By YAEL CHANOFF
San Francisco Bay Guardian
People who get their information exclusively from mainstream media sources may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm on the left for President Barack Obama in this crucial election. But that's probably because they weren't exposed to the full online furor sparked by Obama's continuation of his predecessor's overreaching approach to national security, such as signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the indefinite detention of those accused of supporting terrorism, even US citizens.
We'll never know how this year's election would be different if the corporate media adequately covered the NDAA's indefinite detention clause and many other recent attacks on civil liberties. What we can do is spread the word and support independent media sources that do cover these stories. That's where Project Censored comes in.
Project Censored has been documenting inadequate media coverage of crucial stories since it began in 1967 at Sonoma State University. Each year, the group considers hundreds of news stories submitted by readers, evaluating their merits. Students search Lexis Nexis and other databases to see if the stories were underreported, and if so, the stories are fact-checked by professors and experts in relevant fields.
A panel of academics and journalists chooses the Top 25 stories and rates their significance. The project maintains a vast online database of underreported news stories that it has "validated" and publishes them in an annual book. Censored 2013: Dispatches from the Media Revolution will be released Oct. 30.
For the second year in row, Project Censored has grouped the Top 25 list into topical "clusters." This year, categories include "Human cost of war and violence" and "Environment and health." Project Censored Director Mickey Huff told us the idea was to show how various undercovered stories fit together into an alternative narrative, not to say that one story was more censored than another.
"The problem when we had just the list was that it did imply a ranking," Huff said. "It takes away from how there tends to be a pattern to the types of stories they don't cover or underreport."
In May, while Project Censored was working on the list, another 2012 list was issued: the Fortune 500 list of the biggest corporations, whose influence peppers the Project Censored list in a variety of ways.
Consider this year's top Fortune 500 company: ExxonMobil. The oil company pollutes everywhere it goes, yet most stories about its environmental devastation go underreported. Weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin (58 on the Fortune list), General Dynamics (92), and Raytheon (117) are tied into stories about US prisoners in slavery conditions manufacturing parts for their weapons and the underreported war crimes in Afghanistan and Libya.
These powerful corporations work together more than most people think. In the chapter exploring the "Global 1 percent," writers Peter Philips and Kimberly Soeiro explain how a small number of well-connected people control the majority of the world's wealth. In it, they use Censored story number 6, "Small network of corporations run the global economy," to describe how a network of transnational corporations are deeply interconnected, with 147 of them controlling 40 percent of the global economy's total wealth.
For example, Philips and Soeiro write that in one such company, BlackRock Inc., "The eighteen members of the board of directors are connected to a significant part of the world's core financial assets. Their decisions can change empires, destroy currencies, and impoverish millions."
Another cluster of stories, "Women and Gender, Race and Ethnicity," notes a pattern of underreporting stories that affect a range of marginalized groups. This broad category includes only three articles, and none are listed in the top 10. The stories reveal mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons, including being denied medical care and shackled during childbirth, and the rape and sexual assault of women soldiers in the US military. The third story in the category concerns an Alabama anti-immigration bill, HB56, that caused immigrants to flee Alabama in such numbers that farmers felt a dire need to "help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor." So the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries approached the state's Department of Corrections about making a deal where prisoners would replace the fleeing farm workers.
But with revolutionary unrest around the world, and the rise of a mass movement that connects disparate issues together into a simple, powerful class analysis — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent paradigm popularized by Occupy Wall Street — this year's Project Censored offers an element of hope.
It's not easy to succeed at projects that resist corporate dominance, and when it does happen, the corporate media is sometimes reluctant to cover it. Number seven on the Top 25 list is the story of how the United Nations designated 2012 the International Year of the Cooperative, recognizing the rapid growth of co-op businesses, organizations that are part-owned by all members and whose revenue is shared equitably among members. One billion people worldwide now work in co-ops.
The Year of the Cooperative is not the only good-news story discussed by Project Censored this year. In Chapter 4, Yes! Magazine's Sarah Van Gelder lists "12 ways the Occupy movement and other major trends have offered a foundation for a transformative future." They include a renewed sense of "political self-respect" and fervor to organize in the United States, debunking of economic myths such as the "American dream," and the blossoming of economic alternatives such as community land trusts, time banking, and micro-energy installations.
They also include results achieved from pressure on government, like the delay of the Keystone Pipeline project, widespread efforts to override the US Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, the removal of dams in Washington state after decades of campaigning by Native American and environmental activists, and the enactment of single-payer healthcare in Vermont.
As Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes in the book's foreword, "The majority of people now hold views about Western governments and the nature of power that would have made them social pariahs 10 or 20 years ago."
Citing polls from the corporate media, Mosaddeq writes: "The majority are now skeptical of the Iraq War; the majority want an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan; the majority resent the banks and financial sector, and blame them for the financial crisis; most people are now aware of environmental issues, more than ever before, and despite denialist confusion promulgated by fossil fuel industries, the majority in the United States and Britain are deeply concerned about global warming; most people are wary of conventional party politics and disillusioned with the mainstream parliamentary system."
"In other words," he writes, "there has been a massive popular shift in public opinion toward a progressive critique of the current political economic system."
And ultimately, it's the public — not the president and not the corporations—that will determine the future. There may be hope after all. Here's Project Censored's Top 10 list for 2013:
[A+E] Film + TV, Current Events
[News] Current Events, Markets + Cooking