alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

The News That Didn't Make the News in 1997 (Short Version)

From carcinogenic toothpaste to world arms sales and lost spaceships of plutonium, the award-winning media watch program Project Censored continues to deliver news and information the American public had little or no chance of seeing in their daily paper or on the nightly news.In March, for the 22nd year in a row, the Sonoma State University student and faculty program announced the conclusion of its annual search for major significant but little reported news stories.The top 25 "censored" or underreported stories of 1997 are fully reported and documented in the project yearbook, "Censored 1998: The News That Didn't Make the News."And once again, the project, twice honored for publishing the best alternative political issues book in the country, has cast the spotlight on stories that many Americans have never heard of but need to know about. They include, among others:The United States is the world's principal arms merchant, providing weapons in almost every conflict worldwide and in the process fanning a never-ending cycle of arms sales and arms development.Many cosmetics and health products routinely used by consumers are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration yet are often contaminated with carcinogenic byproducts or products that when combined create carcinogens.The academic freedom and independence of America's university and college system is being compromised by the increasing practice of big business and industry creating endowed professorships, funding think tanks and research centers, sponsoring grants and contracting for research."These and other stories in our annual yearbook provide continuing and convincing evidence that mainstream media in the United States is failing to provide the public information it needs in order to function in a democracy," said Sonoma State University Prof. Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored."Alternative media, newspapers and magazines, are doing the job, but unfortunately many Americans don't see the alternative press. As a result, much vital information is censored simply because it is not available in the papers and television news most people routinely see," he said.Phillips said every year Project Censored runs head-on with the egos and interests of mainstream media simply because of the project's use of the word "censorship.""They don't like to hear the suggestion that by not covering certain stories they are effectively censoring the news. But that is exactly the case," said Phillips. "Project Censored defines censorship as the interference with the free flow of information in our society." The concept of news censorship is more complicated than a government official or industry "spin doctor" simply stamping CENSORED on information and hiding it from the public, according to Phillips."There are a variety of factors that go into censorship in an otherwise democratic society including the tendency to report entertainment, sex and celebrity news rather than the harder more serious issues of the day," he said. "Increasingly, we believe the leading factors are the conglomeration of media chains and the ownership and control of media giants like NBC and CBS by corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse."A reporter for NBC is less likely to investigate nuclear energy issues when he or she knows the corporate boss is chairman of the board of nuclear energy giant General Electric," he said. "That subtle but very effective influence is increasingly the case in newspapers and on television throughout the country."Project Censored routinely takes a lashing from mainstream media over the notion of censorship in the United States. Phillips received a double-barrel blast during an hour-long interview on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" last year when Bernard Kalb of CNN and Marshall Loeb of Columbia Journalism Review challenged the suggestion that corporate or commercial considerations come to play when editors make decisions. But within weeks of that program, Loeb's own CJR criticized the San Francisco Examiner for killing a column critical of Nike lest it offend that corporate sponsor of an Examiner annual run across San Francisco. And Newsweek published a report outlining how Time Warner unsuccessfully leaned on Steven Brill, founder of Court TV and the American Lawyer, to kill a profile on an Federal Trade Commission official because of concerns it could damage the Time Warner-CNN merger that was then under FTC review."Those two examples are not unusual," said Phillips. Phillips contends several factors clearly show that the public is hungry for the information that Project Censored highlights in its annual yearbook. First, he noted that two years in a row the American Association of Wholesale Independent Booksellers named "Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News" as the best alternative political book of the year."And second, we learned that last year's protest movement against NASA's launch of the Cassini space probe with 72 pounds of plutonium on board was organized in many regions by people who didn't even know about Cassini until they read about it in our book," he said. Phillips also thinks mainstream media pays attention to Project Censored, too, but rarely will admit it. "Before our book was published last year there was virtually no mainstream coverage of the Cassini mission. But given the widespread attention the story got after our book was in bookstores across the country, most Americans knew about the mission and its controversial plutonium payload," he said.However pleased he is with Project Censored's success in drawing attention to stories contained in its annual yearbook, Phillips is not gloating. "That's what the students and faculty involved in the project are working for. To point out the shortcomings of the press and encourage, mainstream reporters and producers to take the challenge and perform the service we know they are capable of doing if given the chance by their editors," he said. "If we help to inform the public and to cause the media to do a better job, then we will have done our job."This year's yearbook, published by Seven Stories Press of New York, is the culmination of work by 125 student, faculty and community experts based at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park in Northern California. The top 25 censored stories are culled from more than 600 stories nominated by reporters and editors and readers from throughout the country. Each story is reviewed by student researchers and faculty experts to determine the veracity and significance of the report and to what extent the subject was covered by mainstream media. The final list is submitted to a panel of national judges (See Judges Box) who vote to determine the order of significance. The top 25, led by a report on the Clinton Administration's aggressive promotion of U.S. arms sales throughout the world, include:Top Ten Most Censored News Stories for 19971. Clinton Administration Promotes U.S. Arms Sales Worldwide. The U.S. is now the world's principal arms merchant despite congressional intent to prohibit such practices, and is creating a continuing arms race. Sources: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, October 1996, "Costly Giveaways," by Lora Lumpe; In These Times, 8/11/97, "Guns 'R' Us," by Martha Honey.2. Personal Care and Cosmetic Products May Be Carcinogenic. Personal care products American consumers believe are safe are often contaminated with carcinogenics. Sources: In These Times, 2/17/97, "To Die For;" 3/3/97, "Take a Powder," both by Joel Bleifuss; Chicago Tribune, 7/29/97.3. Big Business Seeks to Control and Influence U.S. Universities. Academia is being auctioned off to highest bidders as industry creates endowed professorships, funds think tanks and research centers, sponsors grants and contracts for research. Sources: CAQ , Spring 1997, "Phi Beta Capitalism" and Dollars and Sense, March/April 1997, "Big Money on Campus," both by Lawrence Soley.4. Exposing the Global Surveillance System. U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand continue to operate secret Cold War-era intelligence system to monitor telephone, e-mail and telex communications throughout the world. Source: CAQ, Winter 1996-97, "Secret Power: Exposing the Global Surveillance System," by Nicky Hager.5. U.S. Companies Are World Leaders in the Manufacture of Torture Devices for Internal Use and Export. Forty-two of 100 firms worldwide that produce and sell instruments of torture are based in the U.S. Source: The Progressive, September 1997, "Shock Value: U.S. Stun Devices Post Human Rights Risk," by Anne-Marie Cusac.6. Russian Plutonium Lost Over Chile and Bolivia. Four canisters of deadly plutonium aboard the Russia Mars 96 space probe remain lost after the spacecraft plunged back to earth and crashed into Bolivia. Source: CAQ, Spring 1997, "Space Probe Explodes, Plutonium Missing," by Karl Grossman.7. Norplant and Human Lab Experiments in Third World Lead to Forced Use in the United States. Low-income women in the U.S. and in Third World countries have been targets of U.S. policies to control birth rates, often injected with contraceptive implants that lead to painful and costly complications. Sources: MS., Nov/Dec 1996, "The Misuses of Norplant: Who Gets Stuck?", by Jennifer Washburn; Washington Free Press, March/April 1997, "Norplant and The Dark Side of the Law," by Rebecca Kavoussi; Human Events, 5/16/97, "BBC Documentary Claims That U.S. Foreign Aid Funded Norplant Testing on Uninformed Third World Women," by Joseph D'Agostino.8. Little Known Federal Law Paves the Way for National ID Card. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act contains the framework for establishing a national ID card for the American public. Sources: WITWIGO, May/June 1997, "National ID Card Is Now Federal Law and Georgia Wants to Help Lead the Way," by Cyndee Parker; New York Times, 9/8/96; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/19/96.9. Mattel Cuts U.S. Jobs to Open Sweat Shops in Other Countries. Thanks to NAFTA and GATT, the U.S. toy industry has cut a one-time American workforce of 56,000 in half and sent many of the jobs to countries where workers lack basic rights. Sources: The Nation, 12/30/96, "Barbie's Betrayal: The Toy Industry's Broken Workers," by Eyal Press; The Humanist, Jan/Feb 1997, "Sweat Shop Barbie: Exploitation of Third World Labor," by Anton Foek.10. Army's Plan to Burn Nerve Gas and Toxins in Oregon Threatens Columbia River Basin. Despite evidence that incineration is the worst option for destroying the nation's obsolete chemical weapons stockpile, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission has authorized the Army and Raytheon Corp. to build five incinerators at the Umatilla Army Depot. Source: EARTHFIRST!, March 1997, "Army Plans to Burn Surplus Nerve Gas Stockpile," by Mark Brown and Kayrn Jones. Editors: For your graphic needs, we offer a list of the names and credentials of Project Censored's national judges: Project Censored Judges: Dr. Donna Allen, president of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press.Ben Bagdikian, professor emeritus and former dean, Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.Richard Barnet, author of 15 books and numerous articles for The New York Times Magazine, The Nation and the Progressive.Susan Faludi, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.Dr. George Gerbner, dean emeritus, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania and author of Invisible Crises: What Conglomerate Media Control Means for American.Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News columnist.Aileen C. Hernandez, a long time civil and human rights worker and labor organizer, former commissioner on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as second national president of the National Organization for Women, lifetime member of NAACP.Dr. Carl Jensen, founder and former director of Project Censored, author of Censored: The News that Didn't Make the News and Why, 1990-96, and 20 Years of Censored News.Sut Jhally, professor of communications and executive director, The Media Education Foundation, University of Massachusetts.Nicholas Johnson, professor, College of Law, University of Iowa and former FCC Commissioner.Rhoda H. Karpatkin, president, Consumers Union, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports.Charles L. Klotzer, editor and publisher emeritus, St. Louis Journalism Review.Judith Krug, director, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association.Frances Moore Lappe, co-founder and co-director, Center for Living Democracy.William Lutz, professor, English, Rutgers University.Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D., economist columnist, King Features and Pacifica radio talk show host.Jack L. Nelson, professor, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University.Michael Parenti, political analyst, lecturer, and author of The Politics of News Media and Make Believe Media.Herbert I. Schiller, professor emeritus of communications, University of California, San Diego.Barbara Seaman, author, The Doctors' Case Against the Pill and co-founder of the National Women's Health Network.Holly Sklar, author, Chaos or Community and Seeking Solutions Not Scapegoats for Bad Economics and others.Sheila Rabb Weidenfeld, president, D.C. Productions, Ltd.; former press secretary for Betty Ford.Editors: Censored 1998: The News That Didn't Make the News will be released nationally in March. For review copies contact Seven Stories Press, 212-995-0908. For additional information contact Peter Phillips at Project Censored 707-664-2500 or e-mail Stories Are SelectedSelection of the "most censored" stories of the year is a complex task involving hundreds of people nationally. This year, close to 1,000 nominated news stories were screened by Project Censored staff. The nominations came to us from supporters all over the world. In addition, we, in cooperation with the Data Center in Oakland, California, monitored over 700 alternative/independent media sources, looking for important under-covered stories.After screening, (we set aside purely op-ed items and news stories not fitting our October 15th annual cycle), we referred 610 stories to 68 faculty and community evaluators, using a standardized grading sheet to weigh the story for importance and credibility. The 160 highest-rated stories are researched by Sonoma State University students for levels of coverage in the mainstream press. The top fifty stories with the highest importance rating and lowest coverage levels are read by faculty and students, and, in November, the vote is tallied. Finally, the top 25 stories are ranked by our national judges for their national significance.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.