For the 27th year in a row, the Sonoma State University student and faculty program announced the conclusion of its annual search for major significant but little-reported news stories. And once again, Project Censored, twice honored for publishing the best alternative political issues book in the country, has cast the spotlight on stories many Americans never heard but need to know about.
“These and other stories in our annual yearbook provide continuing and convincing evidence that mainstream media in the United States is failing to provide the public information it needs in order to function in a democracy,” said Sonoma State Professor Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored.
“Alternative media, newspapers and magazines are doing the job, but unfortunately many Americans don’t see the alternative press. As a result, much real information is censored simply because it is not available in the papers and television news most people routinely see,” he said.
Phillips said every year Project Censored runs head-on into the egos and interests of mainstream media simply because of the project’s use of the word “censorship.”
“They don’t like to hear the suggestion that by not covering certain stories they are effectively censoring the news. But that is exactly the case,” said Phillips. “Project Censored defines censorship as the interference with the free flow of information in our society.”
The concept of news censorship is more complicated than a government official or industry spin-doctor simply stamping “CENSORED” on information and hiding it from the public, according to Phillips.
“There are a variety of factors that go into censorship in an otherwise democratic society, including the tendency to report entertainment, sex and celebrity news rather than the harder, more serious issues of the day,” he said. “Increasingly, we believe the leading factors are the conglomeration of media chains and the ownership and control of media giants such as NBC and CBS by corporations such as General Electric and Westinghouse.
“A reporter for NBC is less likely to investigate nuclear energy issues when he or she knows the corporate boss is chairman of the board of nuclear energy giant General Electric,” he said. “That subtle but very effective influence is increasingly the case in newspapers and on television throughout the country.”
Project Censored routinely takes a lashing from mainstream media over the notion of censorship in the United States. Phillips received a double-barrel blast during an hour-long interview on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation in 2007 when Bernard Kalb of CNN and Marshall Loeb of Columbia Journalism Review challenged the suggestion that corporate or commercial considerations come into play when editors make decisions. But within weeks of that program, Loeb’s own CJR criticized the San Francisco Examiner for killing a column critical of Nike, lest it offend that corporate sponsor of the Examiner’s annual run across San Francisco.
Phillips contends several factors clearly show that the public is hungry for the information that Project Censored highlights in its annual yearbook. First, he noted that two years in a row the American Association of Wholesale Independent Booksellers named Censored: The News That Didn’t Make the News’ as the best alternative political book of the year.
However pleased he is with Project Censored’s success in drawing attention to stories contained in its annual yearbook, Phillips is not gloating. “That’s what the students and faculty involved in the project are working for - to point out the shortcomings of the press and encourage mainstream reporters and producers to take the challenge and perform the service we know they are capable of doing if given the chance by their editors,” he said. “If we help to inform the public and to cause the media to do a better job, then we will have done our job.”
The Top 10 censored stories are culled from reporters, editors and readers from throughout the country. Each story is reviewed by student researchers and faculty experts to determine the veracity and significance of the report and to what extent the subject was covered by mainstream media.
The final list is submitted to a panel of national judges who vote to determine the order of significance.
1. More U.S. Soldiers Committed Suicide Than Died in Combat
For the second year (2010) in a row, more U.S. soldiers killed themselves (468) than died in combat (462). “If you & I know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know,” General Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times, “because we don’t know.” suicide is a tragic but predictable human reaction to being asked to kill and watch your friends be killed, particularly when it’s for a war based on lies. Perhaps being required to bag the mangled flesh of fellow soldiers could be another reason that some are committing suicide.
As for Body Bagging, Marines in the Corps’ Mortuary Affairs unit at Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, are assigned the job of collecting and cataloging the bodies of dead Marines. They sift through the remains and effects, from prom photos to suicide notes and love letters, and put them into a bag, then into a metal box and then into a refrigerator to await the flight home. One soldier, Jess Goodell, recounts a Marine brought into the unit still breathing. She frantically called to her superiors, who replied simply, “Wait”.She watched while he died. When she returned to the US, Goodell, like many others, was diagnosed with deep depression, substance abuse, PTSD and anxiety.
Death and After in Iraq Chris Hedges, Truthdig, March 21, 2011. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_body_baggers_of_iraq
More US Soldiers Killed Themselves Than Died in Combat in 2010, Cord Jefferson, Good, January 27, 2011.
Can You Face the True Consequences of War? The Horror of Bagging Soldiers - Bodies in Iraq, Chris Hedges, Alternet, March 21, 2011.
2. U.S. Military Manipulates the Social Media
The US military is developing software that will allow it to secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence Internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to ten separate identities based all over the world. The CENTCOM contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers be able to manage false identities from their workstations.
The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al Qaeda supporters and other extremists resisting the US military and political presence in Iraq. This effort proved successful and is now being used elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond with assurances that none of these interventions would happen here at home, as it would be unlawful to “address US audiences” with such technology.
“Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media,” Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Guardian, March 17, 2011.
3. Obama Authorizes International Assassination Campaign
The Obama administration has quietly put into practice an incomplete idea left over from the Bush II presidency: creating a de facto presidential international assassination program.
Court documents, evidence offered by Human Rights Watch and a special United Nations report allege that U.S. citizens suspected of encouraging ‘terror’ ad been put on death lists. These reports say Obama’s Director of National Intelligence assured a congressional hearing that the program was within the rights of the executive branch of the government and did not need to be revealed.
At least two people are known to have been murdered by Central Intelligence Agency operatives under the program. When the program was challenged in a New York City court the judge refused to rule, saying, “There are circumstances in which the executive’s decision to kill U.S. citizens overseas is constitutionally committed to the political branches and judicially unreviewable.” Hence the expansion of what the late historian Arthur Schlesinger labeled ‘The Imperial Presidency.’
Judge Declines to Rule on Targeted Killings of U.S. Citizens, William Fisher, Inter Press Service, Dec. 8, 2010.
Letter to President Obama on Targeted Killings and Drones, Human Rights Watch, Dec. 7, 2010.
Confirmed: Obama Authorizes Assassination of U.S. Citizen, Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, Apr. 7, 2010.
4. Global Food Crisis Expands
A new worldwide spike in agricultural commodity and food prices is generating both predictable and extraordinary fall-outs. The search for causes once again leads to a conjuncture of flawed policies in trade, environment, finance and agriculture that is likely to produce more dangerous volatility in years to come. Over the past year, food prices around the world shot sharply upward, surpassing the previous price surge in 2007-2008 to set a new record, as measured by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
In February, the UN’s food price index rose for the eighth consecutive month, to the highest level since at least 1990. As a result, since 2010 began, roughly another 44 million people have quietly crossed the threshold into malnutrition, joining 925 million already suffering from lack of food. If prices continue to rise, this food crisis will push the ranks of the hungry toward a billion people, with another two billion suffering from “hidden malnutrition” from inadequate diets, nearly all in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. That deprivation will shorten lives and stunt young minds, hitting the most vulnerable populations, such as the urban poor of food importing countries, in cities like Cairo, Tunis and Dhaka.
“Diet Hard: With A Vengeance,” David Moberg, In These Times, 3/24/11. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/7112/diet_hard_with_a_vengeance
Student Researcher: Aluna Soupholphakdy, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator: Professor Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University
5. Private Prison Companies Fund AntI-Immigrant Legislation
Over the past four years roughly a million immigrants have been incarcerated in dangerous detention facilities in our taxpayer-financed private prison system where children were abused, women were raped and men died from lack of basic medical attention. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer received substantial campaign financing from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEOGroup, the nation’s two largest companies that design, build, finance and operate prisons. CCA, based in Nashville, TN, and Geo Group, a global corporation based in Boca Raton, FL, are the principal moving forces in the behind-the-scenes organization of the current wave of anti-immigrant legislative efforts.
Both CCA and GEO which rely almost exclusively on revenue from tax dollars at local state, and federal levels, profited from the incarceration of immigrants apprehended by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (CCA’s top management in Tennessee contributed the largest block of out-of-state campaign contributions received by Governor Brewer. Brewer employs as aides two former CCA lobbyists, who assisted signing SB 1070 into law on April 23rd. CCA, which already has several detention facilities in Arizona and is hoping to expand its immigrant business in that state, is expected to show a huge increase in revenues when SB 1070 is implemented.
Wall Street & Our Campaign to Decriminalize Immigrants, Peter Cervantes-Gautschi,
Social Policy: Organizing for Social and Economic Justice, February 14, 2011.
Student Researcher: Caitlin Morgan, Sonoma State University (Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University