Corporate Censorship in 2012: All the News They Didn’t Deem Fit to Print

by on December 10, 2012 · 7 comments

in Columns, Editor's Picks, Media, Politics, Under the Perfect Sun


This is not a definition that implies a conspiracy; it is a structural analysis of how our media system works in the real world with all the economic, political, and legal pressures that shape the process of delivering the infotainment we call news.

In last week’s column, I discussed Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s propaganda model and noted how it was even more relevant today than it was when they first published Manufacturing Consent in 1988 as the concentration of media ownership they decried in the eighties has only continued to increase dramatically.  I ended that column by referring to Project Censored, an organization that has been monitoring the news media and putting out a list of the top 25 “censored” stories of the year since 1976.

Recently when I mentioned this project to a former journalist friend of mine he objected to the use of the word “censorship” because he didn’t think it applied to the news media, a group of people who, in his estimation, are far more driven by market forces than by the desire to monitor ideas.  With that objection in mind, let’s consider Project Censored’s definition of the term “censorship

We define Modern Censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets. On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story – or piece of a news story – based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth. Such manipulation can take the form of political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions).

In sum, the folks at Project Censored argue, along with Chomsky and Herman, that all the information we consume in our market driven system has to go through a series of “filters” before a story makes it (or doesn’t make it) to our eyes and ears.  This is not a definition that implies a conspiracy; it is a structural analysis of how our media system works in the real world with all the economic, political, and legal pressures that shape the process of delivering the infotainment we call news.

Consequently, it’s not that a few guys in a room sit around and censor our news as might happen in a totalitarian dictatorship, but that our system of corporate media is structurally designed in a way that inclines it to narrow the frame. The news media are not controlled by corporate interests; they are corporate interests.  Thus it should come as no surprise to us that such a profit driven industry is far more concerned with its economic interests than with the public interest.

In the case of Fox News or San Diego’s House of Manchester, the ownership manipulation and ideological filters are plain to see.

In the case of Fox News or San Diego’s House of Manchester, the ownership manipulation and ideological filters are plain to see. However, in other more ideologically diverse, intellectually sophisticated outlets, the filters may be harder to discern, but a systematic examination of our media landscape reveals their presence and negative effect nonetheless.

The result is not, according to our friends at Project Censored, that some information is totally stopped from coming out, but rather that many extremely important stories are woefully underreported.  Hence we may frequently lose sight of crucial events and trends in our society as we drown in a glut of compelling live action shots, tabloid trivia, and sound bytes devoid of context.

So perhaps, if we take my friend’s point, much important news is not totally censored in the market system, but underreported to the point of invisibility.  Put another way, in a dictatorship dissidents are tortured or shot—here we just ignore them in the process of amusing ourselves to death.

Perhaps Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was more prescient than George Orwell’s 1984 in predicting our means of social control, but the subtle nature of our system of market censorship makes it a far more effective tool for maintaining ideological hegemony.  After all, the best systems of social control maintain power not by playing the role of a boot stamping on a human face forever, but by seducing the majority of people into adopting an ideology that serves the interests of the powerful over their own.

Thus the naïve surfer of the global information network is apt to get crushed by wave after wave of bullshit.  Indeed, this ocean of misinformation makes the job of being a critical consumer of “news” and an active citizen in our democracy much harder, though not impossible.

Despite all the filters information goes through in our “open society,” the power of plutocracy is not total.  Just as our imperfect democratic system is thoroughly polluted by corporate money but not yet totally subject to it, our media system also has cracks, fissures, and seams that allow the uncomfortable truth to occasionally slip through.  The key to navigating our information landscape is a kind of informed skepticism rather than resigned cynicism.

Once you accept the fact that that the myth of objectivity is precisely that, a myth, you can begin to view all information as the product of interested sources.

Once you accept the fact that that the myth of objectivity is precisely that, a myth, you can begin to view all information as the product of interested sources.  Arguing about bias is a useless sideshow.  The point is not that there are some sources with ideology and others without it, but that every piece of information you consume comes from a particular perspective with an inherent ideology that supports a set of interests.  The trouble isn’t being biased; it’s pretending that you aren’t.  And the issue with our information landscape isn’t that there are biased sources, it is that there is no real diversity of sources and that the media monopoly can effectively mask their interests.

So the real work of the critical consumer of information is to try to discern what baggage the information they are consuming comes with.  Some of the key questions are: who owns this source?  What are their interests?  What influences the frame that the information comes from in terms of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, region, etc?  What kinds of “experts” or organizations does this source rely on for evidence?  What conscious or unconscious ideology is present in sources that proclaim their neutrality or independence?  How does the focus of the corporate media compare to that of the alternative media?  How “alternative” is the so-called alternative media in terms of ownership, advertising, and other filters?  The list goes on.  It’s hard work, but not beyond the ability of the average Jill or Joe given the proper toolkit.

On that note, frequently, the big stories we don’t hear about come from obscure sources with fewer filters and less to lose by reporting inconvenient facts. How different would our social, political, and cultural reality be if this sort of reporting drove the national and local discussion?  Take a look at Project Censored’s most recent list of underreported stories and see what you think.  Note: the 2013 list is a retrospective list of 2012 stories.

Top Censored Stories of 2013

1. Signs of an Emerging Police State

2. Oceans in Peril

3. Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Worse than Anticipated

4. FBI Agents Responsible for Majority of Terrorist Plots in the United States

5. First Federal Reserve Audit Reveals Trillions Loaned to Major Banks

6. Small Network of Corporations Run the Global Economy

7. 2012: The International Year of Cooperatives

8. NATO War Crimes in Libya

9. Prison Slavery in Today’s USA

10. HR 347 Would Make Many Forms of Nonviolent Protest Illegal

11. Members of Congress Grow Wealthier Despite Recession

12. US Joins Forces with al-Qaeda in Syria

13. Education “Reform” a Trojan Horse for Privatization

14. Who Are the Top 1 Percent and How Do They Earn a Living?

15. Dangers of Everyday Technology

16. Sexual Violence against Women Soldiers on the Rise and under Wraps

17. Students Crushed By One Trillion Dollars in Student Loans

18. Palestinian Women Prisoners Shackled during Childbirth

19. New York Police Plant Drugs on Innocent People to Meet Arrest Quotas

20. Stealing from Public Education to Feed the Prison-Industrial Complex

21. Conservatives Attack US Post Office to Break the Union and Privatize Postal Services

22. Wachovia Bank Laundered Money for Latin American Drug Cartels

23. US Covers up Afghan Massacre

24. Alabama Farmers Look to Replace Migrants with Prisoners

25. Evidence Points to Guantánamo Dryboarding

 

For more on all of these stories see the Project Censored website: http://www.projectcensored.org/

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Jim Miller

Jim Miller, a professor at San Diego City College, is the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See and Better to Reign in Hell, and author of the novel Drift. His most recent novel on the San Diego free speech fights and the IWW, Flash, is on AK Press.
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anna Daniels December 10, 2012 at 8:19 am

The myth of objectivity is particularly dangerous when it dismisses facts. Instead of analysis and rigorous fact-checking, we are served up the pablum of he said/she said false equivalencies.

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avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman December 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm

See perfect example of half-a -loaf under-reporting in today’s Voice of San Diego, that hope of unchurched readers who have fled Manchester’s San Diego U-T for the online daily.

VOSD’s newest reporter Andrew Keatts tells about a lightning-strike sweetheart deal favoring Bahia hotelier and GOP honcho Bill Evans. The agreement was recently and hastily approved by City Council with only two dissenting votes (Emerald and Alvarez), without customary public hearings before Council’s land-use subcommittee, at terms more favorable for Evans than before — and all happening just before Mayor Bob Filner took office. Shocking, right?

But there was no explicit list of campaign contributions from Bill Evans and his family to Mayor Sanders or to any of the Council members — Democrat and Republican — who signed off on this boondoggle. That’s what’s needed to connect the dots.

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avatar bob dorn December 10, 2012 at 3:12 pm

There are lots of mechanisms that disconnect reporters from a responsiveness to simple truth: fear may be the most potent. They work in a hierarchical structure which ensures that the higher up editors climb toward executive management the closer they are to executive management in attitudes and interests. I remember calling my desk with a story that Supervisors were considering poking a hole in the county’s master zoning plan, allowing a well-connected developer to plant a subdivision into rurally zoned land in North County. “What’s the story?” my city editor asked. His universe had become his bosses’. The story had to wait for the board’s vote before it could run.

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avatar John December 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Are you sure the meaning of “what’s the story?” wasn’t simply “and this should be considered unusual or newsworthy how”?
If the goods could be delivered with evidence of malfeasance that would make a piece of substance, maybe they just didn’t see reporting the way things are would be something of interest.
Whatever the case with that you offer a good perspective of what drives anyone in a corporate atmosphere, you play the game, fit in like a good little drone, you make it up the ladder. I guess the hard part is being ambitious enough to be perceived as an asset to them without actually becoming a threat.

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avatar Brent Beltran December 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Articles like this prove the point that the work SDFP does is more vital now than ever. Makes me proud to be part of this group of rabble rousing citizen journalists.

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avatar John Lawrence December 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm

There are six media giants that own or control all media in the US: News Corporation (owned by Rupert Murdoch), Comcast, Disney, CBS, Viacom and Time Warner. Now the chairman of the FCC wants to remove restrictions so that these media oligopolies can own newspapers, TV and radio stations all in the same media market. This was tried once during the Bush years and the people shouted it down. Now it’s being done surreptitiously so that public input is bypassed.

This makes it more important than ever that alternative news sources such as the San Diego Free Press and the San Francisco Public Press continue to publish.

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avatar John December 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm

It might be said that yet another factor in this “censorship”, be that its real intent or not, would be the expected disinterest of the general public or readership. They will run a story about tawdry celebrity antics over humanitarian fare because they know that subject matter is what the lowest denominator wants.
On a side note, I found it truly interesting from a “won’t get fooled again/hope and change” perspective, that one of their 1977 issues was “Jimmy Carter’s Trilateral Commission White House”.
Their 2009 list?
Barrack Obama’s Trilateral Commission White House.

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