'Project Censored' lists top stories that go unreported

"Project Censored" criticizes print and broadcast media outlets for overlooking important issues in favor of "junk food news." The group blames political, economic, and legal pressure.

Headlines of New York newspapers on August 13, 2010 reporting Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater's "meltdown" on a plane at JFK airport. Slater, after a stressful flight, told a passenger off, grabbed some beer, and deployed an emergency escape chute to leave the plane.

For 35 years, students and professors at Sonoma State University in California have been taking a hard look at American media, concluding that some of the most important stories have been “censored.”

“Censorship” is a provocative word, usually implying government control of news or other information that deserves to be publicly known. Think WikiLeaks and its controversial “editor-in-chief” Julian Assange.

But in the context of “Project Censored” at Sonoma State, it’s much more than that:

It’s “the intentional non-inclusion of a news story – or piece of a news story – based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth,” according to the project’s mission statement. “Such manipulation can take the form of political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions).”

Every year, Project Censored students and faculty consider hundreds of issues and news stories, then a panel of judges whittles it down to 25.

Here are the headlines for the top 10 for this past year:

1. Global Plans to Replace the Dollar
2. US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet
3. Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk
4. ICE Operates Secret Detention and Courts
5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret US War in Pakistan
6. Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in US
7. External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa
8. Massacre in Peruvian Amazon over US Free Trade Agreement
9. Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine
10. US Funds and Supports the Taliban

Among the other top 25: “Obama’s Charter School Policies Spread Segregation and Undermine Unions,” “War Crimes of General Stanley McChrystal,” “The H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic: Manipulating Data to Enrich Drug Companies,” and “Increased Tensions with Unresolved 9/11 Issues.”

As the headlines suggest, the general inclination is “progressive” (i.e., leftist). And although Project Censored has been praised by some well-known media figures (the late Walter Cronkite among them), it has been criticized for some of its choices – including conspiracy theories about the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington (over which two Project Censored judges resigned in protest).

Since its founding in 1976, Project Censored’s work has entered the world of the Internet, cable television, blogging, and the “crowd sourcing” of news where anybody with a smart phone can “publish” or “broadcast” via social media like Twitter.

But Mickey Huff, Project Censored’s current director, says the project remains relevant – perhaps more so these days – as a goad to the media.

“Increasingly, corporate media is proving itself irrelevant in terms of news and reporting as more and more Junk Food News (Twinkies for the brain) becomes standard programming (with stories like Balloon Boy, various celebrity deaths and anniversaries of them, the latest escapades of Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, "reality" television, and the like),” he said in a recent interview with the progressive news and commentary web site Truthout. “In the US, corporate media help create an excited delirium of knowinglessness on a hyperreal landscape where the end result is a confused and alienated public – from FOX to CNN, and across the AM radio dial, we increasingly have vitriol not virtue, gossip not fact, surface not substance.”

That’s an assertion that shouldn’t be censored.

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