Saturday, February 01, 2014

Censored in 2013


Censored in 2013

I frequently ask students to reflect on how their thinking or behavior has changed as a result of exposure to corporate media. It’s always a difficult discussion because none of us like to admit publicly that media exert power over our lives. When they do open up, students will typically talk about how things like their language and fashion choices mimic something they saw or heard in film or on television.

Sometimes the responses are quite humorous. Last year for example a young man said, “My behavior changed when I just happened to catch the Dr. Oz show while channel surfing. He talked about how to poop and pee perfectly.” That response was actually a great segue into a discussion of the Project Censored organization.

Since 1976 Sonoma State University’s Project Censored has produced an effective treatment for the mental constipation caused by corporate “junk news” media. Annually the Project compiles a volume of news stories "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States.” Walter Cronkite said that “Project Censored is one of the organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and our broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism.” Ralph Nader agrees: “Project Censored should be affixed to the bulletin boards in every newsroom in America.”

Project Censored defines censorship as “anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society that purports to have a free press.” They argue further that censorship may include stories that were never published, but also “those that get such restricted distribution that few in the public are likely to know about them.”

Censored2014 (Seven Stories Press) identifies “Bradley Manning and the Failure of Corporate Media” as the top censored story of 2013. Other parts of the book address the Obama Administration’s hardball war on whistleblowers; ugly statist bullying that would have the so called “left” up in arms were it being carried out by any Republican. For me, the war on whistleblowers is far and away the most important, most inaccurately reported, and most underreported story of our time. 

The good news is that there are some independent journalists out there working hard to reveal the true nature, extent, and consequences of the war on whistleblowers for citizens, journalists, and democracy in general. In this rant I only have space for three examples.

First, Glenn Greenwald of the London Guardian writes about civil liberties transgressions with a depth and sense of urgency that calls to mind the best muckraking journalism of the early 20th century. Greenwald wrote extensively about the government’s persecution of Bradley Manning, but in 2013 his coverage of whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed in dramatic detail the extent of the National Security Administration’s global surveillance program. 
Greenwald’s also detailed the troubling case of Barrett Brown, an alternative journalist and creator of  Project PM, which is "dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance." Brown’s case will be the subject of a future Media Rants column, but for now suffice it to say that he is looking at up to 10 years in jail for essentially sharing a hyperlink. 

Second, writer and activist Alexa O’Brien courageously covered the trial of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning from start to finish, providing an inspiring contrast to the mainstream media’s self-censorship and cowering in the presence of the government and military. O’Brien writes of the mainstream media and the Manning trial: “. . . the traditional press was effectively absent. When they did attend, their coverage was superficial and deficient of the kind of detail that a historic case such as hers required. Hundreds of journalists and talking heads did, however, show up to hear the verdict 20 months into the trial. On that day, Fort Meade was teaming with sightseeing content junkies and rumor militants. When the presiding military judge, Colonel Denise Lind, read her verdict into the record, no one had correctly or completely recorded or understood the entire verdict.” 


Third, the independent website Firedoglake.com in 2013 began publishing John Kiriakou’s letters from prison. Kiriakou is the former CIA agent who revealed the existence of a CIA torture program and that torture was official government policy. For his whistleblowing he was charged with espionage, making false statements, and violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The irony is that no one who ordered or participated in torture has ever been tried or sent to jail; rather, the person who exposed the illegal policy is in prison. Kiriakou is currently serving 30 months in jail even though numerous CIA agents have asked that his sentence be commuted. 


Kiriakou’s letters from prison are important in showing the ugly consequences for someone choosing to blow the whistle on illegal or unethical government policies. He reports on harassment from prison officials, racking up nearly $1 million in legal bills, permanent loss of travel privileges after his release, having insurance and bank accounts cancelled, and other punishments. Reading Kiriakou’s letters make it clear that Edward Snowden made the right decision to seek exile rather than by subject to the prosecutorial zeal of federal prosecutors whose war on dissenters recalls the worst days of J. Edgar Hoover.

For more on Barrett Brown and John Kiriakou, go to freebarrettbrown.org and defendjohnk.com.