Project Censored

Top 10 Stories Show Missing Patterns in Corporate News

Every year since 1976, Project Censored has sought to shed light on the most significant news that's somehow not fit to print. Censorship in an authoritarian society is obvious, from a distance, at least. There is a central agent or agency responsible for it and the lines are clearly drawn. That's not the case in America, yet some stories rarely, if ever, see the light of day, such as stories about violence against Native American women and girls, even though four out of five of them experience violence at some point in their lives, overwhelmingly at the hands of non-Native perpetrators.

"I wouldn't say that we're more vulnerable," Annita Lucchesi, a Southern Cheyenne descendant and executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, told The Guardian. "I'd say that we're targeted. It's not about us being vulnerable victims, it's about the system being designed to target and marginalize our women."

And, the media erasure of their stories is part of that same system of targeting and marginalization. While journalists everyday work hard to expose injustices, they work within a system where some injustices are so deeply baked in that stories exposing them are rarely told and even more rarely expanded upon to give them their proper due.

That's where Project Censored comes in.

"The primary purpose of Project Censored is to explore and publicize the extent of news censorship in our society by locating stories about significant issues of which the public should be aware, but is not, for a variety of reasons," wrote its founder Carl Jensen on its 20th anniversary.

Thus, the list of censored stories that's the centerpiece of its annual book, State of the Free Press | 2021, doesn't just help us to see individual stories we might otherwise have missed. It helps us see patterns—patterns of censorship, of stories suppressed and patterns of how those stories fit together in the context of neglect, climate change and other threads.

1. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

"In June 2019 the Canadian National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report, which received widespread news coverage in the United States," Project Censored notes. "US corporate news outlets have provided nearly nothing in the way of reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States."

Four in five Native women experience violence at some time in their lives, according to a 2016 survey by the National Institute of Justice, cited in an August 2019 Think Progress report.

"Although the number of Native Americans murdered or missing in 2016 exceeded 3,000—roughly the number of people who died during the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack—the Justice Department's missing persons database logged only 116 cases that year," Think Progress noted.

There are multiple complicating factors in reporting, tracking, investigating and prosecuting, which were explored in coverage by The Guardian and Yes! Magazine, as well as Ms. and Think Progress.

"Campaigners, including the Sovereign Bodies Institute, the Brave Heart Society, and the Urban Indian Health Institute, identify aspects of systemic racism—including the indelible legacies of settler colonialism, issues with law enforcement, a lack of reliable and comprehensive data, and flawed policymaking—as deep-rooted sources of the crisis," Project Censored summed up. "As YES! Magazine reported, tribal communities in the United States often lack jurisdiction to respond to crimes."

This was partially remedied in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, known as VAWA, but "it left sex trafficking and other forms of sexual violence outside tribal jurisdiction," Yes! Magazine reported.

Another facet of the problem explored by Yes! is the connection between the extractive fossil fuel industry and violence against Native women. The Canadian report "showed a strong link between extraction zones on the missing and murdered women crisis in Canada," Yes! noted. "It specifically cited rotational shift work, sexual harassment in the workplace, substance abuse, economic insecurity, and a largely transient workforce as contributing to increased violence against Native women in communities near fossil fuel infrastructure."

"It creates this culture of using and abuse," said Annita Lucchesi, executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute. "If you can use and abuse the water and land, you can use and abuse the people around you too."

Sources:

2. Monsanto “Intelligence Center” Targeted Journalists and Activists

In its fight to avoid liability for causing cancer, the agricultural giant Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) cre­ated an "intelligence fusion center" to "monitor and discredit" journalists and activists, Sam Levin reported for The Guardian in August 2019.

"More than 18,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup [weedkiller] caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks by manipulating scientific data and silencing critics," The Hill summarized. "The company has lost three high-profile cases in the past year, and Bayer is reportedly offering $8 billion to settle all outstanding claims."

"Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company's weedkiller," The Guardian reported.
This took place while also targeting Neil Young (who released a 2015 record, The Monsanto Years), and creating a massive, multi-million dollar spying and disinformation campaign targeting journalists writing about it, as well as scientists and advocates exposing the risks its product posed. Creating a covert army of seemingly neutral allies to attack its critics was central to Monsanto's strategy.

The Guardian's report was based on internal documents (primarily from 2015 to 2017) released during trial. They showed that "Monsanto planned a series of 'actions' to attack a book authored by Gillam prior to its release, including writing 'talking points' for 'third parties' to criticize the book and directing 'industry and farmer customers' on how to post negative reviews."

In addition, Monsanto paid Google to skew search results promoting criticism of Gilliam's work on Monsanto, and they discussed strategies for pressuring Reuters with the goal of getting her reassigned.

The entire pool of journalists covering one trial was also targeted in a covert influence operation, Paul Thacker reported for The Huffington Post. A purported "freelancer for the BBC" schmoozed other reporters, trying to steer them toward writing stories critical of the plaintiffs suing Monsanto. Their curiosity aroused, they discovered that her LinkedIn account said she worked for FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm hired by Monsanto and Bayer.

"Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters," Thacker wrote. "And all of it appears to be part of a pattern at the company of using a variety of tactics to intimidate, mislead and discredit journalists and critics."

Yet, the campaign to monitor and discredit journal­ists and other critics has received almost no corporate news coverage, with the rare exception of a June 2019, ABC News report which nonetheless "consistently emphasized the perspective of Monsanto and Bayer."

  • Source: Sam Levin, “Revealed: How Monsanto’s ‘Intelligence Center’ Targeted Journalists and Activists,” The Guardian, August 8, 2019.

3. United States Military—A Massive, Hidden Contributor to Climate Crisis

It's said that an army travels on its stomach, but the Army itself has said, "Fuel is the 'blood of the military,'" as quoted in a study, "Hidden carbon costs of the 'everywhere war'" by Oliver Belcher, Patrick Bigger, Ben Neimark, and Cara Kennelly, who subsequently summarized their findings for The Conversation in June 2019.

The US military is "one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more cli­mate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries," they wrote.

If it were a country, it would rank as "the 47th largest emitter of green­house gases in the world."

Studies of greenhouse gas emissions usu­ally focus on civilian use, but the US military has a larger carbon footprint than any civilian corporation in the world.
"The US military's climate policy remains fundamentally contradictory," their study notes.

On the one hand, "the US military sees climate change as a 'threat multiplier,' or a condition that will exacerbate other threats, and is fast becoming one of the leading federal agencies in the United States to invest in research and adoption of renewable energy [but] it remains the largest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world [and] this dependence on fossil fuels is unlikely to change as the USA continues to pursue open‐ended operations around the globe."

Data for their study was difficult to get.

"A loophole in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol exempted the United States from reporting mil­itary emissions," Project Censored explains. "Although the Paris Accord closed this loophole, Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger noted that, 'with the Trump administration due to withdraw from the accord in 2020, this gap…will return.'" They only obtained fuel purchase data through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

Noting that "action on climate change demands shut­tering vast sections of the military machine," Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger recommended that "money spent procuring and distributing fuel across the US empire" be reinvested as "a peace dividend, helping to fund a Green New Deal in whatever form it might take."

  • Source: Benjamin Neimark, Oliver Belcher, and Patrick Bigger, “US Military is a Bigger Polluter Than as Many as 140 Countries—Shrinking This War Machine is a Must,” The Conver­sation, June 24, 2019.

4. Congressional Investments and Conflicts of Interest

Exposition, political corruption and conflicts of interest are age-old staples of journalism. So, it's notable that two of the most glaring, far-reaching examples of congressional conflicts of interest in the Trump era have been virtually ignored by corporate media: Republican's support for the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and bipartisan failure to act on catastrophic climate change.

"The cuts likely saved members of Congress hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes collectively, while the corporate tax cut hiked the value of their holdings," Peter Cary of the Center for Public Integrity reported for Vox in January 2020.

It was sold as a middle-class tax cut that would benefit everyone, yet "promises that the tax act would boost investment have not panned out," he noted. "Corporate investment is now at lower levels than before the act passed, according to the Commerce Department."

Most of the bill's Republican supporters said "the cut would result in higher wages, factory expansions, and more jobs. Instead, it was mainly exploited by corporations, which bought back stock and raised dividends," Cary wrote.

The benefits to Congressional Republicans were enormous.

"The 10 richest Republicans in Congress in 2017 who voted for the tax bill held more than $731 million in assets, almost two-thirds of which were in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other instruments," which benefitted handsomely as a result of their votes that "doled out nearly $150 billion in corporate tax savings in 2018 alone," Cary noted. "All but one of the 47 Republicans who sat on the three key committees overseeing the drafting of the tax bill own stocks and stock mutual funds."

"Democrats also stood to gain from the tax bill, though not one voted for it," he wrote. "All but 12 Republicans voted for the tax bill."

Two special features deserve notice. First is a newly created 20% deduction for income from "pass-through" businesses, or smaller, single-owner corporations.
"At least 22 of the 47 members of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have investments in pass-through businesses," Project Censored noted.
Second was a provision allowing real estate companies with relatively few employees—like the Trump organization—to take a 20% deduction usually reserved for larger businesses with sizable payrolls.

As to the second major conflict, "Members of the US Senate are heavily invested in the fossil fuel companies that drive the current climate crisis, creating a conflict between those senators' financial interests as investors and their responsibilities as elected representatives," Project Censored wrote.

"Twenty-nine US senators and their spouses own between $3.5 million and $13.9 million worth of stock in companies that extract, transport, or burn fossil fuels, or provide services to fossil fuel companies," Donald Shaw reported for Sludge in September 2019.

Again, the list is heavy on Republicans but also includes two key Democrats: Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware and Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia.

Manchin was the only Democrat to vote against an amendment to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling in 2017, and he was one of just three Democrats to vote against an amendment to phase out taxpayer subsidies for coal, oil, and gas producers in 2016. Manchin has also voted to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, expedite the approval process for natural gas pipelines, and override an Obama administration rule requiring coal companies to protect groundwater from toxic coal mining waste.

While there has been critical coverage of 2017 tax cuts, few reports have included coverage of lawmakers personal profiting, Project Censored noted.

Sources: 

5. Inequality Kills: Gap between Richest and Poorest Americans Largest in 50 Years

"In public health, decades of research are coming to a consensus: Inequality kills," DePaul University sociologist Fernando De Maio wrote for Truthout in December 2019.

Even before COVID-19, his research added fine-grained evidence of broad trends highlighted in three prominent governmental reports: The gap between rich and poor Americans had grown larger than ever in half a century, according to the US Census Bureau's 2019 annual survey, with dramatic evidence of its lethal impact. People in the poorest quintile die at twice the rate as those in the richest quintile, according to a report by the Congressional General Accounting Office.

And, this is partly because job-related deaths are increasingly rooted in the physical and psychological toll of low-wage work, as opposed to on-the-job accidents, as documented by the United Nations' International Labor Organization.

All these conditions were made worse by COVID-19, but they could have been seen before the pandemic struck—if only the information hadn't been censored by the corporate media.

The August 2019 GAO report was based on health and retirement surveys conducted by the Social Security Administration in 1992 and 2014, looking at those between 51 and 61 years old in 1992, and dividing them into five wealth quintiles.

"[T]he GAO found that nearly half of those (48%) in the poorest quintile died before 2014, when they would have been between 73 and 83 years old. Of the wealthiest quintile, only a quarter (26%) died," explained Patrick Martin, writing for the World Socialists Website.

Death rates increased for each quintile as the level of wealth declined.
It's at the level of cities and communities "that the most striking links between inequality and health can be detected," De Maio wrote. "At the city level, life expectancy varies from a low of 71.4 years in Gary, Indiana, to a high of 84.7 in Newton, Massachusetts—a gap of more than 13 years."

And at the community level, "In Chicago, there is a nine-year gap between the life expectancy for Black and white people. This gap amounts to more than 3,000 'excess deaths'" among Black Chicagoans, due to "heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. All of these are conditions that an equitable health care system would address," he concluded.

Sources: 

6. Shadow Network of Conservative Outlets Emerges to Exploit Faith in Local News

In late October 2019, Carol Thompson reported in the Lansing State Journal that, "Dozens of websites branded as local news outlets launched throughout Michigan this fall…promising local news but also offering political messaging."

The websites' "About us" sections "say they are published by Metric Media LLC, a company that aims to fill the 'growing void in local and community news after years of steady disinvestment in local reporting by legacy media.'" Thompson wrote, but it soon emerged that they weren't filling that void with locally-generated news, and the 40 or so sites Thompson found in Michigan were just the tip of the iceberg.

A follow-up investigation by The Michigan Daily reported that "just this past week, additional statewide networks of these websites have sprung up in Montana and Iowa," which was followed by a December 2019 report by the Columbia Journalism Review, revealing a network of 450 websites run by five corporate organizations in 12 states that "mimic the appearance and output of traditional news organizations" in order to "manipulate public opinion by exploiting faith in local media."

All were associated with conservative businessman Brian Timpone.

"In 2012, Timpone's company Journatic, an outlet known for its low-cost automated story generation, which became known as 'pink slime journalism,' attracted national attention and outrage for faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism," CJR's Priyanjana Bengani reported. Journatic was later rebranded as Locality Labs, whose content ran on the Metric Media websites.

Using a suite of investigative tools, CJR was able to identify at least 189 sites in 10 states run by Metric Media—all created in 2019—along with 179 run by Franklin Archer (with Timpone's brother Michael as CEO).

"We tapped into the RSS feeds of these 189 Metric Media sites," over a period of two weeks, Bengani wrote, "and found over 15,000 unique stories had been published (over 50,000 when aggregated across the sites), but only about a hundred titles had the bylines of human reporters." That's well below 1% with a byline—much less being local. "The rest cited automated services or press releases."

The sites "co-opt the language, design and structure of news organizations," Bengani explained. Automation can make them seem far more prolific than they really are, and can help build credibility where very little is due.

Sources:

7. Underreporting of Missing and Victimized Black Women and Girls

Black women and girls go missing in the United States at a higher rate than that of their white counter­parts. And, that very fact goes missing, too.

"A 2010 study about the media coverage of missing children in the United States discovered that only 20% of reported stories focused on missing Black children despite it corresponding to 33% of the overall missing children cases," Carma Henry reported for the Westside Gazette in February 2019.

But it's only getting worse.

"A 2015 study discussed in the William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice found that the disparity listed in the 2010 study between the reportage and the reality of missing Black children had increased substantially," Project Censored noted: 35% of missing children cases vs. just 7% of media stories.

That discussion appeared in a paper that made two other pertinent points. First, that Black criminal perpetrators are over-represented in the media, while Black victims are underrepresented, and second, that "because racial minorities are identified as criminals more often than not, non-minorities develop limited empathy toward racial minorities who are often perceived as offenders."

Non-minorities in the media are obviously not exempt.

"Media coverage is often vital in missing person cases because it raises community awareness and can drive funding and search efforts that support finding those missing persons," Project Censored noted.

Blacks are also over-represented as victims of sex trafficking, according to statistics from Human Trafficking Search: they account for more than 40% of confirmed victims compared to 13.1% of the population.

Sources:

  • Carma Henry, “There are 64,000 Missing Black Women and Girls in the United States and No One Seems to Care,” Westside Gazette, February 21, 2019.
  • Tanasia Kenney, “‘693 Bodies . . . All Black’: White S.C. Man Accused of Trafficking, Kidnapping Underage Girls for Sex Withdraws Request for Bond, May Have More Vic­tims,” Atlanta Black Star, October 17, 2019.
  • Paula Rogo, “South Carolina DJ Accused of Trafficking and Sexual Crimes Against Black Girls,” Essence, October 19, 2019.
  • “Everything to Know about the White Man Who May Have Sex Trafficked Nearly 700 Black Girls,” NewsOne, October 18, 2019.

8. The Public Banking Revolution

The year 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the USA's first publicly-owned state bank, the Bank of North Dakota (BND), and in October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Public Banking Act, authorizing up to 10 similar such banks to be created by California's city and county governments.

In response, the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles both announced plans to do so. It was the culmination of a decade-long effort that began in the wake of the Great Recession that's also been taken up in nearly two dozen other states.

Yet, despite California's agenda-setting reputation, Project Censored notes that, "No major corporate media outlets appear to have devoted recent coverage to this important and timely topic."

"The Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 in response to a farmers' revolt against out-of-state banks that were foreclosing unfairly on their farms," Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute wrote for Common Dreams. "Since then it has evolved into a $7.4 billion bank that is reported to be even more profitable than JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, although its mandate is not actually to make a profit but simply to serve the interests of local North Dakota communities."

"The state of North Dakota has six times as many financial institutions per capita as the rest of the country and it's because they have the Bank of North Dakota," Sushil Jacob, an attorney who works with the California Public Banking Alliance told The Guardian. "When the great recession hit, the Bank of North Dakota stepped in and provided loans and allowed local banks to thrive."

As a result, "North Dakota was the only state that escaped the credit crisis," Brown told Ananya Garg, reporting for Yes! magazine. "It never went in the red, [had] the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the lowest foreclosure rate at that time."

A new surge of interest in public banking came out of the Standing Rock movement's Dakota Access Pipeline protests. While individuals could easily withdraw from doing business with fossil fuel-financing banks—Wells Fargo, in this case—governments have no such similar options to meet all their banking needs.

In short, "From efforts to divest public employee pension funds from the fossil fuel industry and private prisons, to funding the proposed Green New Deal, and counteracting the massive, rapid shutdown of the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, public banking has never seemed more relevant," Project Censored wrote.

Sources:

9. Rising Risks of Nuclear Power Due to Climate Change

As early as 2003, 30 nuclear units were either shut down or reduced power output during a deadly European summer heatwave. But almost two decades later, the corporate media has yet to grasp that "Nuclear power plants are unprepared for climate change," as Project Censored notes.

"Rising sea levels and warmer waters will impact power plants' infrastructure, posing increased risks of nuclear disasters, according to reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Truthout from September 2019," they explain. Yet, "Tracking back to 2013, corporate news media have only sporadically addressed the potential for climate change to impact nuclear power plants."

"Nuclear power is uniquely vulnerable to increasing temperatures because of its reliance on cooling water to ensure operational safety within the core and spent fuel storage," Christina Chen wrote for NRDC.

In addition, Karen Charman, reporting for Truthout, noted that "nuclear reactors need an uninterrupted electricity supply to run the cooling systems that keep the reactors from melting down," but this will be "increasingly difficult to guarantee in a world of climate-fueled megastorms and other disasters."

Sea level rise—combined with storm surges—represents the most serious threat. That was the focus of a 2018 report by John Vidal from Ensia, a solutions-focused media outlet, which found that "at least 100 US, European and Asian nuclear power stations built just a few meters above sea level could be threatened by serious flooding caused by accelerating sea-level rise and more frequent storm surges."

There have been more than 20 incidents of flooding at US nuclear plants, according to David Lochbaum, a former nuclear engineer and director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Yet, in January 2019, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to weaken staff recommendations to reassess the adequacy of hazard preparations.

"As of September 2019, 444 nuclear reactors are operating in the world, with 54 under construction, 111 planned and 330 more proposed," Charman reported.

"Many of the world's new nuclear plants are being built on the coasts of Asian countries, which face floods, sea-level rise and typhoons," Vidal wrote. "At least 15 of China's 39 reactors in operation, and many of the plants it has under construction, are on the coast."

Sources:

  • Christina Chen, “Nuclear vs. Climate Change: Rising Seas,” Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), September 16, 2019, https://www.nrdc.org/experts/christina-chen/nuclear-vs-climate-change-rising-seas.
  • Karen Charman, “Can Nuclear Power’s Deadly Waste be Contained in a Warming World?” Truthout, September 23, 2019.

10. Revive Journalism with a Stimulus Package and Public Option

In late March, Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package, including direct payments of $1,200 per adult and more than $500 billion for large corporations. Before passage, Craig Aaron, the president of Free Press, argued that a stimulus package for journalism was also urgently needed. "In the face of this pan­demic, the public needs good, economically secure journalists more than ever," separating fact from fiction, and holding politicians and powerful institutions accountable," Aaron wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Aaron's organization, Free Press, placed journalism's needs at $5 billion in immediate emergency funds, "less than half of one percent of a trillion-dollar recovery package" and asked that "Congress put a foundation in place to help sustain journalism over the long term."

Aaron presented a three-pronged plan: First, "Doubling federal funds for public media…earmarked specifically for emergency support, education, and especially local journalism;" second, "Direct support for daily and weekly newsrooms," which have lost tens of thousands of jobs over the past three decades; third, "New investments in the news we need…for a major investment in services that provide community information [and] to support new positions, outlets, and approaches to newsgathering, [which could] prioritize places and populations that the mainstream outlets have never served well."

In an article in Jacobin, media scholar Victor Pickard advanced a more robust proposal, for $30 billion annually (less than 1.4 % of the coronavirus stimulus package, Project Censored noted).

"On the question of cost, we must first remind ourselves that a viable press system isn't a luxury—it's a necessity," he wrote. "Similar to a classic 'merit good,' journalism isn't a 'want,' but a 'need'…Democratic nations around the globe heavily subsidize the media while enjoying democratic benefits that put the US to shame."

Writing for The Guardian, just after the McClatchy newspaper chain bankruptcy was announced, Pickard noted "all foundational democratic theories—including the first amendment itself—assume a functional press system. The fourth estate's current collapse is a profound social problem."

Sources:

***

Paul Rosenberg is an activist turned journalist who has written for the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, Al Jazeera English, Salon.com, and numerous other periodicals. He has worked as an editor at Random Lengths News since 2002.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at]sfreporter.com. Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.