In an age of blogs, tweets, hacks, and piles of beans spilled by Wikileaks, the notion of media censorship may seem dated. But the rundown of stories Project Censored calls attention to this year serves as a reminder that mainstream media outlets favoring the superficial over the substantive don't give us all the information we need.
Since 1976, Project Censored has endeavored to spotlight important news articles that didn't find their way into mainstream headlines. Originating with a classroom assignment in a communications course taught by Carl Jensen at Sonoma State University, the perennial project has evolved into a book, a radio show, and the Project Censored and Media Freedom International websites, which aggregate underreported independent news stories from around the globe.
Students and professors engaged in unearthing oft-ignored stories, part of a nationwide network of affiliates working under the direction of history professor Mickey Huff, bringing a harsh critique to standard mainstream media fare.
"Corporate media (singular) is the information control wing of the global power structure," former Project Censored director Peter Phillips writes in the introduction to Censored 2012: Sourcebook for the Media Revolution. "The corporate media systematically censors the news stories that challenge the propaganda of empire."
In Huff's words, "We try to highlight the things that are highly relevant, that seem to be conspicuously absent."
Huff says the selection process for the top censored stories begins with nominations of independent articles that readers feel warrant greater attention than they've received. From there, students comb through Lexis Nexis or other databases to see whether they've been adequately covered. If not, they fact-check the stories with professors or other experts in the field.
Once they've been "validated" in this way, they're posted to Project Censored's sister site, Media Freedom International. The famed Top 25 Censored Stories list, which has long served as the tagline of the organization, is the result of a ranked-choice voting process in which judges and affiliates select from the entire pool of validated news articles posted from April to April.
The end product — an annual book featuring a compilation of the censored stories as well as sociological essays on media censorship and scathing critiques of "junk food news" churned out by the likes of Fox News — can be considered a kind of historical almanac, Huff says.
"Journalism is the rough draft of history," he notes, "and if you have these mainstream corporate news outlets getting so much of it wrong or missing it, how does that impact historical construction?"
For the most part, Project Censored's story list offers a sampling of smart, investigative journalism produced by the independent press. They include deep investigative pieces such as "Diet Hard With A Vengeance," by David Moberg of In These Times, and a heart rending portrayal by Chris Hedges of a marine stationed in a mortuary unit in Iraq.
Yet there are instances when Project Censored seems to wander too far afield. Their claims of "censorship" seem dubious at times, as with the charge that the mainstream media has ignored the real unemployment rate because it hasn't turned an eye toward the analysis of economist John Williams, who maintains a website called Shadow Government Statistics.
Huff and Phillips regularly discuss questions surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center on their KPFA radio show, and their emphasis on this particular issue, along with a recent tendency to give weight to fringe theories concerning things like suspicious contrails issuing from airplanes, have caused allies of the organization to defect in the past.