Censored 2009

Ed. by Peter Phillips and Andrew Roth with Project Censored

Censorship exists on a sliding scale, from outright bans on even mentioning certain topics to different degrees of media filtering. A controversial story may find itself buried in the back pages or spun in such a way as to make it unrecognizable. In this latest annual collection of censored stories, Larry Beinhart has a brief piece on how the latter process works. In 2001 a consortium of newspapers funded a recount of the votes cast in Florida in the 2000 (Bush v. Gore) presidential election. The headlines at the time seemed to tell the story: “BUSH STILL HAD VOTES TO WIN IN A RECOUNT, STUDY FINDS,” “FLORIDA RECOUNTS WOULD HAVE FAVORED BUSH,” “FLORIDA RECOUNT STUDY: BUSH STILL WINS.” The only problem with all of this is that, “very well buried” in the story (as reported in the New York Times), the study showed that Gore did in fact receive more votes than Bush in Florida. Such distortion – “using misleading headlines, burying the lead, fostering fog and confusion around the subject – [so] that almost everybody who read or heard the story walked away with the false impression instead of the truth” – is a form of censorship too.

And indeed censorship itself, along with its close cousins secrecy and the stifling of dissent (typically through spurious charges of “terrorist” activity), seems to be a major theme in this year’s edition of all the news deemed unfit to print. Sinister acronyms abound, including top spots to Story #2’s SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership, or “militarized NAFTA”) and Story #4’s ILEA (International Law Enforcement Academy, an American-run school for Latin American police and military). And in the spirit of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” under executive order war protesters’ assets may be seized by the government (Story #5) while the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (Story #6) targets the thought crimes and free speech of any ideological enemy of the government. This certainly doesn’t make a journalist’s job any easier.

Another way censorship takes center stage as an independent theme relates to the continuing coverage of the 9/11 story (“story” in this case meaning the questioning of the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report, and in particular any suggestion of the U.S. government’s involvement in or foreknowledge of the attacks themselves). Indeed merely recognizing this as a story is a major source of friction even among supporters of the alternative press. According to last year’s volume “few stories, if any . . . generated more controversy” than the inclusion of a 9/11 story in Censored 2007. Two of the Project’s national judges resigned in protest.

9/11 is first introduced this year in Story #24: “Japan Questions 9/11 and the Global War on Terror.” Actually the story is not concerned with public opinion in Japan, but is based on a speech given by a member of the Japanese parliament that called into question the official (9/11 Commission) line on the bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In itself I don’t find this a very newsworthy story, but the author of the original piece (which was apparently a transcript of the testimony given in parliament) does quite a job selling the “censorship” angle. Indeed his update shows signs of advanced paranoia:

If you still believe that the English language corporate media is free, take a look behind the scenes at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ) and think again.
I was a member of that club for over two decades, but I had no idea about what it really represented until I tried to stage a press conference about 9/11. From that point on all sorts of nasty things started to happen and I suddenly realized the place seemed more like a nest of spies than a club for journalists.

This is creepy, not to mention unsubstantiated. Ditto the later claim that the speech in parliament constituted “powerful evidence . . . that the US government murdered 3,000 of its own citizens” (my emphasis), and that the “Japanese government itself actually knows the truth and is starting [sic] to affect the US-Japan alliance in fundamental ways” (again, my emphasis).

The truth, in this case, is a long way out there.

A later essay, “Deconstructing Deceit: 9/11, the Media, and Myth Information,” seems a little more balanced, plugging the 9/11 story in to a history of American mythmaking, including the sinking of the Maine and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, as well as (less probably) “the alleged sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.” The focus isn’t on the events of 9/11 but on how the mainstream media has responded to them, particularly in the production of an official story shaped by controlling myths of American identity and the stifling of alternative narratives.

I think this kind of analysis is worthwhile, though I don’t subscribe to many of the theories that have come out of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement. But if the longevity of JFK assassination conspiracies are any indication, you can be sure the 9/11 movement won’t be going away anytime soon.

In Oswald’s case the conspiracy theorists have always had a difficult pair of hurdles to overcome: (1) the premise that Oswald acted alone makes more sense, both because it fits the physical evidence better and because a conspiracy involving more people would be nearly impossible to cover up; and (2) no convincing reason has been put forward for any group (the mafia, KGB, Cubans, CIA, or US military) wanting to kill Kennedy. With 9/11 things are very different. Obviously there was a conspiracy, involving dozens of people traveling all over the world. The physical evidence presents some genuinely mysterious aspects (the most salient being the collapse of WTC 7, apparently from fire). And there were clear beneficiaries, as the Bush administration quickly seized upon the crisis as an “opportunity” to implement a spectrum of radical policies. Personally I don’t think this amounts to proof of anything. At most I will allow it’s possible, even likely, that more people were in the know about what was being planned by al Qaeda than the 9/11 Commission determined. But I also believe in letting the 9/11 scholars keep digging and reporting on what they find out.

The Censored volumes – and I read them every year – are awkward hybrids: Not really reference works, and difficult to go through from cover to cover. The writing is generally quite poor, and the copy-editing abysmal. The commentary would, in places, benefit from a more balanced tone. The various essays (including regular features like the “Junk Food News and News Abuse” and “Fear and Favor” reports) are a grab-bag. A lot of this, however, is to be expected in a serial. One finds the same problems even in the most expensive professional publications. And while it may be tough slogging at times, the things you’ll probably learn about here for the first time make it worth some careful consideration..

Review first published online January 26, 2009.

%d bloggers like this: