The rise of new social media and delivery methods for news continues to challenge traditional media, and the methods and manner in which traditional media controls the news. Nearly half of American adults now own a smartphone. One in five owns a tablet. New cars are manufactured with internet built in. With more mobility comes deeper immersion into social networking.
Despite these media gadgets, our news continues to be awash in the trivial and risible.
Last week’s news cycle was dominated by a military sex scandal featuring a shirtless FBI agent and a couple of Real Housewives of Tampa, Fla. Flying under the radar—literally—were the far more important stories of the devastating shadow wars these military leaders are conducting overseas and the increasingly intrusive surveillance state operating at home that exposed their private, personal lives.
Commenting on this irony, civil liberties attorney Glenn Greenwald noted in the U.K. Guardian, “What is most striking is how sweeping, probing and invasive the FBI’s investigation then became, all without any evidence of any actual crime—or the need for any search warrant.
“This,” he wrote, “is a surveillance state run amok.”
For 30 years, a media research project at Sonoma State University has given voice to the important stories that fly under the radar, buried beneath reports of “gaffes” and celebrity gossip. Sociologist and founder Carl Jensen called it Project Censored, a list of important but largely ignored stories, in an era when there were just three television networks and a handful of chain newspapers that held a lock on the news. New media has broken this lock—indeed, most of the stories on this list were researched and exposed through such media—yet still these stories fail to receive the coverage they deserve.
The need for the annual list continues; and the first story on this year’s list is the silent rise of the global surveillance state Greenwald criticizes.
Since 1993, Project Censored has been running not only the stories that didn’t get adequate coverage, but also analyzing and commenting on “junk-food news”—the stories that were way, way overblown and filled precious pages and airtime that could have been used for real news. In other sections, journalists and media scholars deconstruct narratives of power in an effort reclaim the common good.
“Massacres, celebrity gossip, we’re automatically attracted,” says Mickey Huff, who edited this year’s volume. “It’s like selling drugs. But we don’t tolerate the drug dealer on the corner. For the democratic process to happen, we have to have information presented and made available. To just give people entertainment news is an abdication of the First Amendment.”
Following are Project Censored’s top 10 stories of the past year:
President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his “war on terror.” But it’s President Obama who signed the 2012 NDAA, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Obama promised that “my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict”—leaving us adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise. Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the president, “in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.” The president is to be advised on this course of action by “the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, in conjunction with the National Economic Council.” Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause on Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement, but her ruling was overturned on Oct. 3, so the clause is back.
Big banks aren’t the only entities that our country has deemed “too big to fail.” But our oceans won’t be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape—overfished, acidified, warming—and describes how the destruction of the ocean’s complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water. Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the “Great Dying,” a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on Earth took 30 million years to recover. In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 nonprotected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that the marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.
A plume of toxic fallout floated to the United States after Japan’s tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States. One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and they would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published emails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group. And in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the United States, mostly among infants. Later, Mangano and Sherman updated the number to 22,000.
We know that FBI agents go into communities such as mosques, both undercover and in the guise of building relationships, quietly gathering information about individuals. This is part of an approach to finding what the FBI now considers the most likely kind of terrorists, “lone wolves.” Its strategy: “seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means and the opportunity,” writes Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronson. The publication, along with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, examined the results of this strategy, 508 cases classified as terrorism-related that have come before the Department of Justice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 243 of these cases, an informant was involved; in 49 cases, an informant actually led the plot. And “with three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”
The Federal Reserve, the United States’ quasi-private central bank, was audited for the first time in its history this year. The audit report states, “From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars … in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system.” These loans had significantly less interest and fewer conditions than the high-profile TARP bailouts, and were rife with conflicts of internet. Some examples: The CEO of JP Morgan Chase served as a board member of the New York Federal Reserve at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. William Dudley, who is now the New York Federal Reserve president, was granted a conflict of interest waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time the companies were given bailout funds. The audit was restricted to Federal Reserve lending during the financial crisis. On July 25, 2012, a bill to audit the Fed again, with fewer limitations, authored by Rep. Ron Paul, passed the House of Representatives. HR459 is expected to die in the Senate, but the movement behind Paul and his calls to hold the Fed accountable, or abolish it altogether, seem to be growing.
Reporting on a study by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich didn’t make the rounds nearly enough, according to Censored 2013. They found that, of 43,060 transnational companies, 147 control 40 percent of total global wealth. The researchers also built a model visually demonstrating how the connections between companies—what it calls the “super entity”—works. Some have criticized the study, saying control of assets doesn’t equate to ownership. True, but as we clearly saw in the 2008 financial collapse, corporations are capable of mismanaging assets in their control to the detriment of their actual owners. And a largely unregulated super entity like this is vulnerable to global collapse.
Can something really be censored when it’s straight from the United Nations? According to Project Censored evaluators, the corporate media underreported the UN declaring 2012 to be the International Year of the Cooperative, based on the coop business model’s stunning growth. The UN found that, in 2012, one billion people worldwide are coop member-owners, or one in five adults over the age of 15. The largest is Spain’s Mondragon Corporation, with more than 80,000 member-owners. The UN predicts that by 2025, worker-owned coops will be the world’s fastest growing business model. Worker-owned cooperatives provide for equitable distribution of wealth, genuine connection to the workplace, and, just maybe, a brighter future for our planet.
In January 2012, the BBC “revealed” how British Special Forces agents joined and “blended in” with rebels in Libya to help topple dictator Muammar Gadaffi, a story that alternative media sources had reported a year earlier. NATO admits to bombing a pipe factory in the Libyan city of Brega that was key to the water supply system that brought tap water to 70 percent of Libyans, saying that Gadaffi was storing weapons in the factory. In Censored 2013, writer James F. Tracy makes the point that historical relations between the U.S. and Libya were left out of mainstream news coverage of the NATO campaign; “background knowledge and historical context confirming Al-Qaeda and Western involvement in the destabilization of the Gadaffi regime are also essential for making sense of corporate news narratives depicting the Libyan operation as a popular ‘uprising.’”
On its website, the UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims that its products are “made in America.” That’s true, but they’re made in places in the U.S. where labor laws don’t apply, with workers often paid just 23 cents an hour to be exposed to toxic materials with no legal recourse. These places are American prisons. Slavery conditions in prisons aren’t exactly news. It’s literally written into the Constitution; the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, outlaws “slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” But the article highlighted by Project Censored this year reveals the state of prison slavery industries, and its ties to war. The majority of products manufactured by inmates are contracted to the Department of Defense. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body armor and camouflage uniforms. Of course, this is happening in the context of record high imprisonment in the U.S., where grossly disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Latinos are imprisoned, and can’t vote even after they’re freed. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year’s book: “This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color.”
HR 347, sometimes called the “criminalizing protest” or “anti-Occupy” bill, made some headlines. But concerned lawyers and other citizens worry that it could have disastrous effects for the First Amendment right to protest. Officially called the Federal Restricted Grounds Improvement Act, the law makes it a felony to “knowingly” enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in “disorderly or disruptive” conduct in or near the zones. The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be—the White House, areas hosting events deemed “National Special Security Events,” or anywhere visited by the president, vice president and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates; and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order. These people could be anywhere, and NSSEs have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls and the Academy Awards. So far, it seems the only time HR 347 has kicked in is with George Clooney’s high-profile arrest outside the Sudanese embassy. Clooney ultimately was not detained without trial—information that would be almost impossible to censor—but what about the rest of us who exist outside of the mainstream media’s spotlight?
Yael Chanoff writes for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
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