PHOTO: Taylor Schefstrom
The world was a different place in 1976 when Sonoma State University communications professor Carl Jensen founded Project Censored to highlight important national news stories underreported or outright ignored by the mainstream press.
Back then, few good alternatives existed to television networks or major newspapers and magazines, and stories omitted from those media channels usually escaped public notice.
There was no Google News or blogs. And the word “twitter” was associated with birds or gossip. So Project Censored emerged to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of the news by delivering an annual rundown of the most significant articles that hadn’t been widely distributed.
But even if the corporate media could censor important information back then, today’s highly fragmented media world has opened the floodgates to endless news and propaganda of all varieties, leaving citizens awash in more information than they can possibly process.
So yes, it’s a brave new world of media consumption. But no, Project Censored’s mission hasn’t really changed. More than ever, people need help sifting through this cacophony to figure out what they truly need to know.
For 35 years, the project has distributed its Censored list nationwide to shed light on the top stories not brought to you by the mainstream press. These days, stories are submitted, researched by students, filtered through LexisNexis to determine which outlets have covered them, and then voted on by a team of judges. An international network of 30 colleges and universities contributes to the project, and volunteers from around the world submit stories for consideration. At the end of each project cycle, the work is released in a compendium.
“There are many factors afoot that prevent stories from getting reported,” says Project Censored Director Mickey Huff, a history professor at Diablo Valley College in California. “What we’re saying is that anything that interferes with a free flow of information is censorship. It’s not the blacking out of a story, it’s the framing of a story. It’s the angle. It’s what views are being left out. In old school ‘objective journalism’”—air quotes—“you’re supposed to get both sides of the story. Yeah, well, sometimes there are six sides.”
With that in mind, here are this year’s countdown of the top 10 censored stories of 2009-10:
1. Buh-Bye U.S. Dollar As The Global Reserve Currency?
Since the financial meltdown of 2008 sent a jarring ripple effect throughout the global economy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been talking up the idea of an international market that doesn’t use the U.S. dollar as a global reserve currency. The dollar now holds the status of the predominant anchor currency held in foreign exchange reserves, securing the U.S.’s strategic economic position.
In July 2009 at the Group of Eight Summit in Italy, Medvedev underscored his call for a newly conceived “united future world currency” when he pulled a sample coin from his pocket and showed it off to heads of state, the Bloomberg news service reported. At a conference in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in June 2009, world leaders from Brazil, India and China listened as Medvedev made his case for a new global currency system anchored on something other than the dollar, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor.
Additionally, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development suggested in a report that the present system of using the dollar as the world’s reserve currency should be subject to a wholesale reconsideration, according to an article in the Telegraph, a British newspaper.
Michael Hudson, an author and professor of economics at the University of Missouri, links discussions about an alternative global reserve currency with U.S. military spending. Referencing Medvedev’s calls for a “multipolar world order,” Hudson offers this translation: “What this means in plain English is, we have reached our limit in subsidizing the United States’ military encirclement of Eurasia while also allowing the U.S. to appropriate our exports, companies, stocks and real estate in exchange for paper money of questionable worth.”
2. Environmental Enemy No. 1: U.S. Department Of Defense
The U.S. military burns through 320,000 barrels of oil a day, Sara Flounders of the International Action Center reports. But that tally doesn’t factor in fuel consumed by contractors or the energy and resources used to produce bombs, grenades, missiles or other weapons employed by the Department of Defense.
By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products—yet it has a blanket exemption in commitments made by the United States to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Despite its status as top polluter, the Department of Defense received little attention in December of 2009 during talks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen
Meanwhile, human health is threatened by the long-term environmental impacts of military operations throughout the globe. Depleted uranium contamination from the Iraq conflict has been linked to widespread health problems, Jalal Ghazi reports for New America Media. The Chamoru people of Guam, meanwhile, experience an alarmingly high rate of cancer, which is suspected to be linked to a nearby 1950s U.S. nuclear weapons testing site that left a legacy of radioactive contamination.
“The greatest single assault on the environment comes from one agency: the Armed Forces of the United States,” author Barry Sanders writes in The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism.
3. Internet Privacy And Personal Access At Risk
Project Censored cites 13 sources, including articles published in Wired and Mother Jones, for this story. And a Google search for the phrase “Internet kill switch” yields 178,000 results generated by more recent reporting.
The Cybersecurity Act was proposed in June 2009, giving the president the power to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” and do whatever is necessary to diffuse a cyber attack. The Senate Homeland Security Committee approved a comprehensive cybersecurity bill this June, which has drawn sharp criticism for including a provision that would allow the president to shut down networks in the event of an emergency.
Reporting in Wired, Noah Schachtman broke the story that the CIA was investing in Visible Technologies, a software firm that can collect, rank and analyze millions of posts on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites. Wired also reported that the Obama administration had followed the lead of George W. Bush by urging a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a spy case weighing whether a U.S. president can bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.
4. ICE’s Secret Detention Centers
The federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces that reveal no information about their ICE tenants.
Reporting in The Nation, Jacqueline Stevens describes ICE’s jail network and the agency’s penchant for secrecy when it comes to withholding public information about the facilities.
“The absence of a real-time database tracking people in ICE custody means ICE has created a network of secret jails,” Stevens writes. “Subfield offices enter the time and date of custody after the fact, a situation ripe for errors...as well as coverups.” As a result, detainees can literally be “lost” by attorneys or family members for days or weeks at a time after being transferred.
5. Blackwater In Pakistan
The notorious private military contractor Blackwater has changed its name to Xe Services, but it hasn’t escaped scrutiny. According to a story that ran in The Nation in December 2009, the contractor is at the center of a covert program in Pakistan run by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command in Karachi.
Xe is involved in planning targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, and helps direct a U.S. military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA Predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the U.S. military intelligence apparatus who spoke with The Nation. The Pentagon has disputed the claim, stating: “There are no U.S. military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”
More recently, The New York Times reported that Xe had created a web of more than 30 shell companies to win defense contracts, and specifically mentioned that the company employees had loaded bombs and missiles onto Predator drones in Pakistan.
6. Cause Of Death: Lack Of Health Care
As the healthcare debate raged on and Americans heard over and over again about supposed “death panels,” “Obamacare” and the government’s infringement on personal freedom, at least one important study was largely drowned out. Research led by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center revealed that lack of health insurance may have figured into 17,000 childhood deaths among hospitalized children in the United States in the span of less than two decades.
The results of a study published in the Journal of Public Health compared more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005, and found that uninsured children in the study were 60 percent more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance.
“Can we say with absolute certainty that 17,000 children would have been saved if they had health insurance? Of course not,” notes a co-investigator. “From a scientific perspective, we are confident in our finding that thousands of children likely died because they lacked insurance or because of factors directly related to a lack of insurance.”
7. The African Land Grab
A “land grab,” according to this Project Censored story, is the purchase of vast tracts of land by wealthier nations from mostly poor, developing countries in order to produce crops for export. Throughout the African continent, an estimated 50 million hectares of land either have been acquired or are in the process of being negotiated for purchase over the last several years. International agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds and commodity traders are leading the rush for cheap, undeveloped, arable land.
Ethiopia has approved at least 815 foreign-financed agriculture projects since 2007, but the food produced there will be exported rather than used to feed the 13 million people in need of food aid in that country.
“Rich countries are eyeing Africa not just for a healthy return on capital, but also as an insurance policy,” notes researcher Devlin Kuyek. “Food shortages and riots in 28 countries in 2008, declining water supplies, climate change and huge population growth together have made land attractive. Africa has the most land and, compared with other continents, is cheap.”
8. Massacre In Peruvian Amazon Over Free Trade Agreement
On June 5, 2009, 50 or more Peruvian Amazon Indians were massacred after a 57-day protest against the implementation of decrees under the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
Decrees that would have opened vast swaths of indigenous land in the Peruvian Amazon to private investment by gas, mining and oil companies prompted Amazon peoples to block highways and gas and oil pipelines. But the conflict escalated when armed Peruvian government agents attacked the protesters with rifles and, according to eyewitnesses, burned bodies and threw them into a river.
According to an account on the Huffington Post by Laura Carlsen, Peru’s Congress voted 82-12 in the aftermath to repeal two of the decrees that the indigenous groups had been standing against. Daysi Zapata, a representative of the association of indigenous groups, celebrated the triumph: “Today is a historic day. We are thankful because the will of the indigenous peoples has been taken into account, and we just hope that in the future, the governments attend and listen to the people, that they don’t legislate behind our backs.”
9. Human Rights Abuses Continue In Palestine
While there is a great deal of news coverage about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, human rights abuses are a little-discussed aspect. After a 15-month study conducted by an international team of scholars, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa concluded that Israel is, from the perspective of international law, an occupying power in Palestinian territories and that it has become a colonial enterprise that implements a system of apartheid.
An Amnesty International report charges that Israel is denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies. And articles that appeared on Electronic Intifada detailed how Israel had begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and thousands of Palestinian residents.
“Rare mainstream media glimpses of Israel’s apartheid system, like the CBS 60 Minutes segment ‘Is Peace Out of Reach?’ in January 2009, air and then fade away after drawing vitriolic, selectively focused criticism.”
10. U.S. Funds And Supports The Taliban
While this story appeared on the front pages of The New York Times and Washington Post, Project Censored claims they omitted some key facts. The Nation broke the story, and at the time Project Censored was researching it, there was nary a mention in the mainstream media of how American tax dollars wind up in the hands of the Taliban.
In some cases, money goes to Afghan companies run by former Taliban members like President Hamid Karzai’s cousin, Ahmad Rate Popal, who was charged in the 1980s with conspiring to import heroin into the United States. U.S. military contractors in Afghanistan also pay suspected insurgents to protect supply routes.
“It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the U.S. government funds the very forces American troops are fighting,” according to The Nation story, written by Aram Roston. The Nation article also highlighted a link omitted by the other publications: NCL holdings, a licensed security company in Afghanistan, is run by the son of the Afghan defense minister and has an influential former CIA officer, Milton Bearden, on its advisory board. NCL secured a highly lucrative trucking contract—despite having no apparent trucking experience.
The Top Five Over - Reported Local Stories Of 2010
Just because you like reading about it over and over again doesn’t make it news.
BY AARON MESH firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Kyron Horman
Here’s what every reporter in town has been thinking for nearly four months but won’t write: “We’ve spent a million dollars and countless reams of media attention on a missing child and his freak-show family while we ignore Oregon’s other children and their desperate families, because people would rather watch a soap opera about one very sad misfortune than think about systemic problems that have no easy solutions.” Also, Nancy Grace is a predatory succubus whose popularity is an indictment of Western rot.
2. The Rise of the Tea Party
Yeah, yeah: You’re mad as hell, and I’m going to take a nap. Wake me when you have a single practicable idea, or win enough races in a general election to make a difference in Congress or the Oregon Legislature.
3. Al Gore, Sex Poodle
Let’s pretend for a moment that Gore’s accuser wasn’t patently full of shit about what happened in a Portland hotel room in 2006. Let’s pretend the accusation was true. Al Gore does not hold public office. He did not hold public office when this magical evening of massage and chocolates took place. He’s a touring weatherman. The only reason this story might affect your life in any way is because you didn’t like Al Gore and wanted to validate your ideological distaste with personal misconduct. I enjoyed 1998 too, but schadenfreude over a washed-up pol and whether his second chakra was released isn’t news.
4. Greg Oden’s Penis
The faux outrage over a naked photo the Blazers center took of himself was repellent: It boiled down to fear that a black man actually had a penis, and might be using it. Then when the “scandal” turned into a show trial and Oden had to apologize to braying sportswriters for the indiscretion of a consensual sex life, the outrage was transferred to WW’s Beth Slovic for suggesting that Oden might, in fact, have no reason to be ashamed. Yes, I’m still angry about this. Honestly, you’d think that most sportswriters lived in a fantasy world of meaningless games. Oh, right. They do.
Anything they do. We have a police force with multiple brutality issues, the Keystone Kops with pepper spray and beanbag guns, and we’re wasting pages on some black-masked treehouse kiddie clubs that literally hold meetings on playgrounds? When punks in my neighborhood used to bash mailboxes with baseball bats, we didn’t call the TV stations, and we didn’t call it a political movement.
Past Project Censored judges have included Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, to whom Censored 2011 (Seven Stories Press, 2010) is dedicated.
It’s clear that Project Censored is sensitive to the “conspiracy theorist” label. The first item on the Investigative Research section of its website projectcensored.org., for example, is a nearly 10,000-word article titled “Analysis of Project Censored: Are We A Left-Leaning, Conspiracy-Oriented Organization?”
“The bias of Project Censored seems to be quite simple,” concludes Project Censored’s self-analysis. “We promote protection of First Amendment rights in support of a truly free press, one that holds those in power, elected by the people or appointed, accountable.”