[Paleopsych] SFBG: Censored!: Project Censored presents the 10 biggest stories the mainstream media ignored over the past year.

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Censored!: Project Censored presents the 10 biggest stories the mainstream 
media ignored over the past year.
San Francisco Bay Guardian News

By Camille T. Taiara

    JUST FOUR DAYS before the 2004 presidential election, a prestigious
    British medical journal published the results of a rigorous study by
    Dr. Les Roberts, a widely respected researcher. Roberts concluded that
    close to 100,000 people had died in the invasion and occupation of
    Iraq. Most were noncombatant civilians. Many were children.

    But that news didn't make the front pages of the major newspapers. It
    wasn't on the network news. So most voters knew little or nothing
    about the brutal civilian impact of President George W. Bush's war
    when they went to the polls.

    That's just one of the big stories the mainstream news media ignored,
    blacked out, or underreported over the past year, according to Project
    Censored, a media watchdog group based at California's Sonoma State

    Every year project researchers scour the media looking for news that
    never really made the news, publishing the results in a book, this
    year titled Censored 2006. Of course, as Project Censored staffers
    painstakingly explain every year, their "censored" stories aren't
    literally censored, per se. Most can be found on the Internet, if you
    know where to look. And some have even received some ink in the
    mainstream press. "Censorship," explains project director Peter
    Phillips, "is any interference with the free flow of information in
    society." The stories highlighted by Project Censored simply haven't
    received the kind of attention they warrant, and therefore haven't
    made it into the greater public consciousness.

    "If there were a real democratic press, these are the kind of stories
    they would do," says Sut Jhally, professor of communications at the
    University of Massachusetts and executive director of the Media
    Education Foundation.

    The stories the researchers identify involve corporate misdeeds and
    governmental abuses that have been underreported if not altogether
    ignored, says Jhally, who helped judge Project Censored's top picks.
    For the most part, he adds, "stories that affect the powerful don't
    get reported by the corporate media."

    Can a story really be "censored" in the Internet age, when information
    from millions of sources whips around the world in a matter of
    seconds? When a single obscure journal article can be distributed and
    discussed on hundreds of blogs and Web sites? When partisans from all
    sides dissect the mainstream media on the Web every day? Absolutely,
    Jhally says.

    "The Internet is a great place to go if you already know that the
    mainstream media is heavily biased" and you actively search out sites
    on the outer limits of the Web, he notes. "Otherwise, it's just
    another place where they try to sell you stuff. The challenge for a
    democratic society is how to get vital information not only at the
    margins but at the center of our culture."

    Not every article or source Project Censored has cited over the years
    is completely credible; at least one this year is pretty shaky (see

    But most of the stories that made the project's top 10 were published
    by more reliable sources and included only verifiable information. And
    Project Censored's overall findings provide valuable insights into the
    kinds of issues the mainstream media should be paying closer attention

1. Bush administration moves to eliminate open government

    While the Bush administration has expanded its ability to keep tabs on
    civilians, it's been working to make sure the public - and even
    Congress - can't find out what the government is doing.

    One year ago, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) released an 81-page
    analysis of how the administration has administered the country's
    major open government laws. His report found that the feds
    consistently "narrowed the scope and application" of the Freedom of
    Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other key public
    information legislation, while expanding laws blocking access to
    certain records - even creating new categories of "protected"
    information and exempting entire departments from public scrutiny.

    When those methods haven't been enough, the Bush administration has
    simply refused to release records - even when the requester was a
    Congressional subcommittee or the Government Accountability Office,
    the study found. A few of the potentially incriminating documents Bush
    and Co. have refused to hand over to their colleagues on Capitol Hill
    include records of contacts between large energy companies and Vice
    President Dick Cheney's energy task force; White House memos
    pertaining to Saddam Hussein's, shall we say, "elusive" weapons of
    mass destruction; and reports describing torture at Abu Ghraib.

    The report's findings were so dramatic as to indicate "an
    unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and
    accountable," Waxman said at a Sept. 14, 2004, press conference
    announcing the report's release.

    Given the news media's intrinsic interest in safeguarding open
    government laws, one would think it would be plenty motivated to
    publicize such findings far and wide. However, most Americans remain
    oblivious to just how much more secretive - and autocratic - our
    leaders in the White House have become.

    Source: "New Report Details Bush Administration Secrecy" press
    release, Karen Lightfoot, Government Reform Minority Office, posted on
    www.commondreams.org, Sept. 14, 2004.

2. Media coverage fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the civilian death toll

    Decades from now, the civilized world may well look back on the
    assaults on Fallujah in April and November 2004 and point to them as
    examples of the United States' and Britain's utter disregard for the
    most basic wartime rules of engagement.

    Not long after the "coalition" had embarked on its second offensive,
    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for an
    investigation into whether the Americans and their allies had engaged
    in "the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and
    disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons, and the use
    of human shields," among other possible "grave breaches of the Geneva
    Conventions ... considered war crimes" under federal law.

    More than 83 percent of Fallujah's 300,000 residents fled the city,
    Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell, staffers with the American Friends
    Service Committee, reported in AFSC's Peacework magazine. Men between
    the ages of 15 and 45 were refused safe passage, and all who remained
    - about 50,000 - were treated as enemy combatants, according to the

    Numerous sources reported that coalition forces cut off water and
    electricity, seized the main hospital, shot at anyone who ventured out
    into the open, executed families waving white flags while trying to
    swim across the Euphrates or otherwise flee the city, shot at
    ambulances, raided homes and killed people who didn't understand
    English, rolled over injured people with tanks, and allowed corpses to
    rot in the streets and be eaten by dogs.

    Medical staff and others reported seeing people, dead and alive, with
    melted faces and limbs, injuries consistent with the use of
    phosphorous bombs.

    But you wouldn't know any of this unless you'd come across a rare
    report by one of an even rarer number of independent journalists - or
    known which obscure Web site to log onto for real information.

    Of course, the media blackout extends far beyond Fallujah.

    The US military's refusal to keep an Iraqi death count has been
    mirrored by the mainstream media, which systematically dodges the
    question of how many Iraqi civilians have been killed.

    Les Roberts, an investigator with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
    of Public Health, conducted a rigorous inquiry into pre- and
    post-invasion mortality in Iraq, sneaking into Iraq by lying flat on
    the bed of an SUV and training observers on the scene. The results
    were published in the Lancet, a prestigious peer-reviewed British
    medical journal, on Oct. 29, 2004 - just four days prior to the US
    presidential elections. Roberts and his team (including researchers
    from Columbia University and from Al-Mustansiriya University, in
    Baghdad) concluded that "the death toll associated with the invasion
    and occupation of Iraq is probably about 100,000 people, and may be
    much higher."

    The vast majority of those deaths resulted from violence -
    particularly aerial bombardments - and more than half of the
    fatalities were women or children, they found.

    The State Department had relied heavily on studies by Roberts in the
    past. And when Roberts, using similar techniques, calculated in 2000
    that about 1.7 million had died in the Congo as the result of almost
    two years of armed conflict, the news media picked up the story, the
    United Nations more than doubled its request for aid to the Congo, and
    the United States pledged an additional $10 million.

    This time, silence - interrupted only by the occasional critique
    dismissing Roberts's report. The major television news shows, Project
    Censored found, never mentioned it.

    Sources: "The Invasion of Fallujah: A Study in the Subversion of
    Truth," Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell, Peacework, Dec. 2004-Jan.
    2005; "US Media Applauds Destruction of Fallujah," David Walsh,
    www.wsws.org (World Socialist Web site), Nov. 17, 2004; "Fallujah
    Refugees Tell of Life and Death in the Kill Zone," Dahr Jamail, New
    Standard, Dec. 3, 2004; "Mortality before and after the 2003 Invasion
    of Iraq," Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal
    Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham, Lancet, Oct. 29, 2004; "The War in
    Iraq: Civilian Casualties, Political Responsibilities," Richard
    Horton, Lancet, Oct. 29, 2004; "Lost Count," Lila Guterman, Chronicle
    of Higher Education, Feb. 4, 2005; "CNN to Al Jazeera: Why Report
    Civilian Deaths?" Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, April 15, 2004,
    and Asheville Global Report, April 22-28, 2004.

3. Another year of distorted election coverage

    Last year Project Censored foretold the potential for electoral
    wrongdoing in the 2004 presidential campaign: The "sale of electoral
    politics" made number six in the list of 2003-04's most underreported
    stories. The mainstream media had largely ignored the evidence that
    electronic voting machines were susceptible to tampering, as well as
    political alliances between the machines' manufacturers and the
    Republican Party.

    Then came Nov. 2, 2004.

    Bush prevailed by 3 million votes - despite exit polls that clearly
    projected Kerry winning by a margin of 5 million.

    "Exit polls are highly accurate," Steve Freeman, professor at the
    University of Pennsylvania's Center for Organizational Dynamics, and
    Temple University statistician Josh Mitteldorf wrote in In These
    Times. "They remove most of the sources of potential polling error by
    identifying actual voters and asking them immediately afterward who
    they had voted for."

    The eight-million-vote discrepancy was well beyond the poll's
    recognized, less-than-1-percent margin of error. And when Freeman and
    Mitteldorf analyzed the data collected by the two companies that
    conducted the polls, they found concrete evidence of potential fraud
    in the official count.

    "Only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots
    did the official count and the exit polls fall within the normal
    sampling margin of error," they wrote. And "the discrepancy between
    the exit polls and the official count was considerably greater in the
    critical swing states."

    Inconsistencies were so much more marked in African American
    communities as to renew calls for racial equity in our voting system.
    "It is now time to make counting that vote a right, not just casting
    it, before Jim Crow rides again in the next election," wrote Rev.
    Jesse Jackson and Greg Palast in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    Sources: "A Corrupt Election," Steve Freeman and Josh Mitteldorf, In
    These Times, Feb. 15, 2005; "Jim Crow Returns to the Voting Booth,"
    Greg Palast and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan.
    26, 2005; "How a Republican Election Supervisor Manipulated the 2004
    Central Ohio Vote," Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman,
    www.freepress.org, Nov. 23, 2004.

4. Surveillance society quietly moves in

    It's a well-known dirty trick in the halls of government: If you want
    to pass unpopular legislation that you know won't stand up to
    scrutiny, just wait until the public isn't looking. That's precisely
    what the Bush administration did Dec. 13, 2003, the day American
    troops captured Saddam Hussein.

    Bush celebrated the occasion by privately signing into law the
    Intelligence Authorization Act - a controversial expansion of the
    PATRIOT Act that included items culled from the "Domestic Security
    Enhancement Act of 2003," a draft proposal that had been shelved due
    to public outcry after being leaked.

    Specifically, the IAA allows the government to obtain an individual's
    financial records without a court order. The law also makes it illegal
    for institutions to inform anyone that the government has requested
    those records, or that information has been shared with the

    "The law also broadens the definition of 'financial institution' to
    include insurance companies, travel and real-estate agencies,
    stockbrokers, the US Postal Service, jewelry stores, casinos,
    airlines, car dealerships, and any other business 'whose cash
    transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or
    regulatory matters' " warned Nikki Swartz in the Information
    Management Journal. According to Swartz, the definition is now so
    broad that it could plausibly be used to access even school
    transcripts or medical records.

    "In one fell swoop, this act has decimated our rights to privacy, due
    process, and freedom of speech," Anna Samson Miranda wrote in an
    article for LiP magazine titled "Grave New World" that documented the
    ways in which the government already employs high-tech, private
    industry, and everyday citizens as part of a vast web of surveillance.

    Miranda warned, "If we are too busy, distracted, or apathetic to fight
    government and corporate surveillance and data collection, we will
    find ourselves unable to go anywhere - whether down the street for a
    cup of coffee or across the country for a protest - without being

    Sources: "PATRIOT Act's Reach Expanded Despite Part Being Struck
    Down," Nikki Swartz, Information Management Journal, March/April 2004;
    "Grave New World," Anna Samson Miranda, LiP, Winter 2004; "Where Big
    Brother Snoops on Americans 24/7," Teresa Hampton and Doug Thompson,
    www.capitolhillblue.com, June 7, 2004.

5. US uses tsunami to military advantage in Southeast Asia

    The American people reacted to the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean
    last December with an outpouring of compassion and private donations.
    Across the nation, neighbors got together to collect food, clothing,
    medicine, and financial contributions. Schoolchildren completed class
    projects to help the cause.

    Unfortunately, the US government didn't reflect the same level of

    President Bush initially offered an embarrassingly low $15 million in
    aid. More important, Project Censored found that the US government
    exploited the catastrophe to its own strategic advantage.

    Establishing a stronger military presence in the area could help the
    United States keep closer tabs on China - which, thanks to its
    burgeoning economic and military muscle, has emerged as one of this
    country's greatest potential rivals.

    It could also fortify an important military launching ground and help
    consolidate control over potentially lucrative trade routes. The
    United States currently operates a base out of Diego Garcia - a former
    British mandate in the Chagos Archipelago (about halfway between
    Africa and Indonesia), but the lease runs out in 2016. The isle is
    also "remote and Washington is desperate for an alternative," veteran
    Indian journalist Rahul Bedi wrote.

    "Consequently, in the name of relief, the US revived the Utapao
    military base in Thailand it had used during the Vietnam War [and]
    reactivated its military cooperation agreements with Thailand and the
    Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines," Bedi reported.

    Last February the State Department mended broken ties with the
    notoriously vicious and corrupt Indonesian military - although human
    rights observers charged the military with withholding "food and other
    relief from civilians suspected of supporting the secessionist
    insurgency, the Free Aceh Movement," Jim Lobe reported for the Inter
    Press Service.

    Sources: "US Turns Tsunami into Military Strategy," Jane's Foreign
    Report, Feb. 15, 2005; "US Has Used Tsunami to Boost Aims in Stricken
    Area," Rahul Bedi, Irish Times, Feb. 8, 2005; "Bush Uses Tsunami Aid
    to Regain Foothold in Indonesia," Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Jan.
    18, 2005.

6. The real oil-for-food scam

    Last year, right-wingers in Congress began kicking up a fuss about how
    the United Nations had allegedly allowed Saddam Hussein to rake in $10
    billion in illegal cash through the Oil for Food program. Headlines
    screamed scandal. New York Times columnist William Safire referred to
    the alleged UN con game as "the richest rip-off in world history."

    But those who knew how the program had been set up and run - and under
    whose watch - were not swayed.

    The initial accusations were based on a General Accounting Office
    report released in April 2004 and were later bolstered by a more
    detailed report commissioned by the CIA.

    According to the GAO, Hussein smuggled $6 billion worth of oil out of
    Iraq - most of it through the Persian Gulf. Yet the UN fleet charged
    with intercepting any such smugglers was under direct command of
    American officers, and consisted overwhelmingly of US Navy ships. In
    2001, for example, 90 of its vessels belonged to the United States,
    while Britain contributed only 4, Joy Gordon wrote in a December 2004
    article for Harper's magazine.

    Most of the oil that left Iraq by land did so through Jordan and
    Turkey - with the approval of the United States. The first Bush
    administration informally exempted Jordan from the ban on purchasing
    Iraqi oil - an arrangement that provided Hussein with $4.4 billion
    over 10 years, according to the CIA's own findings. The United States
    later allowed Iraq to leak another $710 million worth of oil through
    Turkey - "all while US planes enforcing no-fly zones flew overhead,"
    Gordon wrote.

    Scott Ritter, a UN weapons inspector in Iraq during the first six
    years of economic sanctions against the country, unearthed yet another
    scam: The United States allegedly allowed an oil company run by
    Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov's sister to purchase cheap
    oil from Iraq and resell it to US companies at market value -
    purportedly earning Hussein "hundreds of millions" more.

    "It has been estimated that 80 percent of the oil illegally smuggled
    out of Iraq under 'oil for food' ended up in the United States,"
    Ritter wrote in the UK Independent.

    Sources: "The UN Is Us: Exposing Saddam Hussein's Silent Partner," Joy
    Gordon, Harper's, December 2004; "The Oil for Food 'Scandal' Is a
    Cynical Smokescreen," Scott Ritter, UK Independent, Dec. 12, 2004.

7. Journalists face unprecedented dangers to life and livelihood

    Last year was the deadliest year for reporters since the International
    Federation of Journalists began keeping tabs in 1984. A total of 129
    media workers lost their lives, and 49 of them - more than a third -
    were killed in Iraq.

    In short, nonembedded journalists have now become familiar victims of
    US military actions abroad.

    "As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a
    subordinate to fire on journalists as such," Weissman wrote in an
    update for Censored 2006. But what can be shown is a pattern of tacit
    complicity, side by side with a heavy-handed campaign to curb
    journalists' right to roam freely.

    The Pentagon has refused to implement basic safeguards to protect
    journalists who aren't embedded with coalition forces, despite
    repeated requests by Reuters and media advocacy organizations.

    The US military exonerated the army of any wrongdoing in its
    now-infamous attack on the Palestine Hotel - which, as the Pentagon
    knew, functioned as headquarters for about 100 media workers - when
    coalition forces rolled into Baghdad on April 8, 2003.

    To date, US authorities have not disciplined a single officer or
    soldier involved in the killing of a journalist, according to Project

    Meanwhile, the interim government the United States installed in Iraq
    raided and closed down Al-Jazeera's Baghdad offices almost as soon as
    it took power and banned the network from doing any reporting in the
    country. In November the interim government ordered news organizations
    to "stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah
    or face legal action," in an official command sent out on interim
    prime minister Eyad Allawi's letterhead and quoted in a November
    report by independent reporter Dahr Jamail.

    And both American and interim government forces detained numerous
    journalists in and around Fallujah that month, holding them for days.

    Sources: "Dead Messengers: How the US Military Threatens Journalists,"
    Steve Weissman, www.truthout.org, Feb. 28, 2005; "Media Repression in
    'Liberated' Land," Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service, Nov. 18, 2004.

8. Iraqi farmers threatened by Bremer's mandates

    Historians believe it was in the "fertile crescent" of Mesopotamia,
    where Iraq now lies, that humans first learned to farm. "It is here,
    in around 8500 or 8000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat,
    here that agriculture was born," Jeremy Smith wrote in the Ecologist.
    This entire time, "Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting wheat
    varieties that work best with their climate ... and cross-pollinated
    them with others with different strengths.

    "The US, however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice,
    Iraqis don't know what wheat works best in their own conditions."

    Smith was referring to Order 81, one of 100 directives penned by L.
    Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, and left as a legacy by
    the American government when it transferred operations to interim
    Iraqi authorities. The regulation sets criteria for the patenting of
    seeds that can only be met by multinational companies like Monsanto or
    Syngenta, and it grants the patent holder exclusive rights over every
    aspect of all plant products yielded by those seeds. Because of
    naturally occurring cross-pollination, the new scheme effectively
    launches a process whereby Iraqi farmers will soon have to purchase
    their seeds rather than using seeds saved from their own crops or
    bought at the local market.

    Native varieties will be replaced by foreign - and genetically
    engineered - seeds, and Iraqi agriculture will become more vulnerable
    to disease as biological diversity is lost.

    Texas A&M University, which brags that its agriculture program is a
    "world leader" in the use of biotechnology, has already embarked on a
    $107 million project to "reeducate" Iraqi farmers to grow
    industrial-sized harvests, for export, using American seeds. And
    anyone who's ever paid attention to how this has worked elsewhere in
    the global South knows what comes next: Farmers will lose their lands,
    and the country will lose its ability to feed itself, engendering
    poverty and dependency.

    On TomPaine.com, Greg Palast identified Order 81 as one of several
    authored by Bremer that fit nicely into the outlines of a US "Economy
    Plan," a 101-page blueprint for the economic makeover of Iraq,
    formulated with ample help from corporate lobbyists. Palast reported
    that someone inside the State Department leaked the plan to him a
    month prior to the invasion.

    Smith put it simply: "The people whose forefathers first mastered the
    domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of
    growing it for someone else. And with that the world's oldest farming
    heritage will become just another subsidiary link in the vast American
    supply chain."

    Sources: "Iraq's New Patent Law: A Declaration of War Against
    Farmers," Focus on the Global South and Grain, Grain, October 2004;
    "Adventure Capitalism," Greg Palast, www.tompaine.com, Oct. 26, 2004;
    "US Seeking to Totally Re-engineer Iraqi Traditional Farming System
    into a US Style Corporate Agribusiness," Jeremy Smith, Ecologist, Feb.
    4, 2005.

9. Iran's new oil trade system challenges US currency

    The Bush administration has been paying a lot more attention to Iran
    recently. Part of that interest is clearly Iran's nuclear program -
    but there may be more to the story. One bit of news that hasn't
    received the public vetting it merits is Iran's declared intent to
    open an international oil exchange market, or "bourse."

    Not only would the new entity compete against the New York Mercantile
    Exchange and London's International Petroleum Exchange (both owned by
    American corporations), but it would also ignite international oil
    trading in euros.

    "A shift away from US dollars to euros in the oil market would cause
    the demand for petrodollars to drop, perhaps causing the value of the
    dollar to plummet," Brian Miller and Celeste Vogler of Project
    Censored wrote in Censored 2006.

    "Russia, Venezuela, and some members of OPEC have expressed interest
    in moving towards a petroeuro system," he said. And it isn't entirely
    implausible that China, which is "the world's second largest holder of
    US currency reserves," might eventually follow suit.

    Although China, as a major exporter of goods to the United States, has
    a vested interest in helping shore up the American economy and has
    even linked its own currency, the yuan, to the dollar, it has also
    become increasingly dependent on Iranian oil and gas.

    "Barring a US attack, it appears imminent that Iran's euro-dominated
    oil bourse will open in March, 2006," Miller and Vogler continued.
    "Logically, the most appropriate US strategy is compromise with the EU
    and OPEC towards a dual-currency system for international oil trades."

    But you won't hear any discussion of that alternative on the six
    o'clock news.

    Source: "Iran Next US Target," William Clark, www.globalresearch.ca,
    Oct. 27, 2004.

10. Mountaintop removal threatens ecosystem and economy

    On Aug. 15 environmental activists created a human blockade by locking
    themselves to drilling equipment, obstructing the National Coal
    Corp.'s access to a strip mine in the Appalachian mountains 40 miles
    north of Knoxville. It was just the latest in a protracted campaign
    that environmentalists say has national implications but that's been
    ignored by the media outside the immediate area.

    Under contention is a technique wherein entire mountaintops are
    removed using explosives to access the coal underneath - a practice
    that is nothing short of devastating for the local ecosystem, but
    which could become much more widespread.

    As it stands, 93 new coal plants are in the works nationwide,
    according to Project Censored's findings. "Areas incredibly rich in
    biodiversity are being turned into the biological equivalent of
    parking lots," wrote John Conner of the Katúah branch of Earth First!
    - which has been throwing all its energies into direct action
    campaigns to block the project - in Censored 2006. "It is the final
    solution for 200-million-year-old mountains."

    Source: "See You in the Mountains: Katúah Earth First! Confronts
    Mountaintop Removal," John Conner, Earth First!, November-December,

    E-mail Camille T. Tiara at camille at sfbg.com.
    For the 15 runner-up stories, go to www.sfbg.com.

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