Project Censored 2001
AlterNet Staff, USA
September 3, 2002
Most people would agree that our world has changed dramatically over
the past year. In the eye of our immediate political tornado is a
growing drum beat for an invasion of Iraq; rampant corporate
corruption; the erosion of civil liberties; a crashing stock market;
pedophile priests and the anniversary of 9/11, the most traumatic
American news event in at least 50 years.
Into this twister drops Project Censored's picks for news stories
most ignored in 2001. These stories, most from a year or more ago,
would have seemed more relevant if the juggernaut of recent history
had not transformed our political landscape. And what seemed
undercovered in 2001 is, in many cases, front and center today.
Still, the Project Censored list released this past week from its
headquarters in Northern California's Sonoma State University campus,
serves as a fascinating chronicle of recent political history. The
stories the students and faculty have put forward (ranked by a team
of progressive celebrity judges who read the top 25) certainly have the ring of familiarity—media ownership concentration; the privatization of water, deathsquads in Columbia, the Bush family and bin Laden, inhumane sanctions in Iraq, the return of nukes, the privatization of education, the negative effects of NAFTA, the housing crisis in the U.S. and CIA shenanigans in Macedonia.
One might ask, would any well-informed person consider these stories
in any way "censored"? But that would be missing Project Censored's
point, says project director Peter Phillips: "We define censorship as
any interference with the free flow of information in American
Society," he says. "Corporate media in the United States is
interested primarily in entertainment news to feed their bottom-line
priorities. Very important news stories that should reach the American public often fall on the cutting room floor to be replaced by sex-scandals and celebrity updates."
Phillips' broad definition of censorship includes the fact that these
stories often emerge and disappear only to lurk below the surface,
often for months or years, before being noticed by our less than
fearless corporate media. Today, in 2002, some of the stories that
made it onto Project Censored's list are getting a lot of
exposure—the topic of the No. 2 story by Maude Barlow, the chilling trend toward the privatization of global water resources, was recently featured in
a four-part series in the New York Times.
A striking feature of this year's lineup is that several of the
inclusions come from British sources, including the London Guardian,
and the Ecologist, where Barlow's story appeared. Over the years, but
particularly since 9/11, many domestic media mavens know that they
can't get a full picture of international news without regularly
reading the Guardian, the Independent and checking in with BBC radio
and TV. In fact, one of the media success stories of 2002 is Greg Palast's book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," which is selling briskly in the U.S. Palast, an American writing in Britain, is one of the authors of the
No. 4 story (also from the Guardian), about the Bush administration's
ties to the Saudis and the bin Laden family.
It's useful to keep in mind that the media, as much as any other
institution, reflects a certain reality of the public. A University
of Washington Report cited by A. Clay Thompson found that post-9/11
media coverage became a virtual showcase for traditional American
values, and overwhelmingly "shifted blame away from the U.S.,
emphasized the U.S. role as the only superpower on the international
stage and demonized the enemy."
But lately, the media has established a toehold in maturity,
energetically covering corporate scandals, the atrocities in
Afghanistan and the failures of health care. The corporate media is
no monolith; it swings and sways to myriad pressures, with
journalists often trying hard to get their stories out while
lobbyists and corporate owners push to shape the story in their
interests. Journalism is in many ways a combat zone.
But no matter whether the media is acting as a lapdog or a watchdog,
one story that virtually never gets any coverage is the massive
concentration of media ownership and the effect that media lobbyists,
the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), have on the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) and by extension what consumers of
U.S. media read, watch and listen to.
When Bush appointed Michael Powell to be head of the FCC,
broadcasters must have thought they died and went to heaven. Powell,
the son of Secretary of State Colin, seems intent on deregulating the
media system as much as humanly possible. This is the theme of
Project Censored's No. 1 story, corporate takeover of the airwaves.
Certainly given the stakes and the media's inability to cover itself,
one can't quarrel with the choice. Media ownership and deregulation
could rank as the No. 1 ignored story every year.
Project Censored focused its beam on the narrow issue of the radio
spectrum, the subject of Jeremy Rifkin's story in the London
Guardian. Brendan Koerner's Mother Jones story was a comprehensive
overview on the entire picture of media deregulation and San
Francisco's feisty Media Alliance publication Media File also
weighed in on the subject. Jeffrey Chester, director of the Center
for Digital Democracy and arguably the nation's most knowledgeable
person on media reform, commends Project Censored for putting
communications policy at the top of its list, but still suggests that
the public would be better served with a sense of the bigger picture.
"It's not just the proposed privatization of radio (wireless)
spectrum," Chester says. "The FCC is now engaged in several
inter-related efforts that will harm communities and our democracy.
They include new proposed policies that extend the monopoly power of
cable and telephone companies onto the Internet itself. Soon the Net
will be operated like any cable system, with the pipe owner
determining every Web site's digital destiny. Proposals to commercially annex wireless spectrum are a part of a corporate strategy to monopolize as much of the digital age as possible."
Sources: Jeremy Rifkin, London Guardian, April 28, 2001; Brendan
Koerner, Mother Jones, September 2001; Dorothy Kidd, Media File, May
#2. GATS' For-Profit Model Threatens to Gobble Up World's Water
The world is under attack, and not in the most conventional modes. A
little-known agreement called the General Agreement on Trade in
Services, or GATS, a byproduct of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
threatens to open the world's public services to corporate takeover.
That means community services such as water, health care, education,
libraries, museums and much more, turn into lucrative investments in
the hands of global corporations.
Think it can't happen? It already has. In the spring of 2000, the
Bolivian government sold off the city of Cochabamba's public water
system to San Francisco-based Bechtel "in the name of economic
efficiency," writes author Maude Barlow. Several furious protests
ensued until finally the government agreed to return the water supply
to public control.
If you think the U.S. is immune to such episodes, you're mistaken. In
New Orleans, negotiations are underway to privatize the city's water
supply. The $1 billion deal would be the largest private water contract in U.S. history. And Barlow writes that Rick Scott, president of Columbia, the world's largest for-profit hospital corporation, "has publicly vowed to destroy every public hospital in North America," saying doctors, "are not 'good corporate citizens.'" Merrill Lynch has already predicted public education will be privatized.
Source: Maude Barlow, The Ecologist, Feb. 2001.
#3. U.S. Policy Funds Human Rights Abuses in Colombia
In October 2001, Human Rights Watch released a report revealing the ugly truth about U.S. involvement in Colombia. The report contained evidence
that the Colombian military was working closely with rightwing
paramilitary death squads such as the United Self Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC). In other words, the third largest recipient of U.S.
aid and a close ally in the war on drugs was using American dollars
to fund groups known to be responsible for more than 70 percent of
human rights abuses in Colombia's civil war.
It was a startling revelation that would have made news on most days,
especially since the State Department had designated the AUC as a
"foreign terrorist organization," charged with kidnapping, pillaging
and the massacre of hundreds of civilians. But few media outlets
covered the report.
Jim Lobe, one of the journalists who covered the story, says the war
on terrorism has also "conspired to substantially reduce attention to
paramilitary, as opposed to guerrilla abuses." FARC and other leftist
guerillas are labeled "terrorist" groups within this global us v.
them narrative, while crimes committed by government-sponsored death
squads are brushed aside. According to Lobe, journalists have bought
into this flawed narrative mainly due to their own view of Latin
American nations as inherently violent.
The lack of media attention became less excusable in February, when
the Bush administration announced its plans to expand its cooperation
with Colombia. The White House requested $98 million in new Pentagon
training and equipment for the Colombian military, in a new
initiative to recruit Colombia as an ally in the global war on terror.
Sources: Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch, July
1, 2001; Jim Lobe, Asheville Global Report, Oct. 4, 2001; Dan Kovalik
and Gerald Dickey, Steelabor, May 2001; Rachel Massey, Rachel's
Environment & Health News, Dec. 7, 2001.
#4. Bush Administration Ordered FBI Off Bin Laden Trail
Shielding the Saudi royal family and their friends from bad press is a veritable presidential tradition, as Greg Palast learned when he launched an
investigation into why the FBI took its agents off the trail of bin
Laden family members residing in the U.S. Drawing on information he
uncovered in classified FBI documents, Palast reported that bin
Laden's brother, Abdullah bin Laden, who lived in Washington, was a
suspect in terrorist activities as long ago as 1996 but high-up
intelligence officials pressured the FBI to discontinue its
surveillance. "There were always constraints on investigating the
Saudis," an intelligence source told Palast, who broke the story just
two months after 9/11. Those restrictions were tightened considerably
when George W. Bush took office.
Both the Bush and the bin Laden families have significant holdings in
the Carlyle Group, the enormous private investment firm that has
grown bloated off U.S. defense contracts. It seems as if the U.S.
government is more in the business of protecting the Saudis and its
own oil interests than of finding the perpetrators of 9/11. Change is
in the wind, however; recent public opinion polls show that Americans
are growing increasingly disenchanted with Saudi policy -- and
perhaps, by extension, Bush's financial ties to the royal family.
Sources: Greg Palast and David Pallister, The Guardian, Nov. 7, 2001;
Rashmee Z. Ahmed, Times of India, Nov. 8, 2001; Amanda Luker, Pulse,
Jan. 16, 2002.
#5. U.S. Destruction of Iraqi Water Supply
The Persian Gulf War ended more than a decade ago, but for many Iraqi citizens, the real misery had just begun. Thomas J. Nagy uncovered documents of the Defense Intelligence Agency proving beyond a doubt that the United States government, after destroying the Iraqi water system, sanctioned the country from improving their water with purification equipment and importing chlorine.
The six documents Nagy discovered confirm that the Pentagon and the
U.S. government fully understood the consequences of their decision
to degrade the water supply. One document plainly states, "conditions
in Baghdad remain favorable for communicable disease outbreaks," and
another says, "the main causes of infectious diseases, particularly diarrhea, dysentery, and upper respiratory problems, are poor sanitation and unclean water. These diseases primarily afflict the old and young children." This blatant act of inhumanity is in direction violation of the Geneva Convention,
which expressly prohibits destroying the source of a civilian population's ultimate survival.
While spotlighting a critical issue, Nagy's story illustrates an area
in which Project Censored could stand improvement, which is the
potential for piggybacking off its selected stories to related topics
currently in the news. Surfacing a story about Iraq's tainted water
supply at the same time that Bush's planned attack on Iraq is in the
news almost daily, seems like a missed opportunity to create some
journalistic synergy. Besides, Iraq's water woes pale by comparison
to the damage an invasion could do to the country.
Source: Thomas J. Nagy, The Progressive, Sept. 2001.
#6. Renewed Threat of Nuclear Warfare
In the summer of 2001, Stephen Schwartz, founder of the Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists, warned his readers that an influential group
of right-wing analysts, scientists and members of Congress were
"quietly paving the way for a nuclear revival." Schwartz wrote: "They
want to build a variety of new and improved warheads, including a new generation of highly accurate, ground-penetrating, bunker busting beauties."
Few reporters paid attention at the time. But the following year,
when the Los Angeles Times leaked the details of the Pentagon's plans
to revamp its nuclear policy, it became apparent that the threat of
nuclear war was more serious than ever. The Nuclear Posture Review
(NPR) emphasized developing "usable" lower-yield weapons and
expanding the number of scenarios under which the United States might
use or threaten to use nuclear arms.
Over the past six months, the threat of nuclear warfare has received
far greater attention. The mainstream media has paid close attention
to the Bush administration's decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and has attacked the Bush-Putin missile accord as dangerous and ineffective. But as Schwartz points out, this attention has been "episodic" rather than sustained, primarily due to the lack of controversy. "There has been no sense in the public or Congress that this is wrong," he says.
"What is required is a massive reeducation effort."
Source: Stephen I. Schwartz, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 2001.
#7. Public Schools Become Guinea Pigs for HMO Model
Public schools ain't so public anymore. For over a decade, private,
for-profit educational management (EMO) companies have billed
themselves as the saving grace for America's flailing school systems
by promising to cut costs and raise standards. All this while padding
But EMOs like Edison Schools, Inc. have proved unsuccessful thus far.
Studies cited by Barbara Miner in her Multinational Monitor article
"Business Goes to School" found that EMO schools are not besting
traditional public schools. And return on private investment has been
The business media has followed the ups and downs of EMOs closely
over the years. Edison made Wall Street Journal headlines this summer
for losing its $39 million contract with the Dallas school board.
Some investors have even sued Edison for misreporting revenue.
Vanishing hopes of profitability may now be scaring away some
investors who once thought EMOs would do for schools what HMOs did
for health care.
Sources: Barbara Miner, Multinational Monitor, Jan. 2002; Frosty
Troy, Progressive Populist, Nov. 15, 2000; Dennis Fox, North Coast
Xpress, Winter 2000; Linda Lutton, In These Times, June 2001.
#8. NAFTA Impoverishes Small Family Farmers
In June of 2001, Public Citizen released a report graphically
illustrating the failure of NAFTA to increase the income of farmers.
Not only did American farms lose nearly $18 billion in annual
revenue, but Mexican farmers' income fell 17 percent. Canadian
farmers, who were told to expect a $1.4 billion increase in income,
found their bank accounts $600 million emptier. The NAFTA/Farm report
perfectly represents the larger goal of NAFTA, the transfer of wealth
from small, independent operators to multinational conglomerates. As
over 33,000 small American farms went out of business, agribusiness
giants such as ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland had significant
earnings gains. From 1993 to 2000, ConAgra's profits grew 189 percent
from $143 million to $413 million; and Archer Daniels Midland's
profits nearly tripled between 1993 and 2000 from $110 million to $301 million. Small wonder the multinational media conglomerates failed to report
on the death of free trade.
Sources: Anita Martin, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Dec. 2000; Jim
Hightower, Hightower Lowdown, Sept. 2001.
#9. Housing Crisis in the U.S.
Six million Americans currently have no place to call home, as
affordable low-cost housing continues to waste away in a silent, even
hostile political climate. In recent years around 1.5 million units
of housing have disappeared—which means millions of children
growing up homeless or in housing that is substandard and potentially
Randy Shaw, director of Housing America, a San Francisco-based
housing rights organization, reported in In These Times that
America's housing situation is dire and only getting worse. Shaw
reports that the silence that surrounds the issue in both the
political sphere and mass media is confounded by the vast
institutional problems of corruption and limited budgets faced by the
federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. With the new downturn in the economy, this is a story that continues to unfold, and continues to get little notice in the mainstream press.
Source: Randy Shaw, In These Times, November 2000.
#10. CIA Spooks Destabilize Macedonia
Look at the front page of your newspaper any time in the last few
months and you've seen a story about the U.S. protecting its
interests abroad, usually in the form of discussions about the once
and future war on Iraq. But one story you probably haven't seen is
about the U.S. using NATO forces and CIA money to promote an alliance
with Macedonia, in hopes of controlling that country's oil supply.
Control and ownership of the AMBO project (Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil), which centers around a proposed pipeline that traverses the three Balkan nations, has been exclusively granted to a consortium of American-led interests, notably Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton Energy. Michel
Chossudovsky, director of the Centre for Research on Globalisation,
contends that U.S.-controlled interests in Macedonia are disrupting peace talks in order to justify NATO intervention and secure an American and British affiliation for the controlling forces, rather than ties to UN interests. As A.C. Thompson points out, the hypothesis is credible and merits further exploration, although Chossudovsky's story is ultimately "more of a starting point than a smoking gun."
Source: Michel Chossudovsky, GlobalResearch.com, June 14, 2001 and July 26, 2001.
AlterNet.org is a project of the Independent Media Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening and supporting independent and alternative journalism.
From AlterNet.org, September 3, 2002.