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October 5th, 2011 12:01 am REBECCA BOWE | Cover Story

Project Censored: The Year’s Most Ignored News

The “sock puppets” the Pentagon doesn’t want you to know about—and 9 other stories you didn’t hear from the mainstream media.

lede_sockpuppets_3748PROJECT CENSORED - IMAGE: Matt Wong
In an age of blogs, tweets, hacks and piles of beans spilled by Wikileaks, the notion of media censorship may seem dated. But the rundown of stories Project Censored calls attention to this year serves as a reminder that mainstream media outlets favoring the superficial over the substantive don’t give us all the information we need.

Since 1976, Project Censored has endeavored to spotlight important news articles that didn’t find their way into mainstream headlines. Originating with a classroom assignment in a communications course taught by Carl Jensen at Sonoma State University, the perennial project has evolved into a book, a radio show, and the Project Censored and Media Freedom International websites, which aggregate underreported independent news stories from around the globe.

Students and professors engaged in unearthing oft-ignored stories, part of a nationwide network of affiliates working under the direction of history professor Mickey Huff, bringing a harsh critique to standard mainstream media fare.

“Corporate media (singular) is the information control wing of the global power structure,” former Project Censored director Peter Phillips writes in the introduction to Censored 2012: Sourcebook for the Media Revolution. “The corporate media systematically censors the news stories that challenge the propaganda of empire.”

In Huff’s words, “We try to highlight the things that are highly relevant, that seem to be conspicuously absent.”

Huff says the selection process for the top censored stories begins with nominations of independent articles that readers feel warrant greater attention than they’ve received. From there, students comb through LexisNexis or other databases to see whether they’ve been adequately covered. If not, they fact-check the stories with professors or other experts in the field.

Once they’ve been “validated” in this way, they’re posted to Project Censored’s sister site, Media Freedom International. The famed Top 25 Censored Stories list, which has long served as the tagline of the organization, is the result of a ranked-choice voting process in which judges and affiliates select from the entire pool of validated news articles posted in a 12-month period.

The end product—an annual book featuring a compilation of the censored stories as well as sociological essays on media censorship and scathing critiques of “junk food news” churned out by the likes of Fox News—can be considered a kind of historical almanac, Huff says.

“Journalism is the rough draft of history,” he notes, “and if you have these mainstream corporate news outlets getting so much of it wrong or missing it, how does that impact historical construction?”

For the most part, Project Censored’s story list offers a sampling of smart investigative journalism produced by the independent press. They include deep investigative pieces such as “Diet Hard With a Vengeance,” by David Moberg of In These Times, and a heart-rending portrayal by Chris Hedges of a Marine stationed in a mortuary unit in Iraq.

Yet there are instances when Project Censored seems to wander too far afield. Its claims of “censorship” seem dubious at times, as with the charge that the mainstream media has ignored the real unemployment rate because it hasn’t turned an eye toward the analysis of economist John Williams, who maintains a website called Shadow Government Statistics.

Huff and Phillips regularly discuss questions surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center on their KPFA radio show (94.1 FM in Berkeley, Calif.), and their emphasis on this particular issue, along with a recent tendency to give weight to fringe theories concerning things like suspicious vapor trails (or “contrails”) issuing from airplanes, have caused some allies of the organization to defect.

The organization’s definition of censorship has evolved, too, to the point where the authors cast it as a form of propaganda that is “intentional by nature.... In essence, this is a conspiracy.”

Nevertheless, the Project Censored team delivers yet another rundown of surprising, alarming and thought-provoking stories that are worth noting—more so, perhaps, because they received so little attention to begin with. Without further ado, here are the top 10.

Six more, to be exact. That’s the figure reported by GOOD magazine and spotlighted by Project Censored in an article highlighting the fact that 462 American soldiers were killed in combat in 2010 while 468 soldiers, counting enlisted men and women, as well as veterans, took their own lives.

This was the second consecutive year that more soldiers died by their own hands than in combat; in 2009, the 381 suicides of active-duty soldiers recorded by the military also exceeded the number of deaths in battle. The GOOD report, which references Congressional Quarterly as a source, was published in January 2011, just weeks after military authorities announced that a psychological screening program seemed to be stemming the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers.

“This new data, that American soldiers are now more dangerous to themselves than the insurgents, flies right in the face of any suggestion that things are ‘working,’” GOOD senior editor Cord Jefferson wrote.

Project Censored also spotlighted Chris Hedges’ sobering portrayal of Jess Goodell, a Marine who was stationed in the Mortuary Affairs unit in Iraq. Goodell published a memoir titled Death and After in Iraq, also the name of Hedges’ column.

Anyone suspicious of “sock puppets,” those online commenters pretending to be someone they’re not, would be unnerved by the U.S. military’s “online persona management service,” a little-known program described in The Guardian UK, Raw Story and Computerworld stories unearthed and highlighted by Project Censored.

The U.S. Central Command (Centcom) secured a contract with a Los Angeles-based tech company to develop the program, which enables U.S. service workers to use fake online personas on social media sites to influence online chatter. Using up to 10 false identities, they can counter charged political dialogue with pro-military propaganda.

“These ‘personas’ were to have detailed, fictionalized backgrounds to make them believable to outside observers, and a sophisticated identity protection service was to back them up, preventing suspicious readers from uncovering the real person behind the account,” according to a Raw Story account.

A Centcom spokesperson told The Guardian UK that the program would only intervene in online conversations in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu or Pashto, and that it wouldn’t initially target Twitter or Facebook. However, critics likened this U.S. endeavor to manipulate social media to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the Internet.

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