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Project Censored

The top 10 stories mainstream media missed... or ignored


Published October 1, 2003 at 4:00 a.m.

We know a lot more now about the dangers and disasters of U.S. empire building in Iraq -- the ongoing bloodshed, expansion of terrorist activities, the budget-busting costs of occupation, the stretching and undermining of the military, and the increased sense of fear many Americans feel as a result of the invasion.

We also now have a better handle on the immediate reasons for the invasion. President Bush told us we were going to war because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; he was reconstituting his nuclear weapons programs; he had huge stocks of chemical and biological weapons that could threaten the U.S. And finally, that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda. According to some polls, as much as 70 percent of the public believed this.

It now seems clear that these were all falsehoods. The lies and deceptions Bush and his minions were feeding to the media are making their way into public discourse and are being covered fairly extensively in columns by Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, and in reporting at the Washington Post and elsewhere.

But far, far less is known about the planning and the actors behind this foreign policy disaster. What world views motivated the push to overreach and try to dominate the globe, with Iraq as step number one? What maneuvers behind the scenes and power struggles after the attacks of 9/11 led the U.S. to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11?

The reminder that the media often reports the "news" as fed to it by those in power, skipping the real news, is good reason for the continued existence of Project Censored. The program, now in its 27th year, enlists about 200 students and faculty from Sonoma State University to review under-reported stories from around the country and compile a list of the top 10 "censored stories" as well as 15 runners-up. The project's mission: "to stimulate responsible journalists to provide more mass-media coverage of those under-covered issues and to encourage the general public to demand mass-media coverage of those issues or to seek information from other sources."

Most of the stories on Project Censored's Top 10 relate to the U.S.'s war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq. This emphasis indicates how, on one hand, these issue dominate the news; on the other, it suggests how little news consumers really understand about how the invasion happened and why.

Taken together, these stories paint a chilling picture of a long-ranging plan to dominate huge sections of the globe militarily and economically and, in the course of it, to silence dissent, curb civil liberties and undermine workers' rights. Some of the information published as part of the project is pretty shocking, such as the the U.S.'s removal of 8000 incriminating pages from Iraq's weapons report to the U.N., or Donald Rumsfeld's possible plan to deliberately provoke terrorists. Other issues, such as the attacks on civil liberties, have been covered in the mainstream press but not as comprehensively as Project Censored would like to see. Here, then, are the Top 10.

1. The Neoconservative Plan for Global Dominance

The incredible lack of public knowledge of the U.S. plan for total global domination, represented by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), represents the media's biggest failure over the past year, according to Project Censored. The PNAC advocated attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other current foreign-policy objectives, long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Chillingly, one document published by the PNAC in 2000 actually describes the need for a "new Pearl Harbor" to persuade the American public to accept the acts of war and aggression the administration wants to carry out.

"But most people in the country are totally unaware that the PNAC exists," said Peter Phillips, a professor at Sonoma State and major-domo of the Project Censored Project, "and that failure has aided and abetted this disaster in Iraq."

According to Project Censored authors, "In the 1970s, the United States and the Middle East were embroiled in a tug-of-war over oil. At the time, the prospect of seizing control of Arab oil fields by force was considered out of line. Still, the idea of Middle East dominance was very attractive to a group of hard-line Washington insiders that included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, William Kristol and other operatives. During the Clinton years they were active in conservative think tanks like the PNAC. When Bush was elected they came roaring back into power.

In an update for the Project Censored Web site, Mother Jones writer Robert Dreyfuss notes, "There was very little examination in the media of the role of oil in American policy towards Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and what coverage did exist tended to pooh-pooh or debunk the idea that the war had anything to do with it."

Sources: The Sunday Herald (9/15/02), Harper's Magazine (10/02), Mother Jones (3/03), (12/12/02).

2. Homeland Security Threatens Civil Liberties

While the media did cover the Patriot Act and the so-called Patriot Act II, which was leaked to the press in February 2003, there wasn't sufficient analysis of some of the truly dangerous and precedent-setting components of both acts. This goes especially for the shocking provision in Patriot II that would allow even U.S. citizens to be treated as enemy combatants and held without counsel, simply on suspicion of connections to terrorism.

"Under section 501, a U.S. citizen engaging in lawful activity can be picked off the streets or from home and taken to a secret military tribunal with no access to or notification of a lawyer, the press or family." This would be considered justified if the agent "inferred from the conduct" suspicious intention.

Fortunately, Patriot I is under major duress in Congress as both parties are supporting significant revisions. Yet President Bush, realizing that he and his unpopular Attorney General John Ashcroft are losing popular support, is threatening a veto and has aggressively gone on the offense in favor of the repugnant Patriot II. Let's see if the media has learned its lesson from Patriot I. Will it probe the new legislation much more thoroughly than the first round, which received inadequate analysis post 9/11?

Sources: Global Outlook (Winter 2003), (2/11/03 & Global Outlook, Volume 4), Center for Public Integrity ( Corporate Media partial coverage: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (5/11/03), The Tampa Tribune (3/28/03), Baltimore Sun (2/21/03).

3. U.S. Illegally Removes Pages from Iraq U.N. Report

Story three is the shockingly under-reported fact that the Bush administration removed a whopping 8000 of 11,800 pages from the report the Iraqi government submitted to the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The pages included details on how the U.S. had actually supplied Iraq with chemical and biological weapons and the building blocks for weapons of mass destruction. The pages reportedly implicate not only Reagan and Bush administration officials but also major corporations including Bechtel, Eastman Kodak and Dupont, and the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture.

In comments to Project Censored, Michael Niman, author of one of the articles cited, noted that his article was based on secondary sources, mostly from the international press, since the topic received an almost complete blackout in the U.S. press. Referring to his first Project Censored nomination in 1989, in which he went into the bush in Costa Rica, he said, "With such thorough self-censorship in the U.S. press, reading the international press is now akin to going into the remote bush."

Source: The Humanist and ArtVoice (March/April 2003), first covered by Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now!"

4. Rumsfeld's Plan to Provoke Terrorists

Moscow Times columnist and CounterPunch contributor Chris Floyd developed this story from a small item in the L.A. Times in October 2002 about secret armies the Pentagon has been developing around the world. "The Pro-active, Preemptive Operations Group (or "Pee-Twos") will carry out secret missions designed to ‘stimulate reactions' among terrorist groups, provoking them into committing violent acts which would then expose them to ‘counterattack' by U.S. forces," Floyd wrote. "The Pee-Twos will thus come in handy whenever the Regime hankers to add a little oil-laden real estate or a new military base to the Empire's burgeoning portfolio. Just find a nest of violent malcontents, stir 'em with a stick, and presto: instant justification for whatever level of intervention/conquest/raping that you might desire."

Floyd notes that while the story received considerable play in international and alternative media, it has hardly been mentioned in the mainstream U.S. press.

"At first glance, this decided lack of interest might seem a curious reaction, given the American media's insatiable -- and profitable -- obsession with terrorism," he told Project Censored. "But the media's equally intense abhorrence of moral ambiguity -- especially when it involves possible American complicity in mayhem and murder -- makes the silence easier to understand."

Source: CounterPunch (11/1/02).

5. The Effort to Make Unions Disappear

The war on terrorism has also had the convenient side benefit for conservatives of making it easier for employers and the government to suppress organized labor in the name of national security. For example, in October 2002 Bush was able to force striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union members back to work in the San Francisco Bay Area in the name of national safety.

Chicago journalist Lee Sustar noted that labor coverage is usually woefully inadequate in the mainstream media, even though union membership, while shrinking, still makes up a national constituency 13 million strong.

"Twenty years ago every paper had a beat reporter on labor who knew what was going on," he said. "Today that's not the case. Besides a token story on Labor Day or a human-interest story here and there, you don't see coverage of labor. You only see coverage from the business side," said Sustar. (Steven Greenhouse, the labor reporter for The New York Times, is one obvious exception to Sustar's claim.)

Ann Marie Cusac, whose story for The Progressive about the decimation of unions was cited, said she thinks the position of organized labor is worse than it has ever been.

She combed National Labor Relations Board files for egregious examples of the lengths to which employers will go to bust unions. And she found a lot. "They had a woman with carpal-tunnel syndrome pulling nails out of boards above her head, because they wanted her to go on disability so she couldn't organize," she said. "But she did it, even knowing she might disable herself. The willingness of people to sacrifice, because they know how important it is to unionize, is a sign of hope."

Sources: Z Magazine, (11/20/02), War Times (10/11/02), The Progressive (11/03), The American Prospect (3/03).

6. Closing Access to Information Technology

The potential closing of access to digital information is a development that could have a harmful effect on the powerful role online media plays in side-stepping media gatekeepers and keeping people better informed. "The FCC and Congress are currently overturning the public-interest rules that have encouraged the expansion of the Internet up until now," writes Arthur Stamoulis, whose story was published in Dollars and Sense.

The Internet currently provides a buffet of independent and international media sources to counter the mostly homogenous offerings of mainstream U.S. media, especially broadcast. As the shift to broadband gains momentum, cable companies are trying hard to dominate the market and eventually control access.

In 2002 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to allow cable networks to avoid common-carrier requirements. Now the giant phone companies, who offer competitive DSL services, want the same freedoms to control access to who uses their lines. In the long run, instead of the thousands of small ISP services to choose from, the switch from dial-up to broadband means users will have less and less choice over who provides their Internet access.

While the media finally woke up and gave significant coverage to the recent public rebellion against the FCC, which voted to increase media concentration even further, there has been scant coverage of the possibility that the Internet as we know it might be lost.

Source: Dollars and Sense (9/02).

7. Treaty Busting by the United States

"The U.S. is a signatory to nine multilateral treaties that it has either blatantly violated or gradually subverted," says Project Censored. These include the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Treaty Banning Antipersonnel Mines and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Just as the Bush administration is crowing about the possibility of Saddam Hussein manufacturing nuclear or chemical weapons, it is violating treaties meant to curb these threats, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Commission.

Sources: Connections (6/02), The Nation (4/02), Asheville Global Report (6/20-26/02), Global Outlook (Summer 2002).

8. US/British Forces Continue Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons Despite Massive Evidence of Negative Health Effects

The eighth story on the list deals with another subject victims have tried to get into the mainstream media for over a decade: the U.S.'s use of depleted uranium in Iraq, in both the recent invasion and in the Gulf War. Depleted uranium (D.U.) was also used in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia.

The sources cited, including the hard-core porn magazine Hustler, note that cancer rates have skyrocketed in Iraq since the first Gulf War, most likely because of the massive contamination of the soil with D.U. from the explosive, armor-piercing munitions. U.S. soldiers are also victims of this travesty, suffering Gulf War syndrome and other ailments that many feel sure are linked to their exposure to D.U.

Reese Erlich, a freelance journalist who reported on the topic for a syndicated radio broadcast and related Web site report, said that the federal government has dealt with the issue of D.U. much as the tobacco industry deals with its liability problems. "They'll fog the issue so no one can say for sure what's happening," he said. "They'll commission studies so they can say, ‘There are conflicting reports,' and ‘We need more information.'"

He noted that while the U.S. media is quiet about the issue, it is a hot topic in the international press. "When you get outside the U.S., the media is much more critical," he said. "They refer to it as a weapon of mass destruction. This will be a legacy the U.S. has left in Iraq. Long after the electricity is repaired and the oil wells are pumping, children will be getting cancer. The U.S. knew this would happen. It can't claim ignorance."

Sources: The Sunday Herald (3/30/03), Hustler Magazine (6/03), Children of War (3/03).

9. In Afghanistan: Poverty, Women's Rights and Civil Disruption Worse Than Ever

Though his work isn't cited here, Reese Erlich also reported on the topic of the ninth story on the list, the continuing poverty, civil disruption and repression of women in Afghanistan. While the country has virtually dropped off the radar screen in the U.S. press and public consciousness, it is suffering its worst decade of poverty ever. Warlords and tribal fiefdoms continue to rule the country, and women are as repressed as ever, contrary to the feel-good images of burqa-stripping that have been broadcast in the media here.

Sources: The Nation (10/14/02), Left Turn (3-4/03), The Nation (4/29/02), Mother Jones; (7-8/02) mainstream coverage: Toronto Star (3/2/03).

10. Africa Faces New Threat of New Colonialism

While Afghanistan is being essentially ignored, the tenth story on the list shows how African countries are getting plenty of attention from the U.S. -- but not the kind of attention they need. These stories deal with the formation in June 2002 of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, by a group of leaders from the world's eight most powerful countries (the G8) who claim to be carrying out an anti-poverty campaign for the continent. But the group doesn't include the head of a single African nation, and critics charge that the plan is more about opening the continent to international investment and looting its resources than fighting poverty.

"NEPAD is akin to Plan Colombia in its attempt to employ Western development techniques to provide economic opportunities for international investment," says Project Censored.

Sources: Left Turn (7-8/02), Briarpatch, Vol. 32, No. 1, excerpts from The CCPA Monitor, (10/02), New Internationalist (1-2/03).

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