B Y C H R I S T I N E T R I A N O
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
Recognize these headlines? Probably not, as they were never written. The stories they portray, however, are quite real. In fact, they describe several of Project Censored's top 10 "censored" stories of 1994.
- "More Than 10 Years Later, 170,000 Americans Still Not Informed of Exposure to Cancer-Causing Chemicals,"
- "Defense Department Pays Giant Corporations to Merge,"
- "Waste Incineration Poisoning Food Chain,"
- "120 Billion Fish Dinners Wasted Annually."
Now in its 19th year, Project Censored has built its reputation by tugging at the conscience of the mainstream media, each year pointing out significant stories that never made it to the front page or, in many cases, were not covered at all by popular media outlets.
Founded by Sonoma State University communications professor Carl Jensen in 1976, the Project culls hundreds of stories from journalists, librarians, academics and others over the course of the year. For the 1994 list, student researchers analyzed more than 700 stories, examining both the amount of coverage each received, as well as the quality of that coverage. The top 25 were then passed on to an expert panel of judges for the final grading.
This year's judges include such esteemed media watchers as Ben Bagdikian, UC Berkeley journalism professor; journalist and Backlash author Susan Faludi; George Gerbner, dean emeritus of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania; Harvard economics professor and syndicated columnist Julianne Malveaux; and Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics and philosophy at M.I.T.
The 1994 list is dominated by domestic issues, with a strong emphasis on public health and the environment. Notably absent are foreign affairs or stories with an international bent.
"I think this list basically reflects the state of America. It documents a lot of the serious problems we're facing: worker safety; environmental and public health concerns; the rise of the right; corporate welfare," said the Project's assistant director, Mark Lowenthal.
"This year's list manifests how the corporate sector has growing influence over public policy. But the most disturbing aspect of this is the fact that this very same corporate sector now owns a vast majority of the nation's news media. Naturally, when you have corporate-owned news media, a multitude of conflicts arise," he explained. "Sometimes these are handled in an honest and ethical manner, sometimes they're not. I think we're exposing a lot of when they're not. The usual culprit is self-censorship, with avoidance or limited reporting of certain issues."
What exactly qualifies as "censorship?" Jensen prefers to work backward from this commonly asked question, starting with the failure of important information to reach people. In turn, the Project is founded on two core principles: that real and meaningful public participation in society is possible only if all ideas are allowed an equitable chance to be heard in the media marketplace, and that the mass media are the public's primary sources of information. Thus, any suppression of information--via bias, omission, underreporting, or self-censorship--rates as "censorship."
This year's list and more--including cartoons by Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow, creator of This Modern World, and follow-up from the authors--are included in CENSORED: The News That Didn't Make the News and Why (Four Walls Eight Windows, New York), now available in bookstores.
Deadly Secrets of Occupational Safety Agency
1. "Unfinished Business"
Public Citizen Health Research Group
Health Letter, March 1994
All told, 240,450 workers surveyed in the early 1980s by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at 258 workplaces had been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals--such as asbestos, silica, and uranium--on the job.
As a result of the Reagan administration's refusal to fork over the $4 million to fully fund the notification program, less than a third of this original group has been contacted. Today, it is estimated that it would cost $25-50 million to reach all of the nearly 170,000 remaining workers.
Stresses the Public Citizen report, "At this rate, notification will not be completed until most of the subjects have died, many from occupationally-acquired, potentially treatable health conditions."
There's still time for the public to benefit from wider media coverage of the studies, commented Health Research Group director Sidney Wolfe, since those who worked at the plants surveyed "would now know what type of tests, if any, to be asking their doctors to do or what symptoms to look for to detect disease at an earlier and hence more treatable stage."
For copies of the original report, send $10 to Public Citizen, 2000 P St. NW, Suite 600, Dept. WH, Washington, DC 20036. To inquire about a specific plant, contact NIOSH at 1-800-356-4674.
2. Ultra-Conservatives' Secret Think Tank
In These Times, August 8, 1994
It could be part of the plot of a paperback thriller, but the behind-closed-doors activities of powerful right-wing figures documented by investigative reporter Joel Bleifuss are part of some very real, and ongoing, political strategizing.
Central to much of the current electoral success of conservatives in America is a little-known think tank called the Council for National Policy (CNP). After its public kickoff in 1981, wrote Bleifuss, "the CNP went underground. Consequently we do not know much about the CNP's actions or agenda."
Currently led by former attorney general Ed Meese, known CNP members include Jerry Falwell; Oliver North; Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC); Rep. Bob Dornan (R-CA); and Richard Shoff, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. The group is so secretive, explains Bleifuss, that its Washington office will neither confirm nor deny where, or if, the group meets.
"No mass media outlet has ever investigated the doings of the CNP," said Bleiffuss, who sees this as "a major oversight, given the ascendancy of the Christian Right, particularly the Christian Coalition under Ralph Reed."
3. Defense Department Pays Defense Contractors to Merge
"Flak for Defense Merger"
Patrick J. Sloyan
Newsday, July 28, 1994
Why on earth would the Defense Department pay profitable defense companies to merge with other, profitable military contractors? That was the question raised by Patrick Sloyan's original coverage of a Congressional hearing last summer where a secret Pentagon plan to underwrite defense contractor mergers and acquisitions was revealed.
Defending the plan, a Pentagon official claimed the subsidy program would ultimately save taxpayers money by helping to reduce overhead charges levied by defense contractors as the industry shrinks. Described in Sloyan's story was a $350 million payment to Martin Marietta Corp. in connection with the company's purchase of former subsidiaries of General Electric and General Dynamics.
Even though government analysts roundly attacked the program as unnecessary, action has yet to be taken to halt it. Said Sloyan, "The real problem is the decline of enterprise reporting by the establishment press. Too much is made of reporting hand-outs by government public relations people."
4. Incineration's Toll on Public Health
"Poisoning Ourselves: The Impact of Incineration on Food and Human Health, An Executive Summary"
Mick G. Harrison, Esq.
Government Accountability Project (GAP), September 1994
Some issues of "censorship" resemble a failure to connect the dots. Take the case of dioxin in the food chain. "By the later part of the 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) understood two very important facts that should have fundamentally altered waste disposal policy," wrote Mick Harrison in GAP's report on incineration's toxic effects. The first is that the toxic chemical dioxin is a byproduct of incineration. The second is that dioxin accumulates through the food chain much like the banned pesticide DDT accumulates in the environment. An estimated 90 percent of dioxin exposure occurs through the food chain.
Yet despite this knowledge, wrote Harrison, "incineration has rapidly proliferated throughout the country as the 'profitable answer' for disposing of the nation's stockpile of toxic waste and garbage."
For more information, contact GAP attorneys Mick Harrison or Rich Condit, 202-408-0034.
5. Clinton Administration Retreats on the Ozone Crisis
"Full of Holes: Clinton's Retreat on the Ozone Crisis"
In These Times, January 24, 1994
"Whatever happened to Ozone Man?" asked reporter David Moberg, referring to George Bush's pet name for Vice President Al Gore in his look at the grave state of efforts to preserve the Earth's protective layer.
Since the late 1970s, when the U.S. banned chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) aerosols, described Moberg, increasing evidence has revealed that both the destruction of the ozone layer and the resulting dangers to human health and the ecosystem are far more serious than scientists had first recognized. But rather than lead the way on ozone protection, the Clinton administration has been moving backward.
The administration's most egregious move, according to Moberg, was a late 1993 request of the chemical manufacturer Du Pont to keep making CFCs until 1996. The company had planned to halt CFC production by the end of 1994. The EPA reasoned that it was looking out for the interests of consumers who need to recharge their auto air conditioners, which use CFCs as a cooling agent.
6. Why Human Radiation Experiments Were Censored
Secrecy & Government Bulletin, March 1994
"The Radiation Story No One Would Touch"
Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 1994
The two articles above paint a remarkable picture of how the government's entrenched classification system abetted one of the most shocking stories to emerge in recent years: the Cold War radiation experiments on unsuspecting humans.
A 1947 Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) memo, published in the Secrecy & Government Bulletin, sets the stage for Geoffrey Sea's Kafkaesque tale of how once information about the radiation experiments was widely available, it took the story more than six years to break.
Chilling in its brevity, the AEC memo simply states: "It is desired that no document be released which refers to experiments with humans and might have adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits. Documents covering such work should be classified 'secret.' "
After its initial release, the memo was promptly classified.
Commented Steven Aftergood, "The willful abuse of classification authority that is described so explicitly in the 1947 Atomic Energy Commission memorandum is what lifts the human experimentation story out of its historical context and makes it an urgent contemporary issue.
"As long as there are no effective constraints on the government secrecy system, the same kinds of abuses that occurred in the past could continue to take place today."
7. 60 Billion Pounds of
Fish Wasted Annually
"Special Report: A Farewell to Fish?"
Peter Steinhart, Hal Bernton, Brad Matsen, Ray Troll, and Deborah Cramer
Mother Jones, July/August 1994
At one time it looked like the world's oceans were home to an infinite supply of fish. But as the global finfish catch quadrupled between 1950 and 1990, the waters have dried out. It is both this over-fishing--and the reality of ongoing worldwide hunger--that made Mother Jones' revelation of annual fish waste such an incredible story.
According to the report, large-scale fishing technologies have become less and less selective. As a result, the world's fishing fleets dump about 60 billion pounds of fish and seafood every year--enough for 120 billion meals.
While there was a flurry of coverage last year of the decline of the world's fisheries, according to Sarah Pollock, project editor at Mother Jones, "the mainstream media continue to neglect what's happening in Alaska, where the spoils of one of the remaining great fisheries are being divided by competing and powerful interests," including food giant Tyson Foods.
8. The Return of Tuberculosis
"Why Don't We Stop Tuberculosis?"
Anne E. Platt
World Watch, July/August 1994
Long associated with sanitoriums and Victorian novels, tuberculosis, or TB, has reemerged as the number one killer among the world's infectious and communicable diseases. In 1993 alone, found researcher Anne Platt, TB killed 2.7 million people and infected another 8.1 million. In the same year, an estimated one-third of the world's population--1.7 billion people--were infected with TB, but had not developed the disease. What makes these numbers all the more stunning is the fact that TB is curable.
A major problem with media coverage of TB was little attention to the global nature of the disease, said Platt. "The majority of media attention was in a reactionary vein, i.e. it tended to create fear and misunderstandings rather than clarify the issues."
9. The Pentagon's Mysterious HAARP Project
"Project HAARP: The Military's Plan to Alter the Ionsphere"
Clare Zickhur and Gar Smith
Earth Island Journal, Fall 1994
The ninth "censored" story is so bizarre, it could just as well have appeared in the tabloid Weekly World News as the environmental monthly Earth Island Journal--aside from the thorough investigative reporting, of course.
According to writers Clare Zickhur and Gar Smith, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project (HAARP), a joint project of the Air Force and the Navy, is the latest in a series of secretive Pentagon ionospheric experiments. Under construction at an isolated Alaskan Air Force base, HAARP's mission is to build the world's most powerful ionospheric heater--to uncertain ends. Officials stress the civilian and scientific aspects of the project, but the article reveals the military has some other uses in mind for bombarding the atmosphere with electromagnetic energy.
There has been no coverage of Project HAARP in the mainstream media, according to Smith. He also pointed out that in addition to the fact that taxpayers have already paid for the first phase of the project, "(O)f greater importance is the possibility that HAARP may expose nearby human populations to health and safety hazards...and potential risks to the entire planet."
For more information, contact NO HAARP, c/o Jim Roderick, P.O. Box 916, Homer, AK 99603.
10. News Media Masks Spousal Violence in the "Language of Love"
"Crimes Against Women: Media part of problem for masking violence in language of love"
Ann Jones, USA Today, March 10, 1994
A man drags his ex-girlfriend out of work, shoots her to death, then turns the gun on himself; the media calls him "lovesick." A man shoots and kills several coworkers, among them a woman who refused his advances; the news details a "tragedy of spurned love."
These are just two examples of the type of reporting journalism professor Ann Jones takes the media to task for in the list's final story. More a sweeping media criticism than a specific case of "censorship," Jones stressed, "This type of slipshod reporting has real consequences in the lives of men and women. It affirms a batterer's most common excuse for assault: 'I did it because I love you so much.' "
"The problem is not simply that male violence against wives and girlfriends is underexposed," she added. "The problem is...that the coverage is so wrongheaded."
Copies of the 1995 Censored Yearbook are available by calling 1-800-626-4848. For a free pamphlet listing the top 25 stories, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Project Censored, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928.
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