Have you read the one about corporations planning to charge you hundreds of dollars a month for your tap water? Or the one about military "psychological operations" specialists manipulating viewers of CNN? What about the highly skilled programmers in Silicon Valley who, because they are immigrants, are laboring under sweatshop-like conditions?
If none of these stories rings a bell, it's not because you've missed the latest e-mail hoax. It's because these very real tales -- and many others like them -- weren't reported in the mainstream media. Instead, they were among this year's "Top Ten Censored Stories," according to Project Censored, a veteran media watchdog group. Every year for the past 25, Project Censored has tracked important stories that are underreported or blacked out by the mainstream press. The articles are honored with an award and then compiled in a book published by Seven Stories Press.
The consistent theme exposed by these articles is that our government routinely fails to protect our rights, health, and safety, especially if there's corporate money at stake. While Americans often bad-mouth "big government," we overwhelmingly favor health and environmental regulations, and trust that they keep us safe. Unfortunately, as these stories show, our trust may be misplaced.
The yearly release of the Project's Top 10 list is often accompanied by controversy and a pinch of confusion, mostly because of the Project's complicated definition of censorship. Few mainstream news organizations experience overt, top-down censorship -- for example, an editor killing a controversial story or firing a reporter who has dug too deep.
The reality of censorship in American newsrooms is far more subtle and, arguably, far more pervasive. As mainstream media outlets are increasingly dominated by large corporate conglomerates, they become ever more beholden to the bottom line. Stories that don't make money -- either because they don't capture a large audience, are too expensive to research, or might offend advertisers and investors -- often end up on the newsroom floor.
Reporters and editors quickly learn to play by the narrow rules of the game, and to keep their stories within a certain range of ideas and topics. On top of this self-censorship, the relentless pace of mainstream news outlets rarely allows for anything more than simplified treatments of complex subjects. Fortunately, as Project Censored points out year after year, there are other media outlets that do investigate and report on controversial, complicated stories -- the independent press. Ranging from established national magazines (In These Times, The Progressive, Washington Monthly) to web outlets (MotherJones.com, AlterNet.org) to alternative newsweeklies, these publications, as the Project puts it, report "the news that doesn't make the news."
Unfortunately, because their reach is small compared to the massive media giants that dominate print, radio, television, and online news, stories in these indie publications often don't get the attention they deserve. That's where Project Censored believes it can help. By honoring the Top 10 Censored Stories, the Project hopes both to provoke mainstream media to cover these issues and to strengthen the independent press. "We must redevelop news and information systems from the bottom up," writes Peter Phillips, Project Censored's director and a journalism professor at Sonoma State University. "Thousands of alternative news organizations already exist. We just need to connect and put their news on the breakfast tables of millions of working people."
Executing that vision is easier said than done, of course. And while highlighting the top 10 underreported stories every year will hardly cause a media revolution, it will keep more people informed about the pressing issues that passed quietly by last year.
So without further ado, the Top 10 Censored Stories of 2000 are ...
This frightens environmentalists. But for officials at international lending institutions and multinational companies, it's a business opportunity. "Water is the last infrastructure frontier for private investors," declared one banking official. Monsanto corporation certainly agrees; it plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico.
The Bechtel corporation is also on the case, but has botched its scramble for blue gold. While attempting to privatize the local water system of Cochamba, Bolivia, not only did they provoke mass strikes that injured hundreds and shut down the city of 600,000 for a week, but they sought to pin the blame for the uprising on narcotics traffickers. But this bad PR hasn't stopped Bechtel -- the company appears to be positioning itself to privatize San Francisco's water system.
Even when OSHA does inspect workplaces that are violating safety rules, the fines they impose are a joke. In one case, at Titan International, the manufacturing company profiled in Cook's article, OSHA only imposed a paltry $10,000 fine after Titan's illegal equipment, which lacked crucial safety features, killed a worker. For a company raking in hundreds of millions a year, a few grand is laughable.
The net effect is that employers like Titan pay no attention to rules and regulations designed to keep their workers safe. While it would cost them plenty of short-term dollars to install safety guards and properly train workers, it will only cost them relatively small amounts in fines over a long period if they do not. Their workers, of course, are caught in the middle.
But the military took the principle way too far when it actually placed army psy-ops personnel at CNN's TV, radio, and satellite bureaus during the Kosovo war. Through a program called "Training With Industry," the army stationed five psy-ops soldiers as interns at CNN's Southeast bureau. Later, in a closed-door army symposium, a psy-ops commander said the cooperation with CNN was a textbook example of the kind of ties the American army wants to have with the media.
"The U.S. Army ... confirmed to me that military personnel have been involved in news production at CNN's newsdesks," said Abe De Vried, who first broke the story in a respected Dutch newspaper. "I found it simply astonishing. These kind of close ties with the army are, in my view, completely unacceptable for any serious news organization."
As award-winner Alexander Cockburn speculated, "It could be that CNN was the target of a psy-ops penetration and is still too naive to figure out what was going on."
Five months later, reports in the Observer of London and Copenhagen's Politiken alleged that the CIA had coordinated the attack in order to destroy a Yugoslavian army rebroadcast center housed in the embassy. Secretary of State Madeline Albright dismissed the allegations as "balderdash," and both stories were ignored by mainstream news outlets in the U.S.
In response to a campaign by media critic group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The New York Times finally ran an investigative story in April of last year, claiming it found no conclusive evidence of a deliberate attack -- though the reporter, Times Pentagon correspondent Steven Lee Myers, seemed to have his doubts. But the real issue was the reluctance of the U.S. media to confront a story that was receiving serious attention abroad.
The U.S. Export-Import Bank is a government agency that underwrites exports through tax-payer backed loans. As the writers document, from 1959-1993 it spent $7.7 billion to help sell American-made reactors overseas. The reason for this "help," however, was not altruistic. U.S. nuclear contractors like Westinghouse, Bechtel, and General Electric have watched their home markets shrink, as nuclear power has become riddled with risks and uncertainties. So they have searched for clients abroad. Since most countries can't afford to buy nuclear power facilities, the contractors often provide financing backed by Ex-Im and you.
Often, contractors make windfall profits from such loans. In 1985, Westinghouse built the Bataan nuclear power facility in the Philippines at a cost of $1.2 billion, 150% above projections. The plant was situated near an active volcano and never generated a single watt of energy. Nevertheless, the Philippines pays $300,000 a day in interest on the loan that funded the project. Of course, none of this should be a huge surprise -- the leader of the council overseeing Ex-Im loans is also the head honcho at Westinghouse.
Other mass killings have occurred during Rwanda's brutal history. However, under the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention, once a genocide is recognized, the nations of the world are obligated to prevent the killings and to punish the murderers. A story that strongly suggests that our government knew about this horrible rampage, and might have prevented it, deserves significant media followup.
Pusztai pushed his case in the media, creating a firestorm of controversy in the British press. His main point: Why not continue the experiments he had started, to determine the health risks of GE potatoes? Eventually, he found an ally in Prince Charles, who wrote a widely publicized article in the Daily Mail questioning the lack of safety testing on GE foods. In a highly unusual move, British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- a biotech advocate -- called Charles to advise him to withdraw his opinion and refrain from any further public comments. Just another startling illustration of how effectively industry, in collusion with industry-friendly government officials, can squash opinions or evidence that might threaten profit margins.
In "Drug Rush," Stephen Pomper describes how an accelerated FDA drug approval process, combined with too few experts to monitor reports of problems with drugs already on the market, leaves patients vulnerable. The risk to public health increases when pharmaceutical companies ply doctors with incentives to turn them into salesmen for the latest medications.
Meanwhile, Ken Silverstein's research for Mother Jones revealed that the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), a nonprofit advocacy group that calls itself "a grassroots organization for individuals with brain disorders, and their family members," got millions from pharmaceutical companies, including a large chunk from Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly. "Mother Jones cracked the shell," David Oaks concluded in a follow-up story for Dendron that connects the dots between the drug companies' largesse and a coercive medication monitoring program sponsored by NAMI. "It's up to the grassroots to finish the job."
What do the local papers, The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News (which merged this year), have to say about it? Not much, the story reports -- maybe because for many years, their companies contributed their own toxic waste to Lowry.
This is particularly true for high tech workers from India and Pakistan employed by Silicon Valley tech firms. Kim Singh, for example, got an H1-B visa for a software engineer job. Upon arriving from India, he worked for one company that withheld 25% of his and other immigrant workers' salaries. At his second Silicon Valley job, he worked seven days a week with no overtime compensation, and discovered that only H1-B workers were required to work weekends. His third employer rented him and three other H1-B workers an apartment, charging each $1,450 a month, while holding onto their passports. Complaints about this kind of treatment were met by firings and deportation.
Such abuses have far-ranging effects. Silicon Valley tech companies have lobbied Congress to increase the yearly number of H1-B workers to 300,000 as well as to lift the cap entirely, potentially increasing abuses. And high tech jobs that have gone to foreigners have prevented firms from training American workers, whom they would have to pay higher wages. "Contract labor boosts corporate bottom lines," David Bacon reported, "but it has a devastating impact on workers."
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