Friday, September 21, 2007

Project Censored

Last week the Tucson Weekly published the top censored stories according to Project Censored. Not surprisingly, the executive branch's assault on civil rights is prominent in the list.

Here is the introduction:

There are a handful of freedoms that have almost always been a part of American democracy.

Even when they didn't exactly apply to everyone or weren't always protected by the people in charge, a few simple but significant rights have been patently clear in the Constitution: You can't be nabbed by the cops and tossed behind bars without a reason. If you are imprisoned, you can't be incarcerated indefinitely; you have the right to a speedy trial with a judge and jury. When that court date rolls around, you'll be able to see the evidence against you.

The president can't suspend elections, spy without warrants or dispatch federal troops to trump local cops or quell protests. Nor can the commander in chief commence a witch hunt, deem individuals "enemy combatants" or shunt them into special tribunals outside the purview of our 218-year-old judicial system.

Until now.

This year's Project Censored presents a chilling portrait of a newly empowered executive branch signing away civil liberties for the sake of an endless and amorphous war on terror. And for the most part, the major news media weren't paying attention.

"This year, it seemed like civil rights just rose to the top," said Peter Phillips, the director of Project Censored, the annual media survey conducted by Sonoma State University researchers and students who spend the year patrolling obscure publications, national and international Web sites and mainstream news outlets to compile the 25 most significant stories that were inadequately reported or essentially ignored.

While the project usually turns up a range of underreported issues, this year's stories all fall somewhat neatly into two categories: the increase of privatization, and the decrease of human rights. Some of the stories qualify as both.

"I think they indicate a very real concern about where our democracy is heading," said writer and veteran judge Michael Parenti.

For 31 years, Project Censored has been compiling a list of the major stories that the nation's news media have ignored, misreported or poorly covered.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines censorship as "the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts," which Phillips said is also a fine description of what happens under a dictatorship.

When it comes to democracy, the black marker is a bit more nuanced. "We need to broaden our understanding of censorship," he said. After 11 years at the helm of Project Censored, Phillips thinks the most bowdlerizing force is the fourth estate itself: "The corporate media is complicit. There's no excuse for the major media giants to be missing major news stories like this."

As the stories cited in this year's Project Censored selections point out, the federal government continues to provide major news networks with stock footage, which is dutifully broadcast as news. The George W. Bush administration has spent more federal money than any other presidency on public relations. Without a doubt, Parenti said, the government invests in shaping our beliefs.

"Every day, they're checking out what we think," he said. "The erosion of civil liberties is not happening in one fell swoop, but in increments. Very consciously, this administration has been heading toward a general autocracy."

Carl Jensen, who founded Project Censored in 1976 after witnessing the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon in 1972 in spite of mounting evidence of the Watergate scandal, agreed that this year's censored stories amount to an accumulated threat to democracy.

"I'm waiting for one of our great liberal writers to put together the big picture of what's going on here," he said.


These are the top ten stories -- you'll have to go to the site to read the details and see the next 15.

1. GOODBYE, HABEAS CORPUS
2. MARTIAL LAW: COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU
3. AFRICOM
4. SECRET TRADE AGREEMENTS
5. SHANGHAIED SLAVES CONSTRUCT U.S. EMBASSY IN IRAQ
6. FALCON'S TALONS
7. BLACKWATER
8. KIA: THE NEOLIBERAL INVASION OF INDIA
9. THE PRIVATIZATION OF AMERICA'S INFRASTRUCTURE
10. VULTURE FUNDS: DEVOURING THE DESPERATE

If you have any doubts about why other countries in the world hate the US, be sure to read the piece on how slaves are being used to build the US embassy in Iraq, which is as large as Vatican City and is completely self-contained.


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