For several years now, Project Censored have produced annual reports on the stories the mainstream press censors or ignores because they are about topics deemed to threaten the status quo. As Mark Carlin from Truthout reports, the newly released edition reveals the practice being as widespread as ever.
Project Censored has an illustrious history of drawing attention to stories that the mainstream press overtly censors or ignores through a corporate media culture that dismisses the existence of topics that threaten the status quo. The organization also promotes media literacy by educating the public about strategies that are used to disseminate misinformation and propaganda.
With the forthcoming publication of the newest edition of Project Censored, Truthout interviewed long-time project Director Peter Phillips and current Director Mickey Huff to gain a sense how this project began, and how it intends to continue making an impact in a constantly transforming media landscape.
Mark Karlin: Some progressive critics have asserted that Project Censored is no longer relevant because of the openness of the Internet. How do you respond to that charge?
Peter Phillips: The Internet is huge with a lot of misinformation and managed news. One of the reasons we started both our Validated News site and News We Trust was that one of the major questions asked over the years has been “whom do you trust?”
We have created these online sources and repositories: Validated News & Research, Daily Independent News, and we also have a Spanish site, Daily News in Spanish.
The big problem still is that well over half the world has never made a phone call, let alone seen the Internet.
MK: Although you didn't found Project Censored in 1976, you oversaw it for the longest period of time. What was the “spark” that caused the founding of Project Censored?
PP: Actually, in 1976 Carl Jensen was trying to explain how Richard Nixon got elected in '72 despite Watergate. He went back in the corporate media and found that they had mostly ignored Watergate until after the election, and he began to ask what else are they (the media) skipping or delaying publishing stories about. So he had his students - in the sociology of media at Sonoma State University - research stories from the alternative independent press that were not covered by the mass media. His list was quickly picked up by the independent alternative media and republished worldwide.
MK: Journalistically, when a story is literally censored, is it known as being “spiked” by an editor or publisher. How are subjects censored in the modern-day corporate press due to the current “culture of mass media” as compared to actually being “spiked”?
PP: Stories are still deliberately spiked! We call this managed news. And it is quite widespread. On October 25, 2005 the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) posted to their website forty-four autopsy reports, acquired from American military sources, covering the deaths of civilians who died while in US military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002-2004. The autopsy reports provided proof of widespread torture by US forces. Twenty-three of the reports said the cause of death was homicide. The balance of the reports mostly indicated that the cause of death was heart failure. The conditions of the bodies indicated clearly that these people were tortured to death. A press release by the ACLU announcing the deaths was immediately picked up by Associated Press (AP) wire service making the story available to US corporate media nationwide. A thorough check of Nexis-Lexis and Proquest library data bases showed that at least ninety-nine per cent of the daily papers in the US did not pick up the story, nor did AP ever conduct follow up coverage on the issue.
In a January 2008 report, the British polling group Opinion Research Business (ORB) reported that, “survey work confirms our earlier estimate that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the conflict which started in 2003. ORB interviewed 2,400 randomly selected families in 15 of 18 provinces in Iraq, asking the question has anyone in your family died from war violence. The data resulted in a report that stated, “We now estimate that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 is likely to have been of the order of 1,033,000.”
The ORB report comes on the heels of two earlier studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University published in the Lancet medical journal that confirmed the continuing numbers of mass deaths in Iraq. A study done by Dr Les Roberts from January 1, 2002 to March 18, 2003 put the civilian deaths at that time at over 100,000. A second study published in the Lancet in October 2006 documented over 650,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since the start of the US invasion. The 2006 study confirms that US aerial bombing in civilian neighbourhoods caused over a third of these deaths and that over half the deaths are directly attributable to US forces.
The Associated Press, which reaches over one billion people in the world, released three times in 2009 the story claiming only 87,000 Iraqis had died as a result of US invasion and occupation. The story was originally published April 23, 2009: updated July 25 and October 14.
MK: Have you seen Project Censored having an impact on news coverage over the years?
PP: It is hard to tell but over 1/3 of our stories go on to receive some corporate coverage.
MK: Given your long experience with Project Censored, how do you regard the emergence of WikiLeaks?
MK: Mickey, can you explain briefly how this year's book is structured? It's a lot more than the 25 “censored” stories that are recognized.
Mickey Huff: Each year since 1993, when the first full length Project Censored book was published (prior to that there were smaller publications dating to 1976), we have researched, vetted, and voted on the most important censored (or under reported) stories of the year. Indeed, it is what the Project is known for, the Top 25, or the Top 10 censored stories. This is certainly important, and this year, we have organized our analysis of the top stories in what we call censored news clusters, to highlight the overall architecture of censorship along topical lines in the corporate media.
Year after year, and now more than ever, the book itself contains more sections, chapters, and investigative reports and scholarly studies on not only what is wrong with mass media in the US and the failures of the free press, but on what can be done about it, and what is being done in terms of solutions to achieve the concept in practice of a truly free press - how the founders philosophically intended (think theory, not practice). A journalism that keeps the public informed on crucial matters of the day so that they may participate meaningfully in the maintenance of democracy, in order to attain a state of relevant and representative self-governance.
MK: Project Censored is somewhat unusual in that students at Sonoma State University (California), as Peter mentioned, do much of the work on identifying the top 25 articles. How has this worked out over the years??
MH: In the past few years, Project Censored has grown and now includes student and faculty researchers at over 30 colleges and universities across the US, and we have participants in over half a dozen countries. We are a student centred, media literacy education organization at heart, but there are many more facets to the project as evidenced in our coverage of what we call junk food news and news abuse (looking at the increased tabloidization of news coverage); signs of hope and health (showcasing the many positive community building stories); media democracy in action (highlighting activists for media freedom); the truth emergency section of the book on propaganda studies; and the Project Censored International section that looks at media democracy issues in the US and around the globe. So, we are ever expanding and are seeking participants in educational fields, we are looking to hear from teachers, students, concerned citizens of the world who understand the importance of fighting for the right to be informed about the world in which we live.
MK: On the Project Censored web site, you refer to section two of the book focusing on “the truth emergency.” Can you explain the relationship between a “truth emergency” and propaganda?
MH: This truth emergency we face is a result of the lack of factual reporting by the so-called mainstream media over the past decade. This truth emergency is the result of a lack of source transparency and factual substance in news transmission. Americans are subjected to mass amounts of propaganda, from misinformation to disinformation, on a daily basis, about some of the most significant issues of the day. Whether this involves the post-9/11 wars in the Middle East, the health care reform fiascos, election fraud, or economic collapse and bailouts, most Americans are unaware of all the facts of how we got where we now are as a society. It is the duty of the constitutionally protected free press to report factually to the public on these matters. However, as shown by Project Censored’s work dating back to 1976, that is not happening.
One way of combating this truth emergency is by understanding the nature of propaganda. This year, our truth emergency section is a primer on propaganda studies, which includes a brief history, theory, application, and case studies all presented to enhance media literacy among the general public.
MK: Getting back to the “truth emergency,” to what extent is US government propaganda about many issues in congruence with corporate media propaganda?
MH: Often times they are one in the same, from the view in government and corporate media on WikiLeaks and transparency to the current NATO actions in Libya, the two have a similar view because there is so much overlap of interest in both involved parties (which in and of themselves have great overlap - from the corporate world to government posts or lobbyists and back again).
Both the US government and the corporate media essentially have a duopoly on manipulating the public mind for political or commercial gain. Leading the public to one view or another is the name of the game, rather than reporting all the facts and letting the chips fall where they may.
This clearly represents a crisis for democracy; the truth of major issues remains elusive to the public. The antidote lies not only in exposing the charlatans of the establishment order as propagandists, but also in providing a broader understanding of how propaganda works, what it looks like and how to detect it, and what the public can do about it. Namely, the solution is to create an independent free press, one not beholden to moneyed interests, but rather one that tells people the truth about all matters, regardless of which powerful parties may be exposed.
MK: If you look at Berlusconi's ownership of media in Italy and Rupert Murdoch's de facto influence on the government in the UK, aren't we facing a worldwide problem of the media representing the ruling elite?
MH: Yes, we are. And that has been a growing trend that seems to be unabated, save for the recent actions in the US to investigate and possibly block the latest AT&T merger. But overall, that is a rare action by the US government. The trend over the later 20th century has been in support of consolidation of ownership and a shutting out of public participation, oversight, and inclusion of views from everyday people. In fact, the FCC just recently drove another nail in the coffin of the Fairness Doctrine, which was mostly dismantled under the Reagan years.
Despite many well-intentioned people in the so-called media reform movement, reform measures via government agencies have rarely worked at the federal level. This is why we must all be the media, we must create and share our own transparently sourced, fact-based news, and we must support independent voices that are doing the same. We cannot depend on those that have created the problems of the news media, contributed to problems of the news media, and benefited from those conditions to take heed and go about fixing said problems in the public interest. That has not, and likely will not happen.
1. For more on the ACLU study “U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq” from 10/24/2005, click here; and for more on the bias of The Associated Press see Project Censored’s study online.