By Jim Miller
We live in troubled times but are increasingly ill equipped to deal with them. The average American is awash in a sea of ghastly, contextless headlines punctuated by inane trivia and pointless titillation. Somewhere between the latest massacre and Kim Kardashian’s most recent booty shot we got lost.
Indeed, some studies have even shown that the more news we consume the less we actually know. That’s because so much of what we have come to think of as “news” is really a form of corporate propaganda, a depthless mass of factoids designed to not interfere with the bottom line. Thus we know less as we amuse ourselves to death.
So what, more precisely, have we been missing? Project Censored recently released their list of the “Top 25 Most Censored Stories of 2013-14.” As I noted in a previous column Project Censored’s definition of censorship is a nuanced one:
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 Noam Chomsky and Edward S. 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.
And, in 2014, the stories that got lost in the mix could not be more important, not just for our role as informed citizens in our democracy, but also for our very survival.
Along those lines, the number one story of Project Censored’s 2014 list is “Ocean Acidification Increasing at an Accelerated Rate.” As their website notes:
It’s well known that burning fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. Less understood is that a quarter of this carbon dioxide—about twenty trillion pounds, every year—is absorbed by oceans. Writing for the Seattle Times Craig Welch invited us to “imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That’s what we do to the oceans every day.” As Welch and others reported, this carbon dioxide is changing the ocean’s chemistry faster than at any time in human history, in ways that have potentially devastating consequences for both ocean life and for humans who depend on the world’s fisheries as vital sources of protein and livelihood.
Now one might think, given that we live in a coastal city whose core identity and economic prospects rely heavily on promoting an image of a paradise by the sea San Diegans might get more on the death of the ocean from our news, but you’d be mistaken. Indeed most of the discussion of our natural environment locally comes from the banal chatter of weather reports devoid of any larger context or troubling facts.
Hence we arrive at the number eight story on Project Censored’s top 25 list, “Corporate News Ignores Connections Between Extreme Weather and Global Warming”:
As extreme weather becomes increasingly common, it has received a fair share of coverage during network news broadcasts. Often missing from these reports, however, is any mention of climate change and its connection to extreme weather events. As Peter Hart reported for Extra!, the nightly news covers extreme weather events as unusual and newsworthy, but usually without explanation of climate change as an underlying cause.
A study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that extreme weather events in 2013 resulted in 450 news segments, of which only sixteen mentioned climate change. As for specific evening news shows, CBS Evening News only used terms like “global warming” and “greenhouse gases” in two of 114 extreme weather reports. ABC World News only mentioned climate change in eight reports out of 200, and NBC Nightly News only mentioned it in six reports out of 136. There was also a CBS report on the unsupported notion that there had been a “pause” in global warming.
Add to this the fact that, on the national level, many news organizations have been cutting back on environmental reporters rather than beefing up their coverage to address the current crisis. Ecocide, it seems, interferes with the buying mood.
And if missing these crucial environmental stories were not bad enough, some of the other items on Project Censored’s list paint a picture of a country where much of the game-changing news falls through the cracks.
There are many other stunners, from the corporate news ignoring the Wikileaks revelations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the free pass given to criminals on Wall Street and the increasing power of the unelected Deep State, “Exploiting the world’s resources and governments with criminal impunity, a wealthy elite—sporting an estimated $32 trillion in tax-exempt offshore havens—are the deep dark secret of plutocratic imperialism, operating behind more visible, privately controlled government representatives.”
But who cares about all that? The game’s on next after the reality show is over.