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Fourth Estate Sale: Censorship, the "Free" Press, and Truth Emergency

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

—A. J. Liebling16

The corporate media in the United States like to think of themselves as the official, most accurate source for news reporting of the day. The New York Times motto of “all the news that’s fit to print” is a clear example of this perspective. However, with corporate media coverage dependent on fewer reporters as a result of downsizing that increasingly focuses on a narrow range of celebrity updates, news from official government and institutional sources and sensationalized crimes and disasters, the self-justification of being the most fit or trusted is no longer valid for American journalism. This shift away from fact-based, socially relevant reporting constitutes a principal form of censorship at the base of this ongoing truth emergency.

There is a growing need to broaden understanding of censorship in the United States. The dictionary definition of direct government control of news as censorship is no longer adequate. The private corporate media significantly undercover and/or deliberately censor numerous important news stories every year. The corporate media ignore valid news stories, even when based on university-quality research. It appears that certain topics are simply forbidden inside the mainstream media today. To openly cover these news stories would stir up questions regarding “inconvenient truths” that many in the US power structure would rather avoid. One group raising these questions is Project Censored, which has covered inconvenient truths, exposed junk news patterns, and called for a more independent, research-driven, transparent, and fact-based system of reporting since 1976.

Some of these taboo truths include civilian death rates in Iraq, the post- 9/11 erosion of civil liberties, levels of violence by side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the coup in Haiti, election fraud in the United States, and questions concerning the very events and subsequent official investigations of 9/11. Here are some more details of the ongoing truth emergency.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and a professional survey company in Great Britain, Opinion Research Business (ORB), report that the United States is directly responsible for over one million Iraqi deaths since our invasion in 2003. In a January 2008 report, ORB concluded that “survey work confirms our earlier estimate that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the conflict which started in 2003 . . . We now estimate that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 is likely to have been of the order of 1,033,000.”17 A 2006 Johns Hopkins study found that US aerial bombing in civilian neighborhoods caused over a third of these deaths and that over half the deaths are directly attributable to US forces.18 As John Tirman, executive director and principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for International Studies, writes, “We have, at present between 800,000 and 1.3 million ‘excessive Deaths’ as we approach the six-year anniversary of this war.”19

Some common themes of recently censored stories include the systemic erosion of human rights and civil liberties in both the United States and the world at large. The corporate media ignored the fact that habeas corpus can now be suspended for anyone by order of the president. With the approval of Congress, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus for US citizens and noncitizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in The New York Times, have given false comfort that American citizens will not be the victims of the measures legalized by the act, the law is quite clear that “any person” can be targeted. The text in the MCA 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 all people living in the United States deemed by the president to be enemy combatants.20 In September 2009, President Obama quietly pledged to continue the program as it was instituted by the Bush administration with little fanfare.21

Additionally, under the code name Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally), three federally coordinated mass arrests occurred between April 2005 and October 2006. In an unprecedented move, more than 30,000 “fugitives” were arrested in the largest dragnets in the nation’s history. By 2008, the number grew to 54,000. Unfortunately, most of those arrested were not, in fact, violent criminals, according to the government’s own statistics. The operations, coordinated by the Justice Department and Homeland Security, directly involved over 960 agencies (state, local, and federal) and are the first time in US history that all the domestic police agencies have been put under the direct control of the federal government. As of July 2009, the sixth effort of the FALCON raids has increased the number of “dangerous fugitive felons” arrested to more than 91,000 (of which only 991 were murder suspects, and only 2,269 were gang members, even though these were the very groups agents were claiming to round up).22

Finally, the term “terrorism” has been dangerously expanded to include any acts that interfere, or promote interference, with the operations of animal enterprises. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), signed into law in 2006, expands the definition of an “animal enterprise” to any business that “uses or sells animals or animal products.”23 The law essentially defines protesters, boy- cotters, or picketers of businesses in the United States as terrorists. This is a clear infringement of First Amendment rights.

Most people in the United States believe in the Bill of Rights and value personal freedoms. Yet in the recent past, the corporate media have failed to adequately inform the public about important changes concerning civil rights and liberties. Despite the busy lives people lead, they want to be informed about serious decisions made by the powerful and rely on the corporate media to keep abreast of significant changes. When corporate media fail to cover these issues, what else can it be called it but censorship? These are issues of considerable concern for the public at large. Conclusions on such matters can only be arrived upon after scrupulous analysis of all known facts. Given that all the facts about these stories are not widely reported, if at all, this leads to a significant crisis for any democracy.

On October 25, 2005, the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) posted to their website 44 autopsy reports, acquired from American military sources, covering the deaths of civilians who died while in US military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002—2004. The autopsy reports provided proof of widespread torture by US forces. A press release by the ACLU announcing the deaths was immediately picked up by the Associated Press (AP) wire service, making the story available to US corporate media nationwide. A thorough check of Lex- isNexis showed that at least 99 percent of daily papers in the United States did not pick the story up, nor did the AP ever conduct follow-up coverage on the issue.24

Not only do daily newspapers fail to cover the inconvenient truths presented by their own wire service, but the wire service itself is filled with internal bias. The AP is a nonprofit cooperative with 3,700 employees and 242 bureaus worldwide that deliver news reports 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to 121 countries in 5 languages, including English, German, Dutch, French, and Spanish. In the United States alone, the AP reaches 1,700 newspapers, and 5,000 radio and television stations. The AP reaches over a billion people every day via print, radio, or television.25

Bias and censorship is also evident in stories concerning the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Researchers from the organization If Americans Knew conducted research on the AP’s reporting of the conflict. The study, a statistical analysis of the AP newswire in the year 2004, compared the number of Israeli and Palestinian reported deaths. In 2004 there were 141 reports of Israeli deaths in AP headlines and lead paragraphs, while in reality there were 108 Israeli deaths. During this same period, the AP reported 543 Palestinian deaths, when in fact 821 Palestinians had been killed. The ratio of Israeli conflict deaths to Palestinian deaths in 2004 was one-t o-s even, yet the AP reported deaths of Israelis to Palestinians at a two-to-one ratio.26

The AP is a massive institutionalized bureaucracy that feeds news stories to nearly every newspaper and radio or TV station in the United States. They are so large that top-down control of individual stories is practically impossible. However, research clearly indicates a built-in bias favoring official US government positions.

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