Censored 2011

Ed. by Mickey Huff, Peter Phillips and Project Censored

It is a staple of media critiques coming from the Left that the People are being misled, misinformed, lied to, and manipulated by various corporate/political elites. Citizens are brainwashed, the consent of the governed manufactured.

How accurate is this? If people knew the truth about the costs of foreign wars, state crimes, or global warming (assuming they really are that ignorant about such topics now), would they behave any differently? Is more democracy always a good thing? I’m not sure I trust the people, even a well-informed populace, that much. In a story that recently appeared in the Guardian about deforestation in Indonesia – where the economy is dependent on logging the rain forest, in part to make room for palm plantations – there was a quote taken from an interview with the minister in charge of forestry that suggested the dark side of our non-sustainable economy:

“There is $10bn coming in from palm oil, $4bn from pulp and paper, and the people who work in these concessions are many, so we cannot just stop it all or the IMF will collapse us and the economy. So please be wise about this. Who will pay for that? Europe and the US has a financial crisis and who is going to help us just for the sake of climate change? Nobody. We were told to democratise and this is the price of democracy. Climate change is the price of democracy.”

Climate change is the price of democracy. People want jobs more than they want social justice or a chance to save the environment. Better journalism isn’t going to change that. And do we really think Indonesian loggers are oblivious to the destructive nature of their work? Or that Americans were blindsided by the headline from Censored 2010‘s Top Censored Story of the Year: “US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street”? Knowing that Western lifestyles are unsustainable (Story #21 this year), doesn’t mean we’re going to change our ways, and not because corporate America is pointing a gun at our heads and ordering us to shop or die. “Simply put,” the editors of Censored 2011 opine, “what threatens us most is our ignorance about what is going on in the world around us.” I disagree, preferring to substitute apathy or willful blindness.

Having said that, it is nice to return to this collection every year to get some perspective on what’s really going on. As usual, the first part of the book is taken up with the top 25 censored news stories of the past year (“censored” meaning the story did not get widespread distribution in the major media). It’s a good list this year, starting off with global plans to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Of course if you’re someone who follows these things then you’ll already have read plenty of speculation about this, but it is still an important, underreported story with significant implications. And even if you are someone who follows alternative news sources you’re likely to find at least a few of the stories have slipped under your radar. I was particularly interested to read about the health concerns being raised over nanoparticles. Apparently these things are everywhere now, and they’re not good for you.

A sub-theme explored in several of the stories is the exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples in Africa, the Amazon, and Palestine. Again, despite real media culpability in this case, one suspects public indifference toward situations that we (in the West) profit from in some way. It is too easy for us to view such stories as perhaps regrettable but reflecting some kind of natural order. And besides, they’re very far away.

After the Top 25 there follows a number of regular features (Censored Déjà vu, Junk Food News and News Abuse, the Fear & Favor Report), as well as new sections on the Truth Emergency and Project Censored International (which, disappointingly, fails to live up to its name).

The Truth Emergency essays seek to take us inside the – get ready – “US/NATO military-industrial-media empire.” This is where you have to hold very firmly on to your hat, as we leave hard journalism and reportage behind to go through the looking glass. Conspiracy theory is jettisoned (for obvious reasons) and rebranded as SCAD (state crimes against democracy). SCADs are defined as “concerted actions . . . by government insiders [you know who they are] intended to manipulate democratic processes and undermine popular sovereignty.”

I’m quite sure a lot of this is going on. Indeed, some SCADs (Watergate being the best example) are firmly grounded in fact. Others, however, seem speculative and tendentious in the extreme. Why would the US/NATO military-industrial-media empire want to off Ronald Reagan? I thought he was doing a pretty good job for them. And when was it determined that Senator Paul Wellstone was assassinated?

Of course the mother of all SCADs is 9/11. Project Censored has been banging away on this for several years now (I talked about their coverage of it previously in my review of Censored 2009), and it makes the list again here as Story #14. This is a bit disappointing, as there doesn’t seem to be much new to report and simply arguing that 9/11 needs further investigation is starting to sound more and more like the creationist and intelligent design line asking schools to “teach the debate.” I don’t think there’s a debate to be had over evolution, I don’t think there’s much of a debate to be had over climate change, and, though I’m open to having my mind changed, there doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot more to explore with regard to 9/11. This is not to say there are no shadows around the edges. I’m willing to believe more people were “in the know” about the planned attack than we’ve heard about thus far. But when the conversation comes around to the Pentagon actually having been hit by a missile I start to lose focus. The collapse of WTC 7 was, by all accounts, very weird. But I still can’t understand, if all three WTC buildings were really brought down with explosions that had been planted by shadowy demolition experts and strategically-placed insiders working for secret agencies, why they (the military-industrial-media empire, or whoever) had to go through all the trouble of arranging to have planes crash into those buildings as well.

As I’ve said before, however, 9/11 is a story that will never go away now. And perhaps more digging will turn up something interesting. But the editors of this series would do well to keep in mind that the further news is removed from fact and credible sources the more it starts to look like sensationalism, propaganda, and infotainment. Junk news isn’t just a corporate media disease.

Review first published online February 7, 2011.

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