January 20, 2011
by Dr. Paul Rea
Even more than its predecessors, Censored 2012 makes for highly engaging and
informative reading. This collection is a well mixed bag containing much that
we need to know but too often don’t.
This deficit occurs because many Americans are, in Neil Postman’s memorable
phrase, “amusing ourselves to death” and in part because many exhibit
an aversion to discussing issues. But above all the deficit results from increased
media malpractice and censorship. When a study shows that regular viewers of
Fox News are less informed–and likely more misinformed–than those
who don’t follow the news, something is seriously amiss.
According to editor Mickey Huff, the corporate media are serving up a diet
of “junk-food news to avoid telling the public what is really going on
at home and abroad” (p. 12). If this strikes many readers as obvious,
fewer seem fully aware of just how pervasive this censorship has become–how
very little coverage many significant issues receive.
As a result, even Americans who consider themselves informed don’t understand
how their government attempts to minimize or even eliminate public awareness.
On the climactic final day of the Durban Conference on Climate Change, NPR’s
“Science Friday” featured a long segment on bedbugs (12/9/11). Censored
2012 reveals that even less coverage–none at all, in fact–is afforded
to ongoing federal preparations to use a (real or contrived) state of emergency
as a pretext to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law and herd “dissidents”
into mass holding camps (p. 85).
Both the book and the process that produces it are highly educational: As former
Director Peter Phillips observes, the democratized and educational nature of
Project Censored invites faculty and students “to speak the truth to power
with news and stories of the abuses of empire and the successes of our resistance”
(p. 30). Under the guidance of present Director Mickey Huff, this year’s
volume delivers exceptional contributions, especially from students and faculty
at San Francisco State, Sonoma State, and Diablo Valley College in California.
As in previous volumes, this one includes the 25 Top Censored Stories of the
year. Topping this year’s list is “More US Soldiers Committed Suicide
than Died in Combat.” The shocking significance, however, hardly declines
at the other end of the list: the massive disposal of toxic waste in Afghanistan
and the use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly Libya
(pp. 52-53). Since the early 1990s, the US press has paid some attention to
Gulf War Syndrome among American veterans exposed to the “toxic soup”
but much less attention to the medical fallout within Iraq, where the population
lives amid carcinogenic radioactivity.
This year’s volume is organized around “clusters,” key areas
of related issues. These include “Health and the Environment,” “Media
Distortion of Nonviolent Struggles” and Peter Phillips and Craig Cekala’s
“Human Cost of War and Violence.” All present readable, concise
treatments of topics that are, of course, the subjects of many current books.
As its title suggests, Censored 2012 features two essential topics: the mechanisms
of media censorship and the key issues they’ve censored. Censorship, defined
as one type of propaganda, itself takes many forms: skewed “framing, slight
of content, and appealing to emotion over logic, among other tactics of media
manipulation . . . .” These methods involve de facto “conspiracies
to manipulate or withhold information” (p. 37). Canadian scholar Randal
Marlin presents an excellent overview of traditional propaganda techniques,
including the more recent (and most useful) concept of State Crimes Against
Democracy, or SCADs.
Equally insightful is Jacob Van Vleet’s reprise of French sociologist
Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society, 1964). In it, Prof. Van Vleet notes
that “propagandists often use a combination of true and false statements
in their appeals,” thereby creating “the illusion of objectivity
when in fact only one side of the issue at hand is being presented.”
In addition, Van Vleet indicates that much propaganda is “social,”
aiming to influence a society’s lifestyle. Such propaganda, often in the
form of advertising, not only promotes consumption and an uncritical belief
in technology; it also encourages “individuals to believe that their society
. . . holds the best way of life.” This leads to what Marx described as
“false consciousness.” Van Vleet also rightly points to “Conditioned
Reflex and Myth,” paying particular attention to the societal rituals
such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. These, according to Ellul, reinforce
conditioned reflexes that impart excessive and exclusive “pride, patriotism,
and even awe” (pp. 316-19).
Representing the category of censored issues, Ann Garrison’s “US
in Africa: Velvet Glove on a Military Fist” is especially revealing. Garrison
makes points that will surprise many readers: that US foreign aid to Africa,
like that to Israel and Pakistan, is based on power projection, and that conventional
media claims not withstanding, it often involves “covering a military
fist with a velvet glove of humanitarian and development aid” (p. 388).
Citing well-known interventions, Garrison shows how UN peacekeepers paid by
the Security Council are often combatants dispatched at the behest of the US.
In Somalia, under the guise of fighting terrorism these African “peacekeepers”
actually expanded areas of armed conflict. In addition to having Africans do
the dying, these “peacekeepers” have commonly consumed funds previously
used for humanitarian aid, aggravating problems with agricultural production,
famine and refugees. Garrison also reveals how, especially in Congo, the UN
enabled the World Bank to facilitate massive plunder of natural resources by
neighboring Uganda and Rwanda (pp. 389-403).
But the real clincher is Garrison’s disclosure about pilotless drones,
which are fast becoming the dominant means of delivering explosives from the
air. It’s well known that since 2000 the CIA has made extensive use of
Predator drones over Pakistan. In 2008, however, General Atomic unveiled its
new Reaper drones, which can carry far more missiles than its Predators. Since
the company makes both planes, it needed new markets for the Predator. Its marketing
campaign, abetted by WIRED magazine, proposed using the older drones to “stop
the genocide” in “the next Darfur.” Following this script,
Obama’s “humanitarian hawk” Samantha Power persuaded the president
that Predators could be deployed to fire Hellfire missiles at Libyans (pp. 397-399).
Other outstanding chapters include Mickey Huff/Adam Besse/Abbey Martin’s
feisty “Framing the Messengers: Junk Food News and News Abuse for Dummies”
plus Kenn Burrows/Tom Altee’s meditative “Collaboration and the
Despite this diversity, the book does present unifying themes. Much as Occupiers
unite around the idea that “the capital of government has succumbed to
government by capital,” Censored 2012 shows us that, to an increasingly
shocking degree, freedom of information has succumbed to the corporatocracy.
Fortunately, this book goes a long way toward telling us what we need to know.
Paul W. Rea, PhD, is the author of Mounting Evidence: Why We Need a New Investigation
into 9/11 (2011).