With the return of its annual list of censored stories in Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored's vivid cover art recalls perhaps the most infamous example ever of actual "fake news:" HG Welles' War of the Worlds.
The situation today may feel as desolate as the illustration by SFR's Anson Stevens-Bollen suggests, "but Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news," editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observed in the book's introduction.
In the end, they argued that "critical media education—rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers or legislative bans—is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion."
Project Censored's annual list of 25 censored stories, which makes up the book's lengthy first chapter, is one of the best resources one can have for such education. Censorship and fake news are "intertwined issues," they write.
The list of censored stories can be read in two different ways: "As a critique of the shortcomings of US corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories; or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues."
Here, then, is Project Censored's Top 10 for 2018:
1. Global Decline in Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish
According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017–2018, a striking worldwide decline in basic human rights has driven an overall decline in the rule of law since October 2016, the month before Donald Trump's election. Fundamental rights—one of eight categories measured—declined in 71 out of 113 nations surveyed. Overall, 34 percent of countries' scores declined, while just 29 percent improved. The United States ranked 19th, down one from 2016, with declines in checks on government powers and deepening discrimination.
Fundamental rights include absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association and labor rights.
"All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement," Yale professor of history and law Samuel Moyn told The Guardian the day the index was released. "Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalizing economy in which the rich are winning."
Constraints on government powers, which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law, saw the second greatest declines (64 countries out of 113 dropped). This is where the United States saw the greatest deterioration, according to World Justice Project.
The United States also scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.
The four Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden—remained in the top four positions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia were the only top 10 countries outside of Europe.
"The WJP's 2017–2018 Rule of Law Index received scant attention from US corporate media," Project Censored noted.
The only coverage they found was a Newsweek article drawing on The Guardian's coverage. This pattern of ignoring international comparisons, across all subject matter, is pervasive in the corporate media. It severely cripples our capacity for objective self-reflection and self-improvement as a nation.
2. “Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders
In March 2017, WikiLeaks began releasing a series it named Vault 7, the first installment of which is a trove of 8,761 leaked confidential CIA files about its global hacking programs. WikiLeaks described it as the "largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency." It drew significant media attention. But almost no one noticed what George Eliason of OpEdNews pointed out.
"Sure, the CIA has all these tools available," Eliason pointed out. "Yes, they are used on the public. The important part is [that] it's not the CIA that's using them. That's the part that needs to frighten you."
As Eliason went on to explain, the CIA's mission prevents it from using the tools, especially on Americans.
"All the tools are unclassified, open-source, and can be used by anyone," Eliason explained. "It makes them not exactly usable for secret agent work. That's what makes it impossible for them to use Vault 7 tools directly."
Drawing heavily on more than a decade of reporting by Tim Shorrock for Mother Jones and The Nation, Eliason's series reported on the explosive growth of private contractors in the intelligence community, which allows the CIA and other agencies to gain access to intelligence gathered by methods they're prohibited from using.
In a 2016 report for The Nation, Shorrock estimated that 80 percent of about 58,000 private intelligence contractors worked for the five largest companies. He concluded that "not only has intelligence been privatized to an unimaginable degree, but an unprecedented consolidation of corporate power inside US intelligence has left the country dangerously dependent on a handful of companies for its spying and surveillance needs."
Eliason reported how private contractors pioneered open-source intelligence by circulating or selling the information they gathered before the agency employing them had reviewed and classified it. Therefore, "no one broke any laws."
Corporate media reporting on Vault 7 sometimes noted, but failed to focus on, the dangerous role of private contractors, Project Censored pointed out—with the notable exception of a Washington Post op-ed in which Shorrock reviewed his previous reporting and concluded that overreliance on private intelligence contractors was "a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct."
3. World’s Richest 1 Percent Continue to Become Wealthier
In November 2017, Credit Suisse released its eighth annual Global Wealth Report, which The Guardian reported on under the headline, "Richest 1% own half the world's wealth, study finds."
The wealth share of the world's richest people increased from 42.5 percent at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1 percent in 2017, The Guardian reported, adding that "the biggest losers … are young people who should not expect to become as rich as their parents."
Despite being more educated, "millennials are doing less well than their parents at the same age, especially in relation to income, home ownership and other dimensions of well-being assessed in this report," Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner said.
"At the other end of the spectrum, the world's 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000," The Guardian reported. "Collectively, these people, who account for 70 percent of the world's working-age population, account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth."
"Tremendous concentration of wealth and the extreme poverty that results from it are problems that affect everyone in the world, but wealth inequalities do not receive nearly as much attention as they should in the establishment press," Project Censored noted.
4. How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi are Safe
Are cell phones and other wireless devices really as safe we've been lead to believe? Don't bet on it, according to decades of buried research reviewed in a March 2018 investigation for The Nation by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie.
"The wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil fuel industries did, it also borrowed from the same public relations playbook those industries pioneered," Hertsgaard and Dowie reported. "Wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products."
Their investigation comes at the same time as several new reports are bringing the issue to the fore. They include findings of higher risks of miscarriage, an increased risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor), and a disclosure by the National Frequency Agency of France that nine out of 10 cell phones exceed government radiation safety limits when tested in the way they are actually used, next to the human body.
"The wireless industry has 'war-gamed' science by playing offense as well as defense, actively sponsoring studies that result in published findings supportive of the industry, while aiming to discredit competing research that raises questions about the safety of cellular devices and other wireless technologies," Project Censored summarized. "When studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, industry spokespeople have pointed out that the findings are disputed by other researchers."
While some local media have covered the findings of a few selected studies, Project Censored notes, "the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line—that is, that evidence linking Wi-Fi and cellphone radiation to health issues, including cancer and other medical problems, is either inconclusive or disputed. … As Hertsgaard and Dowie's The Nation report suggested, corporate coverage of this sort is partly how the telecom industry remains successful in avoiding the consequences of [its] actions."
5. Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors
On May 1, 2017, the Washington Post introduced a policy prohibiting its employees from criticizing its advertisers and business partners, and encouraging them to snitch on one another.
"A new social-media policy at the Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that 'adversely affects the Post's customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners,'" Andrew Beaujon reported in The Washingtonian the next month. "In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action 'up to and including termination of employment.'" Beaujon also cited "a clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: 'If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post's Social Media Policy … you should contact The Post's Human Resources Department.'"
At the time, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents the Post's employees, was protesting the policy and was seeking removal of the controversial parts in a new labor agreement.
A follow-up report by Whitney Webb for MintPress News highlighted the broader possible censorship effects, as prohibiting social media criticism could spill over into reporting as well.
"Among the Washington Post's advertisers are corporate giants like GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America and Koch Industries," Webb wrote. "With the new policy, social media posts criticizing GlaxoSmithKline's habit of making false and misleading claims about its products, inflating prices and withholding crucial drug safety information from the government will no longer be made by Post employees."
Beyond that, Webb suggested it could protect the CIA, which has a $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post four months after that contract was signed.
In 2013, former Post writer John Hanrahan told Alternet: "Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA—and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move."
It's part of a much broader problem, identified in Jeremy Iggers' 1998 book, Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest. Iggers argued that journalism ethics focused on individual reporters completely missed the larger issue of corporate conflicts whose systemic effects fundamentally undermined journalism's role in a democracy.
6. Russiagate: Two-Headed Monster of Propaganda and Censorship
Is Russiagate a censored story? In my view, not exactly. And that's one reason I suggested that Project Censored add "fake news" as a new analytical category to examine annually along with its censored stories list, "junk food news," and "news abuse."
What Project Censored calls attention to is important: "Corporate media coverage of Russiagate has created a two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. By saturating news coverage with a sensationalized narrative, Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories." As a frustrated journalist with omnivorous interests, I heartily concur—but what's involved is too complex to simply be labelled "propaganda."
In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show from February 20 to March 31, 2017, which found that "Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts."
Maté wrote: "Maddow's Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump's escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants; Obamacare repeal; the legal battle over Trump's Muslim ban; a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office; and Trump administration scandals and stumbles."
Well and good. But is this propaganda?
At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote: "As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia's 'attack on our democracy' that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering and many other US electoral defects all put together."
Also true. But not so much propaganda as Project Censored's broader category of "news abuse," which includes propaganda and spin.
On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is far more clear-cut and straightforward.
In a report for watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, Robin Andersen examined Russiagate-inspired censorship moves by Twitter, Google and others. A key initial target was Russia Today (RT).
"RT's reporting bears striking similarities to alternative and independent media content, and that is why letting the charges against RT stand unexamined is so dangerous," Andersen noted.
"Yet in the battle against fake news, much of the best, most accurate independent reporting is disappearing from Google searches," Anderson said. There were declines for AlterNet.org (63 percent), CounterPunch.org (21 percent), ConsortiumNews.com (47 percent), DemocracyNow.org (36 percent), TheIntercept.com (19 percent) and MediaMatters.org (42 percent), among others.
"Many people suffer when lies are reported as facts, but it seems that corporate media are the only ones that profit when they reinforce blind hostility—against not only Russia but also legitimate domestic dissent," Project Censored noted.
7. Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization
The world's agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon loss to the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science, actually reversing the processes driving global warming. A set of practices known as "regenerative agriculture" could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in May 2017.
"For thousands of years we grew food by depleting soil carbon and, in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well," food and farming writer Michael Polin wrote. "But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil."
In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved.
"Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion … a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing," Cummins wrote. "Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world's food on just 25 percent of the world's acreage, struggle to make ends meet."
If you've never heard of regenerative agriculture before, don't be surprised.
"Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in the New York Times Magazine and Salon," Project Censored wrote.
8. Congress Passes Intrusive Data Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill
On March 21, House Republicans introduced a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. It passed both chambers and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent "must-pass" legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.
"The CLOUD Act enables the US government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations' data privacy laws and without the need for warrants," Project Censored summarized.
It also significantly weakens protections against foreign government actions.
"It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate," the Electronic Frontier Foundation's David Ruiz wrote. "It never received a hearing."
"Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy and human rights," concluded Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.
"The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it," Project Censored noted. A glowing Washington Post op-ed "made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens' personal data."
9. Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature
In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an Indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers its ancestor, as a living entity with rights. The Guardian reported it as "a world-first," although the surrounding Te Urewera region had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the US Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton. In addition, the broader idea of "rights of nature" has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia and by some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.
The tribe's lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert, explained the tribe's perspective to The Guardian: "We consider the river an ancestor and always have. We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management."
Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine that others are advancing this perspective: "In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature."
The same could be done with a wide range of other environmental justice disputes involving Native American tribes.
"A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India," Project Censored noted. "However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States."
10. FBI Racially Profiling ‘Black Identity Extremists’
As white supremacists were preparing for the "Unite the Right" demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017, the FBI's counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different—though actually non-existent—threat: "Black Identity Extremists." The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy, which broke the story.
"But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists," Foreign Policy reported.
"It's classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together," said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of black writers. "The language—black identity extremist—strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover's past."
"The corporate media [has] covered the FBI report on 'black identity extremists' in narrow or misleading ways," Project Censored noted, citing examples from the New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. "Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrives."
Read more at projectcensored.org. This story was originally published by Random Length News.