Project Censored’s Top 10 Censored Stories
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
Illustrations by Anson Stevens-Bollen, Santa Fe Reporter
Fake news is not a new thing. With the return of its annual list of censored stories in Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored’s vivid cover art recalls H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
The situation today may feel as desolate as the cover art suggests.
“But Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news,” editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observed in the book’s introduction.
In the end, they argued that “critical media education — rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers, or legislative bans — is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion.”
Project Censored’s annual list of 25 censored stories, which makes up the books lengthy first chapter, is one of the best resources one can have for such education.
Censorship and fake news are “intertwined issues” they write.
Project Censored has long been engaged in much more than just uncovering and
publicizing stories kept down and out of the corporate media. Over the years its added new analytical categories: sensationalist and titillating Junk Food News stories.
Through it all, the list of censored stories remains central to Project Censored’s mission, which, the editors point out, can be read in two different ways, “as a critique of the shortcomings of U.S. corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories, or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues.”
The cover art theme works at two levels, as the editors explain, which makes things more complex than might appear at first glance. First, the famous Orson Wells radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds on Oct. 30, 1938, used a number of dramatic devices to present the drama as though it were an actual crisis in progress. It became an example of the potential power of fake news in the radio media era.
“The broadcast became legendary for allegedly leading to widespread panic throughout the United States,” the editors of Project Censored noted.
That narrative about widespread panic is actually a more long-term form of fake news, as Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow have documented in a series of articles over the past decade. Both the audience size and degree of panic have been significantly inflated, they explained. They cited two main factors: newspaper editors, who saw radio as challenging their media dominance, and an influential media study, whose topline conclusions were at odds with some of its data.
Global Decline in Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish
The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017-2018, released in January 2018, a striking worldwide decline in basic human rights has driven an overall decline in the rule of law since, October 2016, the month before Trump’s election. Fundamental rights — one of eight categories measured — declined in 71 out of 113 nations surveyed. Overall, 34 percent of countries’ scores declined, while just 29 percent improved. The United States ranked 19th, down one from 2016, with declines in checks on government powers and deepening discrimination.
Fundamental rights include absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association and labor rights.
“All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement,” Yale professor of history and law Samuel Moyn told The Guardian the day the index was released. “Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning. But human rights movements have not historically set out to name or shame inequality.”
This reflects the thesis of Moyn’s most recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.
Constraints on government powers, which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law, saw the second greatest declines (64 countries out of 113 dropped). This is where the United States saw the greatest deterioration, World Justice Project stated in a press release. The United States also scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.
“With scores of .50 for equal treatment and absence of discrimination (on a scale of 0 to 1), .48 for discrimination in the civil justice system, and .37 for discrimination in the criminal justice system, the U.S. finds itself ranked 78 out of 113 countries on all three subfactors,” World Justice Project stated.
The four Nordic countries — Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden — remained in the top four positions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia were the only top 10 countries outside of Europe.
“The WJP’s 2017–2018 Rule of Law Index received scant attention from U.S. corporate media,” Project Censored noted.
The only coverage they found was a Newsweek article drawing on The Guardian’s coverage. This pattern of ignoring international comparisons, across all subject matter, is pervasive in the corporate media. It severely cripples our capacity for objective self-reflection and self-improvement as a nation.
“Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders
In March 2017, WikiLeaks released Vault 7, a trove of 8,761 leaked confidential CIA files about its global hacking programs, which WikiLeaks described as the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” It drew significant media attention. But almost no one noticed what George Eliason of OpEdNews pointed out.
“Sure, the CIA has all these tools available,” Eliason pointed out. “Yes, they are used on the public. The important part is [that] it’s not the CIA that’s using them. That’s the part that needs to frighten you.”
As Eliason went on to explain, the CIA’s mission prevents it from using the tools, especially on Americans.
“All the tools are unclassified, open-source, and can be used by anyone,” Eliason explained. “It makes them not exactly usable for secret agent work. That’s what makes it impossible for them to use Vault 7 tools directly.”
Drawing heavily on more than a decade of reporting by Tim Shorrock for Mother Jones and The Nation, Eliason’s OpEdNews series reported on the explosive growth of private contractors in the intelligence community, which allows the CIA and other agencies to gain access to intelligence gathered by methods they’re prohibited from using.
In a 2016, report for The Nation, Shorrock estimated that 80 percent of an estimated 58,000 private intelligence contractors worked for the five largest companies. He concluded that “not only has intelligence been privatized to an unimaginable degree, but an unprecedented consolidation of corporate power inside U.S. intelligence has left the country dangerously dependent on a handful of companies for its spying and surveillance needs.”
Eliason reported how private contractors pioneered open-source intelligence by circulating or selling the information they gathered before the agency employing them had reviewed and classified it, therefore, “no one broke any laws.” As a result, according to Eliason’s second article, “People with no security clearances and radical political agendas have state sized cyber tools at their disposal, [which they can use] for their own political agendas, private business, and personal vendettas.”
Corporate media reporting on Vault 7 sometimes noted, but failed to focus on dangerous role of private contractors, Project Censored pointed out. This came with the notable exception of a The Washington Post op-ed in which Shorrock reviewed his previous reporting and concluded that overreliance on private intelligence contractors was “a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct.”
World’s Richest One Percent Continue to Become Wealthier
In November 2017, Credit Suisse released its 8th Annual Global Wealth Report which The Guardian reported on under the headline, Richest 1 Percent Own Half the World’s Wealth, study finds.
The wealth share of the world’s richest people increased “from 42.5 percent at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1 percent in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn),” The Guardian reported, adding that “The biggest losers … are young people who should not expect to become as rich as their parents.”
“No other part of the wealth pyramid has been transformed as much since 2000 as the millionaire and ultra-high net worth individual (known as UHNWI) segments,” the report said. “The number of millionaires has increased by 170 percent, while the number of UHNWIs (individuals with net worth of USD 50 million or more) has risen five-fold, making them by far the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.”
There were of 2.3 million new dollar millionaires this year, taking the total to 36 million.
“At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000,” The Guardian reported. “Collectively these people, who account for 70 percent of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth.”
“Tremendous concentration of wealth and the extreme poverty that results from it are problems that affect everyone in the world, but wealth inequalities do not receive nearly as much attention as they should in the establishment press,” Project Censored noted. “The few corporate news reports that have addressed this issue — including an August 2017 Bloomberg article and a July 2016 report for CBS’s MoneyWatch — focused exclusively on wealth inequality within the United States. As Project Censored has previously reported, corporate news consistently covers the world’s billionaires while ignoring millions of humans who live in poverty.”
How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi are Safe
Cell phones and other wireless devices may not be as safe as we’ve been led to believe. In a March 2018 investigation on decades of buried research, for [The Nation], Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie reported “the wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries did, it also borrowed from the same public relations playbook those industries pioneered.”
“Like their tobacco and fossil-fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products…. On the contrary, the industry — in America, Europe, and Asia — has spent untold millions of dollars in the past 25 years proclaiming that science is on its side, that the critics are quack, and that consumers have nothing to fear.”
Their report comes at the same time as several new developments are bringing the issue to the fore, including a Kaiser Permanente study (published December 2017 in Scientific Reports) finding much higher risks of miscarriage, a study in the October 2017 American Journal of Epidemiology, finding increased risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor), and a disclosure by the National Frequency Agency of France that nine out of ten cell phones exceed government radiation safety limits when tested in the way they are actually used, next to the human body.
As the The Nation reported, George Carlo was a scientist hired by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in 1993 to research cell-phone safety and allay public fears, heading up the industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project. But he was unceremoniously fired and publicly attacked by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in 1999, after uncovering disturbing evidence of danger:
Carlo urged the CEOs to do the right thing and give consumers the information they need to make an informed judgment about how much of this unknown risk they wish to assume, especially since some in the industry had repeatedly and falsely claimed that wireless phones are safe for all consumers “including children.”
“The wireless industry has ‘war-gamed’ science by playing offense as well as defense, actively sponsoring studies that result in published findings supportive of the industry, while aiming to discredit competing research that raises questions about the safety of cellular devices and other wireless technologies,” Project Censored summarized. “When studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, industry spokespeople have pointed out that the findings are disputed by other researchers.”
While some local media have covered the findings of a few selected studies, Project Censored noted, “the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line — that is, that evidence linking Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation to health issues, including cancer and other medical problems, is either inconclusive or disputed.”
Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors
On May 1, 2017, The Washington Post introduced a policy prohibiting its employees from criticizing its advertisers and business partners, and encouraging them to snitch on one another.
“A new social-media policy at The Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that ‘adversely affects the Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners,” Andrew Beaujon reported in The Washingtonian the next month. “In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action ‘up to and including termination of employment.’” Beaujon also cited “A clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: ‘If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of the Post’s Social Media Policy … you should contact the Post’s Human Resources Department.’”
At the time, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents the Post’s employees, was protesting the policy and was seeking removal of the controversial parts in a new labor agreement.
A follow-up report by Whitney Webb for MintPress News highlighted the broader possible censorship effects, as prohibiting social media criticism could spill over into reporting as well.
“Among The Washington Post’s advertisers are corporate giants like GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America and Koch Industries,” Webb wrote. “With the new policy, social media posts criticizing GlaxoSmithKline’s habit of making false and misleading claims about its products, inflating prices and withholding crucial drug safety information from the government will no longer be made by Post employees.”
Beyond that, Webb suggested it could protect the CIA, which has $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services. Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, purchased the Post four months after that contract was signed.
“While criticism of the CIA is not technically prohibited by the new policy, former Post reporters have suggested that making such criticisms could endanger one’s career,” Webb noted.
Jeremy Iggers’ 1998 book, Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest. Iggers argued that journalism ethics focused on individual reporters completely missed the larger issue of corporate conflicts whose systemic effects fundamentally undermined journalism’s role in a democracy.
Russiagate: Two-Headed Monster of Propaganda and Censorship
Is Russiagate a censored story? This entry seems to reflect a well-intentioned effort to critically examine fake news-related issues within a “censored story” framework. It’s important that these issues be raised — which is one reason why I suggested above that Project Censored add “fake news” as a new analytical category to examine annually along with its censored stories list, “junk food news,” and “news abuse.” What Project Censored calls attention to is important: “Corporate media coverage of Russiagate has created a two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. By saturating news coverage with a sensationalized narrative, Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories.” As a frustrated journalist with omnivorous interests, I heartily concur — but what’s involved is too complex to simply be labelled “propaganda.” On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is a classic, well-defined Project Censored story, which suffers from the attempt to fit both together.
In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show from February 20 to March 31, 2017 which found that “Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.” Maté wrote:
“Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).”
Well and good. But is this propaganda?
At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote:
“As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia’s ‘attack on our democracy’ that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together.”
On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is far more clearcut and straightforward.
In a report for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, Robin Andersen examined Russiagate-inspired censorship moves by Twitter, Google and others. A key initial target was Russia Today.
“RT’s reporting bears striking similarities to alternative and independent media content, and that is why letting the charges against RT stand unexamined is so dangerous,” Andersen noted.
In fact, the government’s intelligence report on RT included its reporting on the dangers of fracking as part of its suspect activity. Beyond that, the spill-over suppression was dramatic:
“Yet in the battle against fake news, much of the best, most accurate independent reporting is disappearing from Google searches,” Anderson said. “The World Socialist Web Site (8/2/17) reported that Google’s new search protocol is restricting access to leading independent, left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights websites. The estimated declines in traffic generated by Google searches for news sites are striking.”
Further, in Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi pointed to much broader stifling of alternative views: “We’ve jumped straight past debating the efficacy of democracy to just reflexively identifying most anti-establishment sentiment as illegitimate, treasonous and foreign in nature.”
“Many people suffer when lies are reported as facts, but it seems that corporate media are the only ones that profit when they reinforce blind hostility—against not only Russia but also legitimate domestic dissent,” Project Censored noted.
Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization
The world’s agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon loss to the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science, actually reversing the processes driving global warming. A set of practices known as “regenerative agriculture” could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association in May 2017.
“We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis,” Cummings wrote. “We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100 percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.”
In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved.
“Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion … a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing,” Cummins wrote. “Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet…. The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn ‘business as usual’ and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.”
If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t be surprised.
“Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in the New York Times Magazine and Salon,” Project Censored wrote.
Congress Passes Intrusive Data Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill
On March 21, House Republicans released a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. It passed both houses and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent “must-pass” legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.
“The CLOUD Act enables the U.S. government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations’ data privacy laws and without the need for warrants,” Project Censored summarized.
It also significantly weakens protections against foreign government actions.
“It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s David Ruiz wrote. “It never received a hearing…. It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because Congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this unvetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill.” Congressional leadership failed to listen to citizen concerns, Ruiz wrote, with devastating consequences.”
“Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy and human rights,” concluded Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.
“The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it,” Project Censored noted. “[A glowing Washington Post op-ed] made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens’ personal data, [and a CNET report that] highlighted the liberties that the CLOUD Act would provide corporations by simplifying legal issues concerning overseas servers.”
Because of this failure, U.S. laws will be bypassed on U.S. soil. Greene noted that the CLOUD Act negates protections of two interrelated existing laws. It creates an exception to the Stored Communications Act that allows certified foreign governments to request personal data directly from U.S. companies.
“This exception enables those countries to bypass the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process, which protects human rights by requiring foreign governments to work with the Department of Justice to obtain warrants from U.S. judges before they can access that data for their criminal investigations,” Greene explained. “The version of the bill that was included in the omnibus does include some improvements over the earlier version to help to mitigate the risks of bypassing the MLAT process … two changes [that] are important improvements … many of the other changes to the bill are only partial or ineffective fixes to problems privacy advocates, human rights advocates, and even a former high-ranking official at the U.S. State Department have raised…. Several other concerns have been left entirely unaddressed.”
“While the bill’s sponsors did try to address some of the concerns that have been raised, the improvements are not enough to shift the balance so that the CLOUD Act will be a boon, rather than a threat, to privacy and human rights,” Greene concluded.
Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature
In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers their ancestor, as a living entity with rights. The Guardian reported it as “a world-first,” although the surrounding Te Urewera National Park had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, expressed in a dissent by Justice William O. Douglas. In addition, the broader idea of ‘rights of nature’ has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia and by some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.
The tribe’s perspective was explained to The Guardian by its lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert.
“We consider the river an ancestor and always have,” Albert said. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”
But that could be just the beginning. “It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world,” Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine. Others are advancing this perspective, DeVault wrote:
“In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.”
“[If the New Zealand Whanganui River settlement] was able to correct the gap in Western and indigenous paradigms in New Zealand, surely a similar effort to protect the Missouri River could be produced for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Nations by the American government,” DeVault wrote.
The same could be done with a wide range of other environmental justice disputes involving Native American tribes.
Tanasescu described the broader sweep of recent developments in the “rights of nature,” noting that significant problems have resulted from the lack of specific guardianship provisions, which are integral to the Whanganui River law.
“By granting natural entities personhood one by one and assigning them specific guardians, over time New Zealand could drastically change an ossified legal system that still sees oceans, mountains and forests primarily as property, guaranteeing nature its day in court,” Tanasescu concluded.
“A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India,” Project Censored noted. “However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States.”
FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”
At the same time that white supremacists were preparing for the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017. The FBI’s counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different — though actually non-existent threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story.
“But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists,” Foreign Policy reported.
“The use of terms like ‘black identity extremists’ is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists,” said former FBI agent Mike German, who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them.”
“It’s classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together,” said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of black writers. “The language — black identity extremist — strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”
“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising,” Black Lives Matter activist, DeRay McKesson, told Foreign Policy.
A former homeland security official said that carelessly connecting unrelated groups will make it harder for law enforcement to identify real threats. “It’s so convoluted — it’s compromising officer safety,” the former official said.
“The corporate media [has] covered the FBI report on ‘black identity extremists’ in narrow or misleading ways,” Project Censored noted, citing examples from the New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. “Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrives.”
1 Global Decline in Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish
2 “Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders
3 World’s Richest One Percent Continue to Become Wealthier
4 How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi are Safe
Levels Higher Than Manufacturers Claim,” Environmental Health Trust, June 2, 2017, updated June 2018.
Marc Arazi, “Cell Phone Radiation Scandal: French Government Data Indicates Cell Phones Expose Consumers to Radiation Levels Higher Than Manufacturers Claim,” Dr. Marc Arazi blog, June 3, 2017.
5 Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors
6 Russiagate: Two-Headed Monster of Propaganda and Censorship
7 Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization
8 Congress Passes Intrusive Data Sharing Law under Cover of Spending Bill
March 22, 2018.
9 Indigenous Communities around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature
10 FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”
More in RLn