By Albert Samaha
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"If I seem to have this kinda weird optimism in the people of this country," Moore said, "it's because I know that they're the ones responsible for the success of this book." Stupid White Men has since reached number one on bestseller lists in the U.S., Canada, and England, and has remained in the New York Times Top 10 for all 25 weeks since its release, placing it among the top-selling nonfiction books of 2002 thus far.
Following a four-city book tour organized by HarperCollins (the tour was increased to 12 cities once the book took off), Moore sensed an expanding chink in Bush's unanimous-support armor. Soon after, Moore embarked on a 47-city American tour that he had assembled with his two sisters. In March, he addressed 7000 potential readers at the Austin launch of populist writer and radio commentator Jim Hightower's Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour; in April, he spoke to 5000 people at a Ralph Nader rally at Tampa's Sun Dome; and he attracted 3500 people to a solo lecture at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. In May, Moore had bounced publishers to Warner Books, garnering a $3 million deal for his next two books. Last week, Variety reported that he was negotiating to make an animated movie based on Stupid White Men. Just a year after a sea of flags virtually drowned it out, political dissent is now a bankable commodity.
"My appearance in their towns gave them the opportunity to not be afraid to speak their minds, and to be there with thousands of other people who felt the same way," Moore explained. "It was a great emotional and morale boost to those who believe that the strength of a democracy is built upon the willingness of the citizens to question what's going on."
It's this sort of questioning that has turned Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, a collection of his most explosive articles about everything from what he calls the "Bush family cartel" to the purging of African American felons from Florida's voter rolls by Republicans during the 2000 Presidential election, into a hot-selling book as well. Published in February by the small, London-based Pluto Press, the book has more than 40,000 copies in print, despite spotty U.S. distribution and scant mainstream review coverage. Nevertheless, in June, it managed to crack the Top 10 of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestseller lists.
Palast, an American journalist who publishes mainly in The Guardian and reports for BBC TV's Newsnight, told the Voice that many of his book's sales have been driven by non-traditional media outlets. He credits Pacifica Radio Network, for instance, for plugging the book, as well as his appearances at places like Washington, D.C.'s Politics & Prose bookstore. Like Moore, but without the benefit of his name recognition, Palast cobbled together his own reading tour through 20 American cities, drawing crowds of more than 1000 over two March nights in Berkeley and 350 to Walker Studios in Tribeca in April. "What I'm happy about is that with no money, no marketing, and a completely amateur operation, you can get 40,000 copies sold in the U.S.," Palast said, "if you've got something to say." The Best Democracy Money Can Buy has now been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Croatian, Turkish, Italian, Korean, and Bulgarian.
His underground success caught the eye of Kelly Notaras, an editor at Penguin Putnam's Plume imprint, which recently purchased the U.S. paperback rights to The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. "The way this book did so well in hardcover was almost exclusively through Greg's events," she told the Voice. The paperback will be updated with new information about Bush's Enron connections for its February 2003 release. "It's not the kind of book you have to be ultra-liberal to be interested in," said Notaras, "because the things that he's discovered are appalling, and there's nobody out there right now doing the same thing."
The rise of Palast's media starhe's putting his Observer column on hold to work on films and books, and will be contributing to Harper'sis coinciding with the expanding of America's appetite for unsanctioned perspectives. After joining the NAACP's Voter Empowerment Tour through Florida in September (where he'll also be filming Jeb and Kate Bush), he's hooking up with People for the American Way in October, then Jim Hightower and Ralph Nader's "democracy" tours in November. He is also scheduled to speak at the Apollo Theater in October (date to be announced). Palast responded to this explosion of attention and his jump from an indie press to a mainstream publisher by way of complimenting Michael Moore: "Apparently, this is the moment for the awful truth. No one wants to miss the next Stupid White Men."
By Noam Chomsky
MBS Textbook Dist, Trade Paper., $8.95
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
By Greg Palast
Pluto Press (UK), 224 pp., $25.00