Censored 2013

Ed. by Mickey Huff, and Andy Lee Roth with Project Censored

Another year, another report on all the news you did not hear enough about, brought to you by the Project Censored team. And, on my end, another brief essay on the state of what Project Censored now brand the “media revolution.” (For anyone interested, I have reviews online for the 2003, 2009, 2011, and 2012 editions.)

First off, I give the team credit for putting out one of their best-edited and organized volumes yet. That isn’t saying much given the sloppiness of some previous efforts, but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction. “Project Censored International” still seems U.S.-oriented, but the plan of dividing the annual list of the twenty-five “top censored stories” into news “clusters” (begun last year) seems to be working, though I sometimes wonder if what is being ranked is the cluster more than the individual story. Stories relating to “The Police State and Civil Liberties” might be expected to lead a book such as this.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, chances are that if you’re reading a book like this you are already familiar with many of these censored stories, especially if you happen to have an Internet connection. “Censored” is a term that really applies to the mainstream media (print and television), and is more a matter of emphasis than outright prohibition. That said, I thought I’d keep track this year of all the items that I took notice of.

The first of these came early, with Censored #3: Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Worse Than Anticipated. Here I learned that an estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States have been linked to the radioactive fallout from the Japanese disaster. 14,000! This seemed to me incredible. I had not thought so many Japanese had died as a result of Fukushima. Feeling this was worth a bit of investigating, I headed to that fount of information, Wikipedia, to begin my search. According to the lengthy article there on “Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster casualties,” only 573 Japanese deaths have been certified as “disaster-related” (that is, related to radiological causes). Perhaps a similar number died from non-radiological causes such as the mandatory evacuation. This did not make the 14,000 number of American deaths (most of them infants) seem very probable (and no reference was made to this number in the Wikipedia article). Upon further review, the source of the 14,000 number comes from a study published in the International Journal of Health Services that not everyone found convincing, to put it mildly. Reading around a bit, I came to share the skepticism. Though there was more to Censored #3 than this one item, I felt let down.

I next straightened up in my chair at another story in the “Environment and Health” cluster. Censored #15 tells us about the Dangers of Everyday Technology, and alerts us to news we can actually use. Not that there was anything here I hadn’t heard somewhere before (and I don’t use a cell phone anyway), but the stories about the effects of microwaving food hit close to home. Again, the studies are sketchy and don’t make a strong case for carcinogenic microwaves, but I’m more paranoid about these things than I am of the fallout from Fukushima.

A final story that caught my eye was Censored #23: US Covers Up Afghanistan Massacre. This involved reports concerning the murder of at least sixteen Afghan civilians (including nine children) in their homes by what the mainstream media reported was a single, deranged American soldier (Staff Sergeant Robert Bales). This was, of course, a headline grabbing story when it first broke, but according to at least some reports out of Afghanistan an entire team of up to twenty American soldiers had been involved in the killing. The results of an official American investigation came to the conclusion that Bales was operating alone. An Afghan investigation thought differently. I haven’t any idea what really happened, but I hadn’t realized there was any controversy over the matter just from following the story in the mainstream media.

These three stories highlight a problem that the Project Censored team have. Of the three, the highest ranked and most sensational was also the least credible, not much above being an item in Censored’s own “Junk News” round-up. On the other hand, the least sensational report (on the health effects of cell phone and microwave usage) was also the most believable, and the one I was already most familiar with. In-between there is the story on the Kandahar massacre occupying a kind of gray area: a shocking accusation hard to verify. I found myself wanting a stronger editorial voice here. Not every story that gets published, somewhere, is news. And some stories that never make it into the mainstream media fail to do so for a reason. In past years Project Censored has made a big deal about pursuing 9/11 theories, in part, I think, based on the principle that where there’s smoke there’s fire. But they needed to take a step back and should have been more critical of the whole 9/11 conspiracy/reporting phenomenon. I understand, and sympathize, with where this series is coming from, but I think they have to establish greater critical bona fides.

One of the more disturbing (or, really, depressing) essays in the book, however, deals with the broader question of what it means to be “censored” in today’s media environment. In her brief piece on 2012’s Banned Book Week, Victoria Pacchiana-Rojas admits that the expression “banned book” may be a misnomer, as all of the listed books are “available to anyone who goes searching for them.” Access is not the problem. The problem is that these books are “less visible” due to “a mix of a changing literacy rate, an industry saturated with franchise titles, and a marketplace driven to promote for profit over other measures of value.” “What is at risk,” she concludes, “is not the texts themselves, but the reading of them.”

The reason I find this depressing is that I don’t see any solution. In a way, things would be easier if it was just an issue of access and availability. But what if the truth is out there and we don’t care?

Review first published online July 29, 2013.