2008 P.U.-Litzer Prizes Highlight the Worst Journalism of the Year

Election years typically bring out some of the worst “journalism” the corporate media has to offer, and this year was no different. The 2008 “P.U.-Litzer Prizes” highlight some of the worst of what we saw this year.


MediaMouse.org has already highlighted a few interesting and shocking “best of the worst” lists this year–for PR misdeeds, corporate criminals, and underreported stories–but there is yet another list that is worth examining: The 2008 P.U.-Litzer Prizes.

Now in their 17th year, the annual “awards” handed out by media critics Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen highlight some of the worst journalism of the year:


This award sparked fierce competition, but the cinch came on the day Obama swept the Potomac Primary in February — when Chris Matthews spoke of “the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”


In August, a FoxNews.com teaser for the “O’Reilly Factor” program said: “Obama bombarded by personal attacks. Are they legit? Ann Coulter comments.”

UPSIDE DOWN “ELITIST” AWARD — New York Times columnist David Brooks

For months, high-paid Beltway journalists competed with each other in advising candidate Obama on how to mingle with working class folks. Ubiquitous pundit Brooks won the prize for his wisdom on reaching “less educated people, downscale people,” offered on MSNBC in June: “Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he’s had to change to try to be more like that Applebee’s guy.” It would indeed be hard for Obama to fit in naturally at an Applebee’s salad bar. Applebee’s restaurants don’t have salad bars.

GUTTER BALL PUNDITRY AWARD — Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball”

In program after program during the spring, Matthews repeatedly questioned whether Obama could connect with “regular” voters — “regular” meaning voters who are white or “who actually do know how to bowl.” He once said of Obama: “This gets very ethnic, but the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody. But the fact that he’s that terrible at bowling does make you wonder.”

STRAIGHT SKINNY PRIZE — Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick

In August, the Journal’s Chozick went beyond the standard elitist charge to offer yet another reason that average voters might be wary of Obama. Below the headline “Too Fit to Be President?” she wrote of Obama: “Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.” Chozick asked: “In a nation in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is overweight and 32 percent is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability?” To support her argument, she quoted Hillary Clinton supporters. One said: “He needs to put some meat on his bones.” Another, prodded by Chozick, wrote on a Yahoo bulletin board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

“OUR CENTER-RIGHT NATION” AWARD — Newsweek editor Jon Meacham

With Democrats in the process of winning big in 2008 as they had in 2006, a media chorus erupted warning Democratic politicians away from their promises of change. Behind the warnings was the repeated claim that America is essentially a conservative country. In an election-eve Newsweek cover story with the sub-headline “America remains a center-right nation — a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril,” Meacham argued that the liberalism of even repeatedly re-elected FDR offended voters. And the editor claimed that a leftward trend in election results and issues polling means

little — as would Obama’s victory after months of charges that he stood for radical change. Evidence seemed to lose out to journalists’ fears that campaign promises might actually be kept.


On Sept. 30, just after the House defeated the $700 billion Wall Street bailout measure, Brooks’ column in the New York Times denounced the balking House members for their failure to heed “the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed.” But a week later, after the House approved a bailout — and with the credit crunch unabated and stock market still plunging — Brooks wrote: “At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they’re coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater.” Now he tells us.


In late November, corporate media outlets began to credit Barack Obama with making supposedly non-ideological Cabinet picks. The New York Times front page reported that his choices “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.” Conservative Times columnist David Brooks praised the picks as “not ideological” and the economic nominees as “moderate and thoughtful Democrats.” USA Today reported that Obama’s selections had “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.” In mediaspeak, if you thought invading Iraq and signing the NAFTA trade pact were good ideas, you’re a pragmatist. If not, you’re an ideologue.


The Times op-ed page marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion in March by choosing “nine experts on military and foreign affairs” to write on “the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wish they had considered in the prewar debate.” None of the experts selected had opposed the invasion. That kind of exclusion made possible a bizarre claim by Times correspondent John Burns in the same day’s paper: “Only the most prescient could have guessed … that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America’s financial costs by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008.” Those who’d warned of such disastrous results were not only prescient, but were routinely excluded from mainstream coverage.

IMPERIALLY EMBEDDED PRIZE — John Burns, The New York Times

Described as “the longest-serving foreign correspondent in New York Times history,” Burns seemed less a skeptical reporter than a channeler of Henry Kissinger when he offered his world view to PBS’ Charlie Rose in April: “The United States and its predominant economic, political and military power in the world have been the single greatest force for stability in the world, such as it is now, certainly since the Second World War. If the outcome in Iraq were to destroy the credibility of American power, to destroy America’s willingness to use its power in the world to achieve good, to fight back against totalitarianism, authoritarianism, gross human rights abuses, it would be a very dark day.”

For past award winners, check out the 2006 and 2007 awards.

Project Censored Releases List of “Top 25 Censored Stories” of 2006-2007

Project Censored has released its annual list of the “top 25” censored stories around the world. The stories–selected from a variety of independent media sources and covering a wide variety of topics–were almost entirely ignored by the corporate media.

2008 project censored graphic

Project Censored, a media research group based out of Sonoma State University, has compiled its annual list of twenty-five news stories of “social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country’s major national news media.” The annual list is narrowed down from between 700 to 1,000 stories submitted annually by journalists, scholars, librarians, and concerned citizens around the world.

The 2008 list includes:

#1 No Habeas Corpus for “Any Person”

With the approval of Congress and no outcry from corporate media, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, ushered in military commission law for US citizens and non-citizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in the New York Times October 19, have given false comfort that we, as American citizens, will not be the victims of the draconian measures legalized by this Act–such as military roundups and life-long detention with no rights or constitutional protections–Robert Parry points to text in the MCA that allows for the institution of a military alternative to the constitutional justice system for “any person” regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for “any person” arbitrarily deemed to be an “enemy of the state.” The judgment on who is deemed an “enemy combatant” is solely at the discretion of President Bush.

#2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which was quietly signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, the very same day that he signed the Military Commissions Act, allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.”

By revising the two-century-old Insurrection Act, the law in effect repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. The 1878 Act reads, “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” As the only US criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people, it has been our best protection against tyranny enforced by martial law–the harsh system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Historically martial law has been imposed by various governments during times of war or occupation to intensify control of populations in spite of heightened unrest. In modern times it is most commonly used by authoritarian governments to enforce unpopular rule.

#3 AFRICOM: US Military Control of Africa’s Resources

In February 2007 the White House announced the formation of the US African Command (AFRICOM), a new unified Pentagon command center in Africa, to be established by September 2008. This military penetration of Africa is being presented as a humanitarian guard in the Global War on Terror. The real objective is, however, the procurement and control of Africa’s oil and its global delivery systems.

The most significant and growing challenge to US dominance in Africa is China. An increase in Chinese trade and investment in Africa threatens to substantially reduce US political and economic leverage in that resource-rich continent. The political implication of an economically emerging Africa in close alliance with China is resulting in a new cold war in which AFRICOM will be tasked with achieving full-spectrum military dominance over Africa.

AFRICOM will replace US military command posts in Africa, which were formerly under control of US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM), with a more centralized and intensified US military presence.

A context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from observing CENTCOM in the Middle East. CENTCOM grew out of the Carter Doctrine of 1980 which described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a “vital interest” of the US, and affirmed that the US would employ “any means necessary, including military force” to overcome an attempt by hostile interests to block that flow.

#4 Frenzy of Increasingly Destructive Trade Agreements

The Oxfam report, “Signing Away the Future,” reveals that the US and European Union (EU) are vigorously pursuing increasingly destructive regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements outside the auspices of the WTO. These agreements are requiring enormous irreversible concessions from developing countries, while offering almost nothing in return. Faster and deeper, the US and EU are demanding unprecedented tariff reductions, sometimes to nothing, as the US and EU dump subsidized agricultural goods on undeveloped countries (see story #21), plunging local farmers into desperate poverty. Meanwhile the US and EU provide themselves with high tariffs and stringent import quotas to protect their own producers. Unprecedented loss of livelihood, displacement, slave labor, along with spiraling degradation of human rights and environments are resulting as economic governance is forced from governments of developing countries, and taken over by unaccountable multinational firms.

During 2006, more than one hundred developing countries were involved in FTA or Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations. “An average of two treaties are signed every week,” the report says, “Virtually no country, however poor, has been left out.”

Much of the recent debate and controversy over trade negotiations has revolved around the increasingly devastating trade-distorting practices of rich countries versus the developing countries’ needs for food security and industrial development. The new generation of agreements, however, extends far beyond this traditional area of trade policy–imposing a damaging set of binding rules in intellectual property, services, and investment with much deeper consequences for development and impacts on the poor.

#5 Human Traffic Builds US Embassy in Iraq

he enduring monument to US liberation and democracy in Iraq will be the most expensive and heavily fortified embassy in the world–and is being built by a Kuwait contractor repeatedly accused of using forced labor trafficked from South Asia under US contracts. The $592 million, 104-acre fortress equal in size to the Vatican City is scheduled to open in September 2007. With a highly secretive contract awarded by the US State Department, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting has joined the ranks of Halliburton/KBR in Iraq by using bait-and-switch recruiting practices. Thousands of citizens from countries that have banned travel or work in Iraq are being tricked, smuggled into brutal and inhumane labor camps, and subjected to months of forced servitude–all in the middle of the US-controlled Green Zone, “right under the nose of the US State Department.”

Though Associated Press reports that, “The 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at the embassy are far more numerous than at any other US mission worldwide,”1 there is no mention in corporate media of the 3,000 South Asian laborers working for contractors in dangerous and abysmal living and working conditions.

One such contractor is First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting. FKTC has procured several billion dollars in US construction contracts since the war began in March 2003. Much of its work is performed by cheap labor hired from South Asia. The company currently employs an estimated 7,500 foreign laborers in theaters of war.

American FKTC employees report having witnessed the issuance of false boarding passes to Dubai, and passport seizure from planeloads of South Asian workers, who were instead routed to war-torn Baghdad. Former US Embassy construction manager for FKTC, John Owen, disclosed to author David Phinney that the deception had all the appearance of smuggling workers into Iraq.

View the rest of 2008’s most censored stories and links to the original stories, visit Project Censored’s website.

The uses and abuses of propaganda

by Jeff Smith

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Propaganda, Edward Bernays

When one hears the word propaganda there are usually negative or sinister associations with the term. Propaganda is what the enemy uses or the “evil doers” to use a label from our silver-tongue president. However, the contemporary use of the term itself did not have such negative connotations until after WWII.

One dictionary definition of propaganda says it means, “Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.” Thus during WWI, the US used its own form of propaganda to convince a primarily anti-war population to enter the war against Germany. Journalist Walter Lippman and the father of the PR industry Edward Bernays joined George Creel in a major government propaganda effort known as the Committee for Public Information. Within six months they had created such tremendous anti-German hysteria that public opinion shifted in favor of the US entry into WWI. Lippman, Bernays and others were so impressed with the effectiveness of the campaign that it has become the model for all PR campaigns in the US, both corporate and government.

It is important that people in the US understand that we are in the midst of a major propaganda campaign to “win the hearts and minds” of the public when it comes to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Millions of dollars are being spent to propagandize us into either supporting the current US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan or to simply distract us from even thinking about them. Thus we are confronted with both direct and indirect propaganda campaigns. Let’s begin with the indirect campaign.

Indirect propaganda takes on several forms. First, you have the sensationalist celebrity driven propaganda. One way of knowing if this type of distraction works well is to simply ask people what they know about Britney, Paris, Angelina, Tom, Brad and a whole host of other celebrities that the news media hits us upside the head with on a daily basis. Ask people who got in a fight at the annual MTV awards and you are sure to get a fairly accurate response. Personally I don’t buy the media’s response that “they just give us what we want,” and besides who really gives a shit if Tommy Lee and Kid Rock had a millionaire’s scuffle.

A second kind of indirect propaganda is the fear factor. Just keep people afraid about anything – immigrant, terrorists, bird flu, global warming, AIDS, Aliens, illegal aliens, viruses, and any dark-skinned urban youth and people will not be thinking about much of anything else. Local TV news is particularly good at this since they carpet bomb people’s minds with the latest shooting, stabbing, fire, flu, and terrorist alert. Last month, State Representative Agema even suggested that the school district provide guns to teachers in the classroom in order to counter the apparent proliferation of guns in schools. Then you can turn to entertainment shows like 24 on FOX and think that the nation is at the brink of nuclear war every week.

The last kind of indirect propaganda that we all deal with is hyper-commercialism. You know, the 3,000 ads we will all encounter on a daily basis from TV, radio, the Internet, billboards, store fronts, magazines, newspapers, in movie theaters, and in our mail. The latest effort to sell us more useless crap is in the form of video billboards. You read that correctly, billboards that would have video projected on them. Sure, that is what we need, more people looking at moving ads on billboards while driving down the highway. The issue of public safety is bad enough, but the fact that the advertising companies want to assault us even more with useless consumer goods in this fashion continues to reflect that there is no limit to ways that they hope to keep us distracted from thinking about anything remotely meaningful. Now let’s move on to a look at direct propaganda.

There are always multiple direct propaganda campaigns that we are confronted with, but for the purposes of limited space and the fact that we are in the 6th year of a war I will limit my comments to the current US government’s war propaganda campaign.

I say 6th year, because October of 2001 is when the US invasion and bombing of Afghanistan took place. The US military occupation of Afghanistan has all but been forgotten in the public mind, but it is in its 6th year and there is no end in sight. Like the US occupation of Iraq, the Afghan occupation has significant US troop presence and the construction of PERMANENT US military bases. In other words the military has no intention of leaving anytime soon. The current request for an additional $141 billion dollars is for the US occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan is generally left out of the discussion. For current information and analysis of the US occupation of Afghanistan I highly recommend the website of the Revolutionary Women’s Association of Afghanistan (RAWA) But I warn you that visiting this site might get you noticed by certain federal agencies.

With the Iraq war the propaganda campaign is much more intense. Let’s look at some tactics the administration is using and how that is filtered through the media. First, the administration is desperate because it knows that they are losing public support for the war. Why do you think Dick Cheney was sent to Grand Rapids the day after Bush’s last big Iraq war address to the nation? Even in West Michigan, a traditionally pro-US foreign policy area, the folks in Washington know that there is growing opposition to the war. Sure Grand Rapids is a “friendly place” as the Grand Rapids Press referred to the city when Cheney came, but it’s just the major institutions and the media that are friendly to Cheney, Bush and company. So it is important that we pay attention to who comes to town and when and how that plays into the larger pro-war strategy.

Second, the administration has recently used a front group that is led by former White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer called Freedom Watch. Their political ads feature Iraq war vets and military families who use statements like “now is not the time to cut and run,” and a “US troop withdrawal would tell the terrorists that they can do what they want.” This has been a strategy all along, a strategy that includes buzzwords and phrases that are not based in reality, but if you say them enough people are more likely to believe you. Therefore, anytime the administration uses the word terrorist or terrorism it is meant to elicit a certain response. For example, if Iraqi people who are tired of the US occupation decide to defend themselves or force US troops to leave their community they are labeled terrorists. Sometimes they are called insurgents, but it means the same thing – people who are armed and want the US to leave. For the first 2 weeks in September, Freedom Watch had a contract with WOOD TV8 for $36,000 plus to run ads to support the “surge” mentality. So it is important that we recognize this tactic in the current propaganda strategy, the use of front groups and paid advertising.

A third tactic is crafting messages so that the “debate” can be slanted in the administration’s favor. What has been presented by the White House is that the “surge” is working and that “we need to give it more time.” It has become somewhat of a numbers game, but more importantly any response to the surge debate always ends up using the same language. Therefore, the administration has controlled the terms of the debate so that there is limited or no real dissenting perspective. For instance, General Petraeus and company have said that if the US leaves Iraq it would be catastrophic, which frames the US occupation as one of benevolence, that they are acting with the best interests of the Iraqi people. Framing the debate this way means that there is no discussion of what the invasion and occupation has done to Iraq. When was the last time you saw a debate in the government or in the mainstream news that began with the premise “the US occupation has been the main cause of death, destruction, and the incentive for more and more Iraqis to join in the attacks against them? Controlling the terms of the debate means limiting the scope of discussion and ultimately how people view the intentions of the US occupation.

All three of these tactics together also work in conjunction of the existing US news media filters. US news outlets are not forced to print or broadcast what the government says, but most of the time ends up doing just that. This says a great deal about the effectiveness of the propaganda system. The US news media more often than not acts as a conduit for the administration’s position on the war. First, they report on government statements just like courthouse stenographers, without questioning the statements and rarely verify the claims made by those in power. Second, the media adopts the language and terms of the debate, thus limiting how the public might view what is really going on. For instance, since the administration keeps saying we are in Iraq to bring freedom to the Iraqi people, the news media tends to adopt the same premise, so the intentions of the US military are never seriously questioned. Third, the news media relies primarily on the same sources of information – government and military spokespersons, retired military personnel and right wing think tanks. The only voices that appear to be oppositional are partisan voices, even though the Democratic Party only disagrees with some of the administration’s tactics, not the over all strategy. This means that anti-war voices in the US are rarely heard and when they are it is limited to a particular protest, not their analysis of the war and occupation. Iraqi voices, as far as the US media are concerned, are irrelevant.

Fortunately, despite this amazing propaganda effort, most of America thinks the war is wrong and at least half of the country thinks the US occupation should end. Not surprising, most Iraqis think the US should leave now, but unless you are looking at international news or the independent media you won’t hear that point made. In some sense we should all be encouraged by the fact that most Americans aren’t buying the propaganda. It took most Americans longer to voice opposition to the US war in Vietnam. The other encouraging factor is that there is a growing anti-war movement within the US military. Groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War have formed, more soldiers are refusing to fight http://www.appealforredress.org/ and others are refusing orders. There is also a growing counter-military recruitment effort across the country that is not only exposing the lies of the military but is providing alternatives to young men and women who are targets of the military. To get information on or take part in counter-military recruiting efforts in Grand Rapids go to www.activategr.org.

Citizen Journalism: Making an Impact in the New Media Landscape

At the National Conference for Media Reform, panelists involved in a variety of citizen journalism projects discussed the impacts of citizen journalism and its potential.

This article is part of a series of articles by Media Mouse covering the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform. We believe that these will be of value to those organizing for social change in the Grand Rapids and West Michigan area.

This session brought together four individuals involved in citizen journalism, Jay Rosen of PressThink, Christopher Rabb of Afro-Netizen, Chris Nolan of Spot-on.com, and Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media to discuss the impacts and implications of citizen journalism. The panel was moderated by Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, an organization formed last year to use technology to increase access to information about Congress. The Foundation originally intended for its audience to be corporate media journalists, but given the failure of the corporate media to understand the importance of the Internet, its initial task has shifted to giving the information to citizens so that they can become journalists and researchers.

The first panelist to speak was Jay Rosen of PressThink, who explained that the media world has been completely turned on its head in the past few years with what was historically a one-way system of communication with one producer and many consumers becoming one in which there are now many producers creating content in an environment where there is more interaction between producers and their audience. The audience had historically been passive due to the high costs associated with production, but starting in the 1970s and 1980s with the public access movement, tools to create media became cheaper and more citizens had access to create media, although with public access citizens lacked the resources to effectively challenge what was being produced by corporations. With the Internet, and specifically blogs, the cost of and access to media production tools was further reduced and people have formed what Rosen described as a “producer revolution.” Rosen wants to take the citizen journalism phenomenon beyond blogs, introducing what he calls “ProAm” journalism, or professionals working with amateur journalists, to collaboratively write and edit stories using the internet. He has launched a venture called Newassignment.net that aims to organize people for open source reporting using his “ProAm” model.

Panelist Christopher Rabb of Afro-Netizen explained how his blog evolved from a mailing list in 2003. His big break was in 2004 when he covered the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston and was one of the only African-Americans blogging at the time. He explained that his blog has served an important role in that it has created a venue where the views of people of color are shared in an online world that tends to be as segregated as the offline world. This has benefited both people of color, who read his blog as a source for independent news, and white people who use his blog to eavesdrop on conversations taking place between people of color that they would not otherwise have access to off the Internet. He writes with the realization that technology can be a tool that either helps or oppresses blacks depending on how it is used. Rabb acknowledged that he works within a small subset of the cultural elite, but explains that he has used his social capital and privilege to reach others. He asserted that he has difficulties with many other bloggers that are white, Ivy League educated, male, and privileged because they fail to acknowledge their privilege and never consider how it affects what they do. Speaking on the topic of the corporate media using content created by citizen journalists, Rabb expressed skepticism that they could convey the context necessary to understand issues such as police brutality–which most white Americans do not understand–and said that the corporate media cannot be trusted to provide the appropriate filters and context.

Chris Nolan with Spot-On.com explained that her organization is working with independent media producers on the web to sell their stories to the corporate media. While she asserted that the Internet provides an opportunity for many voices to be heard that otherwise would not be heard, she believes that the corporate media’s reach is important and that the independent media movement benefits from having its stories heard by a wider audience. She has benefited, as have other bloggers, from the fact that the corporate media understands competition and has seen that blogs can be a source of competition. She also told the audience to consider that efforts by the corporate media to hire bloggers might be sincere. Computers have drastically changed the function of newsrooms with each computer being able to function as a newsroom, but she explained that there is still a role for editors as it is not enough to just put out raw and unformed data. Nolan also reminded the audience that the basics–who, what, and where–need to be adhered to and not forgotten by citizen journalists.

Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media closed out the panel by explaining what he termed the “liberation” of the journalism industry at the hands of citizen journalism and participating audiences. He explained that citizen journalism has a core audience of journalists who are wanting to learn more and engage their traditional audience, newsmakers who want more people writing about them and who are being pushed to become more transparent, and other citizens who are receiving multiple sources of information and whom are able to interact with producers. He described how the corporate media views new media as a source of competition, especially in the realm of ad revenue, where sites such as eBay and Craig’s List have taken ad revenue that had previously been used to support journalism. Gillmor explained that citizen journalists need to remember the principles of journalism, including thoroughness, accuracy, transparency, and independence, and stress the importance of putting those principles at the center of our work. He cautioned the audience that advocacy journalism needs to make its agenda clear, otherwise it risked losing its relevancy. He also stressed that net neutrality is essential for citizen journalism and told the audience that AT&T’s recent voluntary agreement to recognize net neutrality for at least two years was not a victory as had been said in other panels and that the citizen journalists had to continue to fight for net neutrality.

Top 25 Censored Stories of 2005-2006

Project Censored, a media research group at Sonoma State University, has released its annual list of news stories that have been “overlooked, underreported, or self-censored” by the United States’ corporate media. Among the top areas ignored are the debate over the future of the internet, Halliburton’s selling of nuclear technology to Iran, and the threat to the world’s oceans.

Project Censored, a media research group at Sonoma State University, has released its annual list of news stories that have been “overlooked, underreported, or self-censored” by the country’s major national news media. The stories are reviewed each year by a panel of more than 200 Sonoma State faculty, students, and community members and ranked in terms of their social significance and over all importance.

The top 5 censored stories of 2005 to 2006:

1. Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media

Throughout 2005 and 2006, a large underground debate raged regarding the future of the Internet. More recently referred to as “network neutrality,” the issue has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and Internet service providers on the other. Yet despite important legislative proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost completely ignored in the headlines until 2006.1 And, except for occasional coverage on CNBC’s Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to this day (June 2006).

Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation—but the term “regulation” in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for “net neutrality” are not promoting regulation of internet content. What they want is a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines (called a “common carriage” agreement). This was the model used for dial-up internet, and it is the way content providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies cannot screen or interrupt internet content without a court order.

2. Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran

According to journalist Jason Leopold, sources at former Cheney company Halliburton allege that, as recently as January of 2005, Halliburton sold key components for a nuclear reactor to an Iranian oil development company. Leopold says his Halliburton sources have intimate knowledge of the business dealings of both Halliburton and Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran’s largest private oil companies.

Additionally, throughout 2004 and 2005, Halliburton worked closely with Cyrus Nasseri, the vice chairman of the board of directors of Iran-based Oriental Oil Kish, to develop oil projects in Iran. Nasseri is also a key member of Iran’s nuclear development team. Nasseri was interrogated by Iranian authorities in late July 2005 for allegedly providing Halliburton with Iran’s nuclear secrets. Iranian government officials charged Nasseri with accepting as much as $1 million in bribes from Halliburton for this information.

Oriental Oil Kish dealings with Halliburton first became public knowledge in January 2005 when the company announced that it had subcontracted parts of the South Pars gas-drilling project to Halliburton Products and Services, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Halliburton that is registered to the Cayman Islands. Following the announcement, Halliburton claimed that the South Pars gas field project in Tehran would be its last project in Iran. According to a BBC report, Halliburton, which took thirty to forty million dollars from its Iranian operations in 2003, “was winding down its work due to a poor business environment.”

However, Halliburton has a long history of doing business in Iran, starting as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company. Leopold quotes a February 2001 report published in the Wall Street Journal, “Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., works behind an unmarked door on the ninth floor of a new north Tehran tower block. A brochure declares that the company was registered in 1975 in the Cayman Islands, is based in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Dubai and is “non-American.” But like the sign over the receptionist’s head, the brochure bears the company’s name and red emblem, and offers services from Halliburton units around the world.” Moreover mail sent to the company’s offices in Tehran and the Cayman Islands is forwarded directly to its Dallas headquarters.

3. Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger

Oceanic problems once found on a local scale are now pandemic. Data from oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, fishery science, and glaciology reveal that the seas are changing in ominous ways. A vortex of cause and effect wrought by global environmental dilemmas is changing the ocean from a watery horizon with assorted regional troubles to a global system in alarming distress.

According to oceanographers the oceans are one, with currents linking the seas and regulating climate. Sea temperature and chemistry changes, along with contamination and reckless fishing practices, intertwine to imperil the world’s largest communal life source.

In 2005, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found clear evidence the ocean is quickly warming. They discovered that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past forty years as a result of human-induced greenhouse gases.

4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US

The number of hungry and homeless people in U.S. cities continued to grow in 2005, despite claims of an improved economy. Increased demand for vital services rose as needs of the most destitute went unmet, according to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, which has documented increasing need since its 1982 inception.

The study measures instances of emergency food and housing assistance in twenty-four U.S. cities and utilizes supplemental information from the U.S. Census and Department of Labor. More than three-quarters of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for food and housing, especially among families. Food aid requests expanded by 12 percent in 2005, while aid center and food bank resources grew by only 7 percent. Service providers estimated 18 percent of requests went unattended. Housing followed a similar trend, as a majority of cities reported an increase in demand for emergency shelter, often going unmet due to lack of resources.

As urban hunger and homelessness increases in America, the Bush administration is planning to eliminate a U.S. survey widely used to improve federal and state programs for low-income and retired Americans, reports Abid Aslam. President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins October 2006, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues. Founded in 1984, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and other health, social service, and education programs.

5. High-Tech Genocide in Congo

The world’s most neglected emergency, according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, is the ongoing tragedy of the Congo, where six to seven million have died since 1996 as a consequence of invasions and wars sponsored by western powers trying to gain control of the region’s mineral wealth. At stake is control of natural resources that are sought by U.S. corporations—diamonds, tin, copper, gold, and more significantly, coltan and niobium, two minerals necessary for production of cell phones and other high-tech electronics; and cobalt, an element essential to nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries.

Columbo-tantalite, i.e. coltan, is found in three-billion-year-old soils like those in the Rift Valley region of Africa. The tantalum extracted from the coltan ore is used to make tantalum capacitors, tiny components that are essential in managing the flow of current in electronic devices. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Niobium is another high-tech mineral with a similar story.

Sprocket reports that the high-tech boom of the 1990s caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to nearly $300 per pound. In 1996 U.S.-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered eastern DRC. By 1998 they seized control and moved into strategic mining areas. The Rwandan Army was soon making $20 million or more a month from coltan mining. Though the price of coltan has fallen, Rwanda maintains its monopoly on coltan and the coltan trade in DRC. Reports of rampant human rights abuses pour out of this mining region.

View the complete list or view the 2004-2005 or 2003-2004 lists.

Freedom of Speech at Risk—How to Challenge the Establishment to get Media Justice: Midwest Social Forum

Last weekend at the Midwest Social Forum, a workshop was held on the issue of media justice and the ways in which progressives can work towards a movement for racial justice in the media.

In light of the fact that five corporations determine the content of most broadcast and print media, Karen Bond of the National Black Coalition for Media Justice and Chicago Media Action along with Salim Muwakki of In These Times conducted a workshop at the Midwest Social Forum in Milwaukee last Sunday focusing on the issue of media justice and ways in which it can be worked towards. The workshop offered an overview of how white progressives and the “media reform” movements often fail to understand the need for media justice, with Karen Bond explaining that it is difficult for white people to understand how institutions such as the media work against the aspirations of people of color. Media justice was framed as an issue that cuts across all issues and the two panelists urged people to incorporate media justice work into their organizing.

Salim Muwakki began the workshop by explaining how the number one issue of media justice is the question of addressing slavery’s racial legacy. He explained how people of color have been systematically excluded from the media and that they remain the most oppressed sector of United States’ society and as such, the status of people of color can be seen as an indicator of how democratic media is in the United States. Poverty, education, and incarceration—all issues which have tremendous effects on people of color and how they are portrayed in the media—are never examined by the corporate media as part of a racist system, with many in the corporate media having “race fatigue” that sees racism as “old news.” While some media outlets have report on prisons and how high incarceration rates threaten the viability of the African-American community, the coverage has been inadequate compared to the scope of the problem due to the exclusion of African-Americans from the media. Muwakki reminded the audience that the movement for media reform, which has grown over the past few years and gained considerable support in white progressive circles, has often not incorporated justice and has often viewed white supremacy as the status quo and has not offered much opportunity for people of color. As such, Muwakki expressed the opinion that media justice has to have a distinct part separated from the movement for media democracy and explained that media activists need to reach out and facilitate a dialog with people of color. Muwakki advocated for a two-tiered approach for achieving media justice that not only seeks better coverage and representation in the corporate media but also includes building racially just independent media outlets.

Karen Bond expanded this discussion by describing how recent media policy has continued to exclude people of color from the media and encouraged racist beliefs through the media’s negative portrayals of people of color. She explained that with only five corporations owning the majority of the media that it is easy for such racist portrayals to be seen as the status quo and that it is essential for folks to continue to challenge this. She cited the 1996 Telecommunications Act as being partially responsible for these portrayals, describing it as “a major media power grab” that has since limited the diversity of voices in the media. She explained to the audience how many corporations spread stories written by one reporter across a variety of media outlets, thereby limiting voices and perspectives that the public hears. As an example, she cited Clear Channel and their massive radio that which includes the ownership of many stations in communities of color and the effect that Clear Channel’s ownership has had on limiting free speech. The audience was encouraged to consider the fact that journalism is protected in the United States constitution as a government watchdog and explained that people need to realize that once journalism is no longer protected that freedom and democracy will essentially be gone as well. In this vein, she urged people to work against media monopolies and to monitor media ownership by people of color and to work to ensure more ownership of media outlets by people of color in order to prevent the limiting of voices.

Karen Bond offered a variety of suggestions on how to incorporate media justice work into the everyday organizing work being done by progressive groups. She encouraged the audience to incorporate media justice work into their organizing as a key component of organizing and urged every group to dedicate people to working on this issue, as she argued that it is impossible to succeed without accurate media coverage. She also encouraged organizers to develop better relationships with the media as a means of generating better coverage. As a means of securing better coverage, she asked the audience to get involved in the fight to save public access and to get involved in advocacy work dealing with media policy. The importance of “localism” was stressed and expanded to not just encompass local content but also local ownership, with Bond arguing that local ownership is key if people are going to have success in holding the media accountable. She also urged the audience to exploit the mainstream media whenever given the chance as its reach is unmatched by the independent media.

Media justice was also discussed extensively last year at the National Conference on Media Reform held in St. Louis.

Local Media Activist Toolkit Released

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) released a new Media Activist Toolkit to help progressive organizations in Grand Rapids engage the media and to help organizations make their own media with the major focus on developing a successful media strategy. The guide begins with a brief amount of contextual information on the role media plays in our lives and then moves into the specific strategies of how organizations can develop a media strategy to improve their coverage in the corporate media. Moreover, the guide provides an overview of media ownership in Grand Rapids that includes information about the ownership of radio stations, movie theaters, outdoor advertising, and even information on the evils of Comcast as well as ways to hold the local media accountable and the data GRIID has collected over the years with regard to the local media’s representation of race, gender, and class.

Sins of Omission: How Journalism Kisses Corporate Booty

Jeff Smith

Several years ago I was at a meeting where GR Press editor Mike Lloyd was the guest speaker. He said something that has stuck with me for a long time, “the mission of the Press is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Now I ask you, when does the GR Press take rich people to task? Yeah, sure there are examples when rich people get caught in “scandalous” behavior, but it is pretty rare to see a serious critique of people in power.

Now, I am one of those folks who think that a primary function of journalism is to scrutinize those in power whether that is economic or political power. It doesn’t do the public much good if all the crime coverage focuses on some poor schmuck who engages in petty theft. It just makes for sensationalized news coverage to run pictures of some guy wearing a mask while robbing a party store. But realistically crimes like these won’t have a huge impact on the public. However, if a corporation engages in fraudulent practices, not only will customers lose out, but possibly employees as well. And depending on the crime, it may mean an increased cost to tax payers, insurance costs may go up and other costs to society like public assistance costs because more people don’t have a job.

Unfortunately, the news media rarely covers the corporate crime, the type of crime that does far more damage than street crime. Russell Morkhiber, the founder of Corporate Crime Reporter http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com, since 1987 has been monitoring and investigating corporate crime and its impact on communities and the country. For example, in 1999 the Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd for “leading a worldwide conspiracy to raise and fix prices and allocate market shares for certain vitamins sold in the United States and elsewhere.” The conspiracy lasted 9 years and ended up costing the company $500 million in fines, but NO jail time.

Currently there is a campaign to challenge the corporate power and corporate crimes of Wal-Mart. Robert Greenwald’s newest documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, is an excellent expose that highlights the impact that Wal-Mart has on communities around the country. Wal-Mart not only forces local businesses to close their doors, but they also undercut wages, and steal tax money in the form of “tax breaks” to set up shop. So what do you call it when a small family business is forced to close because they can’t compete with the Wal-Marts of the world? What do you call it when people’s wages are cut because businesses want to stay “competitive” with the near minimum wage jobs provided by Wal-Mart? What do you call it when people are forced to go on public assistance just to feed their families or pay the heating bills? The news media tends to call it “market adjustments.” But I ask you, why is this not criminal behavior if the end result is no different than stealing from someone or taking away their livelihood? A good source for this issue is walmartwatch.com.

In many ways the bigger issue has to do with coming to terms with the actual function of journalism. There certainly is no consensus on this matter, but historically journalism was seen as a function of holding power accountable, to be a muckraker. In the most recent book by Bob McChesney and John Nichols, Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sells Wars, Spins election, and Destroy Democracy, they argue that democracy-sustaining journalism has 3 components: it must be a watchdog to power, present a wide range of perspectives on issues, and expose lies and deception. Taking this formula to heart, I ask you if media in this country actually fulfills this journalistic mandate? Has the media adequately scrutinized the US war/occupation of Iraq? Has the media given voters enough information in order to make an intelligent decision in elections? Does the media bring voices of people who have no economic or political power?

When looking at the local news we have seen endless examples of how journalism avoids scrutinizing power. When was the last time that you read or watched a story that took on the power of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the working conditions in the migrant camps of West Michigan, treatment of prisoners in the Kent County jail, inequalities in the area schools, corporate financing of elections, or institutional racism in the Greater Grand Rapids area? Just to give you an example of what the daily news outlets provide, during recent election coverage channel 13 ran a 24 second election story that only gave viewers the names of candidates. Right after this story they ran a 4 minute piece about Spray on tanning products. In this story they had their weather people try these products and then later describe how well they worked. Or how about the example of a story the GR Press ran in mid-November about an Altria (formerly Philip Morris) executive who gave a talk in Grand Rapids entitled “Marlboros, Oreos and Integrity: Global Responsibility in a $100 billion Multinational Corporation.” You can imagine that the Press reporter put all this in a context of years of deception by the tobacco giant, the use of high paid PR campaigns, etc. Wrong. The story just published the comments of this high ranking official in a company that controls a significant amount of household products in the US. This type of reporting is what media analysts refer to as stenography, where reporters just present what people in power said without questioning or verifying the accuracy of what was said. It’s almost as if to say that reporters assume that people in power are not going to deceive us.

Fortunately there are a growing number of individuals and organizations that are taking a more critical view of wealthy and powerful sectors of our society. Some of them, like Charles Lewis are former reporters themselves who became disillusioned with the direction of journalism, so Lewis started the Center for Public Integrity. They do amazing work to expose power and provide good investigative reports on both government and corporate abuse. A recent report looked at the power that telecommunications companies like SBC wield when it comes to new tele-com policies. Then there is Public Citizen, another watchdog group that looks at corporate power and recently exposed how the oil industry, in collusion with the government stuck it to the public at the pump. Locally, we have Media Mouse, an Indy online site that provides numerous daily news postings of national, international and local news. They even do local research on issues like which area companies have profited off of the war in Iraq. Just go to the publications section of the site.

And of course, those of us at GRIID try to stay on top of what local news covers, how they cover it and what they don’t cover. You can stay current with all of our news monitoring work and you can get an interesting taste of what local news monitoring life is like by attending the 5th Annual Newzees. It’s our showcase of the best of the worst in local TV news. The show keeps evolving and this year it will be sort of a cross between The Tonight Show and The Daily Show. The 2005 Newzees is Wednesday, December 7 at 7pm in the luscious Wealthy Theatre. Beat the rush and get your tickets now! Oops, was that just a product placement?