AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The election denial movie called "2,000 Mules" has been thoroughly debunked by fact-checkers. Former Attorney General Bill Barr said the film's premise was, quote, "indefensible." Despite those flaws, former President Trump has embraced this film from the conservative provocateur Dinesh D'Souza. A book version of "2,000 Mules" was set to hit stores last week before its publisher abruptly recalled it from shelves due to an unexplained publishing error. NPR's Tom Dreisbach actually managed to get a copy of the recalled book and is with us now. Hey, Tom.
TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: OK, wait. This book was recalled. How did you get a copy?
DREISBACH: Yeah. So the recall happened very late, to the point that copies were already in stores by the time the publisher, Regnery, had to pull it. I took a chance. I drove in LA traffic and a heat wave to about a half dozen stores. First, no luck - and then there it was, tucked into the current affairs section of a Barnes & Noble in the San Fernando Valley here in California, brought to the register and bought it.
CHANG: You drove to the valley. OK, that is effort. What do we know about why this book was pulled?
DREISBACH: While Regnery and D'Souza, the author, have not said, and as far as I could tell, there's not an obvious production error in the book, like a photo being misaligned, bunch of blank pages, that kind of thing. One possibility, though, is that the book could create some legal risk for Dinesh D'Souza. The movie has emerged as a leading theory for election deniers. Trump describes it as essentially proof, despite all those debunking that you mentioned. The movie's premise is basically that a bunch of left-wing nonprofit groups supposedly conspired to gather ballots and paid people - those are the mules of the title - paid those mules to stuff drop boxes with Biden votes.
The movie did not name any specific nonprofits that were accused in this alleged scheme, let alone give them a chance to respond. D'Souza said in interviews that was because lawyers told him he couldn't put them in the movie. The book, however, does name seven groups, and we contacted all of those groups to ask them about this.
CHANG: And what did those groups say?
DREISBACH: Well, I talked to Aklima Khondoker. She's the chief legal officer for the New Georgia Project. That's one of the groups named in the book. I asked her what she made of those claims.
AKLIMA KHONDOKER: Malarkey and hogwash - because they're not based in fact. They're based on conspiracy theories, and it sounds like a bunch of lies committed to paper. And there are legal consequences for doing that.
DREISBACH: She said the allegations from D'Souza are potentially libelous, said that, at this point, though, the New Georgia Project was not ready to comment on whether they would actually take legal action. The labor union, the National Education Association, another group named in the book, they said in a statement that the book's claims were, quote, "trash and nonsense." Other groups said the allegations were false but did not want to speak publicly and give "2,000 Mules" more oxygen.
CHANG: OK. Well, as we've said, these allegations have been thoroughly debunked. So where did they come from in the first place?
DREISBACH: Well, the movie and book are based on claims from a controversial group called True the Vote. This group says that they proved this alleged scheme by buying commercially available cellphone location data and actually tracking people's movements. I asked True the Vote about the claims in the book, though, and they completely distanced themselves from the book. They said in a statement, quote, "True the Vote had no participation in this book and has no knowledge of its contents. This includes any allegations of activities of any specific organizations made in the book. We made no such allegations," end quote.
CHANG: And I am so curious, what are Dinesh D'Souza and his publishers saying about your reporting so far?
DREISBACH: Well, D'Souza did not respond to our request for comment before the story came out. After we published our story, he just called it a hit piece and called for the government to cut funding from NPR but didn't identify any errors or issues with our story. Regnery, the publisher, declined to answer any questions about the recalled book. But we do know already that this mistake, whatever it was that led to the recall, it has had real effects for the company. Regnery is a division of Salem Media, which reduced its quarterly earnings estimates in part because of the recall.
CHANG: So fascinating. That is NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Thank you. Tom.
DREISBACH: Thanks, Ailsa.
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