth mattered, particularly when it was backed up with hard documents and tech-savvy publishers willing to take the time to get the hard evidence on line to support a reporter who had the story.
This was in the months following 9-11 when it steadily became obvious that the corporate media and the US government were not going to provide answers on what had really happened. As that became apparent, unanswered questions about 9-11 began to appear through Scoop’s site.
It started with “UnAnswered Questions” by an investigator writing under the pseudonym MalContent X. Malcontent X kept going with a series and Alastair did a brilliant job of circulating and promoting it.
The questions meme caught on. Several 9-11 activists in the US hooked up with Alastair’s brother to create a new website, UnAnswered Questions.org, which was designed to collect, organize and frame global unanswered questions about 9-11. Scoop created the UQ Wire.
The UnAnswered Questions group held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington which was enormously successful.
Questions and articles poured in and the UQ Wire began publishing an enormous flow of citizen concerns that circulated broadly. The speed was remarkable. The US team would work through the day and ship it off to the New Zealand team who was just starting their day fresh – everything flowed 24/7.
To cope with the flow of information, Paul Thompson (not a relative of Alastair) decided to build a chronology that grew into a mammoth on line “Terror Timeline.”
For some period, Paul moved to New Zealand where, with Alastair’s and Scoop’s support, he helped me build an audience through the publication of his book.
By asking questions and holding the US government responsible to answer the questions, rather than trying to answer them, the combined effort was able to document and – in the court of popular opinion – to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government’s explanations of what had happened was not possible given the known facts.
UnAnswered Questions and Scoop’s UQ Wire made sure that the “official” story was not widely accepted. This was long enough for the architects, scientists and other groups with serious expertise to enter the fray. If not for Alastair and Scoop, that door would have closed.
The exercise in grassroots transparency was so extraordinary in impact that the equivalent of the German PBS made a documentary about it.
The 9-11 story had profound implications – including implications regarding the integrity of the financial system. Thanks to Scoop Media, global investors got plenty of warnings about the ongoing financial coup long before the housing bubble crashed and the bailouts began:
• US mortgage fraud as Alastair published articles by Chris Sanders in London as well as my work (Where is the Collateral?)
• US federal credit and accounting fraud (The Negative Return Economy)
• Integrity issues in US systems (DynCorp and the Economics of Lawlessness)
• US voting fraud (The Diebold series by Bev Harris)
I remember reading that Australian investors had a high loss rate on US mortgage-backed securities and thinking, “Too bad they ignored Scoop’s warnings.”
The person who summed it up best was a retired CIA operative who called me in the midst of a round of Scoop stories going viral. He said in an ominous tone, “I want you to know that the Agency does not like Scoop.”
Alastair always made sure that Scoop published a lot more than just global shenanigans. He offered a platform to authors such as Suzan Mazur who has written extensively for years on science and human evolution on Scoop (http://www.suzanmazur.com)
And the flow of daily news in New Zealand continued providing a healthy baseline for what might sometimes seem like a world which had lost its way.
I decided early this year that it was time for me to travel to New Zealand again to see Alastair in person. Scoop has for many years been a touchstone. With the global financial crisis cutting deeply into advertising budgets, Scoop has been searching for a new business model. Their search is of great importance. How do we create and build a profitable business model to support serious news and journalism? Without it, we are lost. All solutions, all pathways require transparency. However, we need transparency that functions with professionalism and integrity and which can do so with full market support.
Their creation and evolution of their economic model has the potential to be one of their most important contributions to independent journalism if it succeeds. (Read Why Scoop.co.nz Can No Longer Be Free)
So, I have been sitting with Alastair this week – over lunch at Te Papa Tongarewa talking about the issues of the day, the opportunities before us, and how we recharge and invigorate independent media.
Writers and reporters whom the corporate media would suppress or smear found a platform in New Zealand that gave them a new voice and a pathway forward and which made a difference in the lives of millions of global readers.
As Alastair and I sit and talk, I am reminded of the shoulders upon which I stand.
Kia Ora, Scoop Media.