by Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff
December 22, 2009
The co-authors would like to express
sincere appreciation for editing assistance provided by Rebecca
Norlander and Ellen Gaddy.
Peter Phillips is a professor
of Sociology at Sonoma State University and President of Media
Freedom Foundation: email@example.com.
Mickey Huff is a associate
professor of History at Diablo Valley College, and serves on the
executive committee of Media Freedom Foundation: firstname.lastname@example.org
Among the most important corporate media censored news stories of the past
decade, one must be that over one million people have died because of the
United States military invasion and occupation of Iraq.
This, of course, does not include the number of
deaths from the first Gulf War nor the ensuing sanctions placed upon the
country of Iraq that, combined, caused close to an additional one million
Iraqi deaths. In the Iraq War, which began in March of 2003, over a million
people have died violently primarily from US bombings and neighborhood
These were deaths in excess of the normal
civilian death rate under the prior government. Among US military leaders
and policy elites, the issue of counting the dead was dismissed before the
Iraqi invasion even began.
In an interview with reporters in late March of
2002 US General Tommy Franks stated,
“You know we don’t do body counts.”1
Fortunately, for those concerned about
humanitarian costs of war and empire, others do.
In a January 2008 report, the British polling group Opinion Research
Business (ORB) reported 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. If one takes into account the margin of error associated with
survey data of this nature then the estimated range is between 946,000
and 1,120,000.” 2
The ORB report came on the heels of two earlier
studies conducted by Dr. Les Roberts and colleagues at Johns Hopkins
University and published in the Lancet medical journal. The first study done
from January 1, 2002 to March 18, 2003 confirmed civilian deaths at that
time at over 100,000.
The second study published in October 2006
documented over 650,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since the start of the US
invasion and confirmed that US aerial bombing in civilian neighborhoods
caused over a third of these deaths. Over half the deaths were directly
attributable to US forces. The now estimated 1.2 million dead six years into
the war/occupation, included children, parents, grandparents, cab drivers,
clerics and schoolteachers.
All manner of ordinary Iraqis have died because
the United States decided to invade their country under false pretenses of
undiscovered weapons of mass destruction and in violation of international
law. An additional four to five million Iraqi refugees have fled their
homes. The magnitude of these million-plus deaths and creation of such a
vast refugee crisis is undeniable.
The continuing occupation by US forces has
guaranteed a monthly mass death rate of thousands of people a carnage that
ranks among the most heinous mass killings in world history. More tons of
bombs have been dropped in Iraq than in all of World War II.2
Six years later the casualties continue but the
story, barely reported from the start, has vanished.
The American people face a serious moral dilemma. Murder and war crimes have
been conducted in their name. Yet most Americans have no idea of the
magnitude of deaths and tend to believe that they number in the thousands
and are primarily Iraqis killing Iraqis.
Corporate mainstream media are in large part to
The question then becomes how can this mass
ignorance and corporate media deception exist in the United States and what
impact does this have on peace and social justice movements in the country?3
Truth Emergency and
In the United States today, the rift between reality and reporting has
peaked. There is no longer a mere credibility gap, but rather a literal.
Truth Emergency in which the most important information affecting
people is concealed from view.
Many Americans, relying on the mainstream
corporate media, have serious difficulty accessing the truth while still
believing that the information they receive is the reality. A Truth
Emergency reflects cumulative failures of the fourth estate to act as a
truly free press. This truth emergency is seen in inadequate coverage of
fraudulent elections, pseudo 9/11 investigations, illegal preemptive wars,
torture camps, doctored intelligence, and domestic surveillance.
Reliable information on these issues is
systematically missing in corporate media outlets, where the vast majority
of the American people continue to turn for news and information.
Consider these items of noteworthy conditions. US workers have been faced
with a thirty-five year decline in real wages while the top few percent
enjoy unparalleled wealth with strikingly low tax burdens.
US schools, particularly in the west, are more
segregated now than half a century ago. The US has the highest infant
mortality rate among industrialized nations, is falling behind in scientific
research and education, leads the world as a debtor nation, and is seriously
lacking in healthcare quality and coverage, which results in the deaths of
18,000 people a year. America has entered another Gilded Age.
Someone should alert the media.
The Free Press or Media Reform Movement is a national effort to
address mainstream media failures and the government policies that sanction
them. During the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) in
Minneapolis, Project Censored interns and faculty conducted a survey,
completed by 376 randomly selected NCMR attendees out of the 3,500 people
registered for the conference.
This survey was designed to gauge participants’
views on the state of the corporate news media and the effectiveness of the
media reform movement.
The survey also sought to determine the level of
belief in a truth emergency, a systematic hiding of critical information in
the US. Not surprisingly, for a sample of independent media reform
activists, majorities in the 90% plus range agreed on most criticisms of
mainstream media, that corporate media failed to keep the American people
informed on important issues facing the nation and that a truth emergency
does indeed exist in the US.
Regarding the reasons, 87% of the participants
believed that a military-industrial-media complex exists in the US for the
promotion of the US military domination of the world and most agreed with
research conclusions by
Project Censored, and others, that a
continuing powerful global dominance group inside the US government, the US
media, and the national policy structure is responsible.
What was clear from our survey is that media
democracy activists strongly support not only aggressive reform efforts and
policy changes but also the continuing development of independent,
grassroots media as part of an overall media democracy movement.
While most progressive media activists do not believe in some omnipotent
conspiracy, an overwhelming portion of NCMR participants do believe the
leadership class in the US is dominated by a neo-conservative group of some
several hundred people who share a goal of asserting US military power
This Global Dominance Group (GDM)
continues under both Republican and Democratic rule. In cooperation with
major military contractors, the corporate media, and conservative
foundations, the GDM has become a powerful long-term force in military
unilateralism and US political processes.
The Global Dominance
Group and Information Control
A long thread of sociological research documents the existence of a dominant
ruling class in the US, which sets policy and determines national political
C. Wright Mills, in his 1956 book
The Power Elite, documented how World War
II solidified a trinity of power in the US that comprised corporate,
military and government elites in a centralized power structure working in
unison through “higher circles” of contact and agreement.4
This power has grown through the Cold War and,
after 9/11, the
Global War on Terror.
At present, the global dominance agenda includes penetration into the
boardrooms of the corporate media in the US. Only 118 people comprise the
membership on the boards of director of the ten big media giants. These 118
individuals in turn sit on the corporate boards of 288 national and
Four of the top 10 media corporations share
board director positions with the major defense contractors including:
William Kennard: New York Times,
Douglas Warner III, GE (NBC), Bechtel
Disney (ABC), Boeing
Alwyn Lewis: Disney (ABC), Halliburton
Douglas McCorkindale: Gannett,
Given an interlocked media network of
connections with defense and other economic sectors, big media in the United
States effectively represent the interests of corporate America.
Media critic and historian Norman Solomon
described the close financial and social links between the boards of large
media-related corporations and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment:
“One way or another, a military-industrial
complex now extends to much of corporate media.” 5
The Homeland Security Act Title II Section
201(d)(5) provides an example of the interlocked
This Act specifically asks the directorate to,
“develop a comprehensive plan for securing
the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States
including information technology and telecommunications systems
(including satellites) emergency preparedness communications systems.”
The media elite, a key component of the
Higher Circle Policy Elite in the US, are the watchdogs of acceptable
ideological messages, the controllers of news and information content, and
the decision makers regarding media resources.
Their goal is to create symbiotic global news
distribution in a deliberate attempt to control the news and information
available to society. The two most prominent methods used to accomplish this
task are censorship and propaganda.
Sometimes the sensationalist and narrow media coverage of news is blamed
upon the need to meet a low level of public taste and thereby capture the
eyes of a sufficient market to lure advertisers and to make a profit.
But another goal of cornering the marketplace on
what news and views will be aired is also prominent.
billionaire Rupert Murdoch loses $50
million a year on the NY Post
billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife loses
$2 to $3 million a year on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
billionaire Philip Anschutz loses around
$5 million a year on The Weekly Standard
billionaire Sun Myung Moon has lost $2
to $3 billion on The Washington Times
The losses in supporting conservative media
are part of a strategy of ideological control.
They also buy bulk quantities of
ultra-conservative books bringing them to the top of the NY Times bestseller
list and then give away copies to “subscribers” to their websites and
publications. They fund conservative “think tanks” like Heritage and Cato
with hundreds of millions of dollars a year. All this buys them
respectability and a megaphone.
Even though William Kristol’s publication, the
Standard, is a money-loser, his association with it has often gotten him on
TV talk shows and a column with the New York Times. Sponsorships of groups
like Grover Norquist’s anti-tax “Americans for Tax Reform” regularly get
people like him front-and-center in any debate on taxation in the United
This has contributed to extensive tax cuts for
the wealthy and the most unfair tax laws of any industrialized country - all
found acceptable by a public relying upon sound-bites about the dangers of
‘big government.’ Hence media corporation officials and others in the health
care, energy and weapons industries remain wealthier than ordinary people
Their expenditures for molding opinion are
better understood as investments in a conservative public ideology.6
Censorship and Propaganda
A broader definition of contemporary censorship needs to include any
interference, deliberate or not, with the free flow of vital news
information to the public. Modern censorship can be seen as the subtle yet
constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media
On a daily basis, censorship refers to the
intentional non-inclusion of a news story - or piece of a news story
- based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth.
Such manipulation can take the form of
political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals),
economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the
threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and
institutions). or threats to reduce future access to governmental and
corporate sources of news.
Following are a few examples of censorship and
Omitted or Undercovered Stories
The failure of the corporate media to
cover human consequences, like one million , mostly civilian deaths
of Iraqis, reduces public response to the wars being conducted by
Even when activists do mobilize, the
media coverage of anti-war demonstrations has been negligible and
denigrating from the start. When journalists of the so-called free
press ignore the anti-war movement, they serve the interests of
their masters in the military media industrial complex.7
Further, the corporate mainstream press continues to ignore the
human cost of the US war in Iraq with America’s own veterans.
Veteran care, wounded rates, mental disabilities, VA claims, first
hand accounts of soldier experiences, and pictures of dead or
limbless soldiers are rare.
One of the most important stories missed
by the corporate press concerned the Winter Soldier Congressional
hearings in Washington, D.C. The hearings, with eyewitness testimony
of US soldiers relating their experiences on the battlefield and
beyond, were only covered by a scant number of major media, and then
only in passing.
In contrast to the virtual corporate
media blackout concerning American soldiers’ views of the war, the
independent, listener sponsored, community Pacifica Radio network
covered the hearings at length.8
A common theme among the most censored stories over the past few
years has been the systemic erosion of human rights and civil
liberties in both the US and the world at large. The corporate media
has 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, signed by Bush on October
17, 2006, allows for the suspension of habeas corpus for US citizens
and non-citizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in
the New York Times October 19, 2006, have offered false comfort that
American citizens will not be the victims, the Act is quite clear
that ‘any person’ can be targeted.9
Additionally, under the code-name
Operation FALCON (Federal and
Local Cops Organized Nationally), federally coordinated mass
arrests have been occurring since April 2005 and netted over 54,000
arrests, a majority of whom were not violent criminals as was
initially suggested. This unprecedented move of arresting tens of
thousands of “fugitives” is the largest dragnet style operation in
the nation’s history.
The raids, coordinated by the Justice
Department and Homeland Security, directly involved over 960
agencies (state, local and federal) and mark the first time in US
history that all domestic police agencies have been put under the
direct control of the federal government.10
All these events are significant in a democratic society that claims
to cherish individual rights and due process of law. To have them
occur is a tragedy.
To have a “free” press not report them
or pretend these issues do not matter to the populace is the
foundation of censorship today.
Repetition of Slogans and Sound Bites
The corporate media in the US present
themselves as unbiased and accurate.
The New York Times motto of “all the
news that’s fit to print” is a clear example, as is CNN’s
authoritative “most trusted name in news” and Fox’s mantra of “fair
and balanced.” The slogans are examples of what linguist George
Lakoff has referred to as framing.
Through constant repetition, the
metaphors and symbols that pervade our media turn into unquestioned
Terms like “liberal media,” “welfare
cheaters,” “war on terror,” illegal aliens,” “tax burden,” “support
our troops,” are all distorted images serving to conceal a transfer
of wealth from people needing a safety net to corporations seeking
profitable markets and military expansion.
The media are increasingly dependent on
governmental and corporate sources of news.
Maintenance of continuous news shows
requires a constant feed and an ever-entertaining supply of
stimulating events and breaking news bites. The 24-hour news shows
on MSNBC, Fox and CNN maintain constant contact with the White
House, Pentagon, and public relations companies representing both
government and private corporations.
By the time of the Gulf War in 1991, retired colonels, generals and
admirals had become mainstays in network TV studios during wartime.
Language such as “collateral damage” and “smart bombs” flowed
effortlessly between journalists and military men, who shared
perspectives on the occasionally mentioned but more rarely seen
civilians killed by U.S. firepower.
This clearly foreshadowed the structure
of “embedded” reporting in the second Iraq War, where mainstream
corporate journalists literally lived with the troops and had to
submit all reports for military review.10
A related militarization of news studies
by Diane Farsetta at the Center for Media Democracy
documented a related introduction of bias. These investigations
showed Pentagon propaganda penetration on mainstream corporate news
in the guise of retired Generals as “experts” or pundits who turned
out to be nothing more than paid shills for government war policy.11
The problem then becomes more complex. What happens to a society
that begins to believe such lies as truth? The run up to the 2003
war in Iraq concerning weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is a case
It illustrates the power of propaganda
in creating not only public support for an ill-begotten war, but
also reduces the possibility of a peace movement, even when fueled
by the truth, to stop a war based on falsehoods. The current war in
Iraq was the most globally protested war in recorded history. This
did nothing to stop it and has done little to end it even under a
Democratic president who promised such on the campaign trail.
The candidate of “hope and change,” with
peace groups in tow, has proven to be dependent upon the same
interests in foreign policy that got the US into war in the first
The Progressive Press
Where the left progressive press may have covered some of the Winter Soldier
issues, most did not cover the major story of Iraqi deaths.
Manufacturing Consent, Wharton School of Business Professor of
Political Economy Edward Herman and MIT Institute Professor of
Noam Chomsky claim that because media
are firmly embedded in the market system, they reflect the class values and
concerns of their owners and advertisers.
The corporate media maintain a class bias
through five systemic filters:
concentrated private ownership
a strict bottom-line profit orientation
over-reliance on governmental and
corporate sources for news
a primary tendency to avoid offending
an almost religious worship of the
These filters limit what will become news in
society and set parameters on acceptable coverage of daily events.13
The danger of these filters is that they make subtle and indirect censorship
more difficult to combat. Owners and managers share class identity with the
powerful and are motivated economically to please advertisers and viewers.
Social backgrounds influence their conceptions of what is “newsworthy,” and
their views and values seem only “common sense.” Journalists and editors are
not immune to the influence of owners and managers.
Reporters want to see their stories approved for
print or broadcast, and editors come to know the limits of their freedom to
diverge from the “common sense” worldview of owners and managers. The
self-discipline that this structure induces in journalists and editors comes
to seem only “common sense” to them as well.
Self-discipline becomes self-censorship -
independence is restricted, the filtering process hidden, denied, or
Project Censored’s analysis on the top ten progressive left publications and
websites coverage of key post-9/11 issues found considerable limitations on
reporting of specific stories. The evidence supports the Chomsky and Herman
understanding that the media barrage may in fact contribute to the news
story selection process inside the left liberal media as well.14
Even the left progressive media showed limited
coverage of the human costs of the 9/11 wars.
The figure reported in summer, 2007 documenting a million dead did appear in
progressive websites and radio including After Downing Street, Huffington
Post, CounterPunch, Alternet, Democracy Now! and the Nation, but several
took months to get to it. This lack of timely reporting on such a critical
story on the humanitarian crisis of the US occupation by the alternative
press in America does not bode well for a strong, public, peace movement.
The US is in dire need of a media democracy
movement to address truth emergency concerns.
In response, the Truth Emergency Movement, held its first national
strategy summit in Santa Cruz, California Jan. 25-27, 2008. Organizers
gathered key media constituencies to devise coherent decentralized models
for distribution of suppressed news, synergistic truth-telling, and
collaborative strategies to disclose, legitimize and popularize deeper
historical narratives on power and inequality in the US.
In sum, this truth movement is seeking to
discover in this moment of Constitutional crisis, ecological peril, and
widening war, ways in which top investigative journalists, whistleblowers,
and independent media activists can transform how Americans perceive and
defend their world.
We learn from grassroots actions in the US but
also from experiences of other countries. This requires us to transcend the
stereotypes of other countries hammered by the corporate media. It is not by
chance that two Latin American nations, both targets of US efforts to remove
their popular leaders by force, have been vilified by mainstream media.
Both Cuba and Venezuela, however,
have been experiments in local democratic participation in which voices of
communities weigh heavily upon social policy.
of Media Democracy in Action - Venezuela
Democracy from the bottom is evolving as a ten-year social revolution in
Led by President Hugo Chavez, the
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) gained over 1½ million voters
in the November, 2008 elections.
“It was a wonderful victory,” said Professor
Carmen Carrero with the communications studies department of the
Bolivarian University in Caracas. “We won 81 percent of the city mayor
positions and seventeen of twenty-three of the state governors,” Carrero
The Bolivarian University is housed in the
former oil ministry building and now serves 8,000 students throughout
The University (Universidad Bolivariana de
Venezuela) is symbolic of the democratic socialist changes occurring
throughout the country. Before the election of Hugo Chavez as president in
1998, college attendance was primarily for the rich in Venezuela.
Today over one million, eight hundred thousand
students attend college, three times the rate ten years ago.
“Our university was established to resist
domination and imperialism,” reported Principal (president) Marlene
Yadira Cordova in an interview November 10, 2008, “We are a university
where we have a vision of life that the oppressed people have a place on
The enthusiasm for learning and
serious-thoughtful questions asked by students was certainly representative
of a belief in the potential of positive social change for human betterment.
The University offers a fully staffed free
healthcare clinic, zero tuition, and basic no-cost food for students in the
cafeteria, all paid for by the oil revenues now being democratically shared
by the people.
Bottom up democracy in Venezuela starts with the 25,000 community councils
elected in every neighborhood in the country.
“We establish the priority needs of our
area,” reported community council spokesperson Carmon Aponte,
with the neighborhood council in the barrio Bombilla area of western
Aponte works with Patare Community TV and radio
station and is one of thirty-four locally controlled community television
stations and four hundred radio stations now in the barrios throughout
Venezuela. Community radio, TV and newspapers are the voice of the people,
where they describe the viewers/listeners as the “users” of media instead of
the passive audiences.15
Democratic socialism has meant healthcare, jobs, food, and security, in
neighborhoods where in many cases nothing but poverty existed ten years ago.
With unemployment down to a US level, sharing the wealth has taken real
meaning in Venezuela.
Despite a 50 percent increase in the price of
food last year, local Mercals offer government subsidized cooking oil, corn
meal, meat, and powdered milk at 30-50 percent off market price.
Additionally, there are now 3,500 local communal
banks with a $1.6 billion dollar budget offering neighborhood-based
micro-financing loans for home improvements, small businesses, and personal
“We have moved from a time of disdain
[pre-revolution - when the upper classes saw working people as less than
human] to a time of adjustment,” proclaimed Ecuador’s minister of
Culture, Gallo Mora Witt at the opening ceremonies of the Fourth
International Book Fair in Caracas, November, 2007.
Venezuela’s Minister of Culture, Hector Soto
“We try not to leave anyone out… before the
revolution the elites published only 60-80 books a year, we will publish
1,200 Venezuelan authors this year… the book will never stop being the
important tool for cultural feelings.”
In fact, some twenty-five million books -
classics by Victor Hugo and Miguel de Cervantes along with Cindy Sheehan’s
Letter to George Bush - were published in 2008 and are being distributed to
the community councils nationwide. The theme of the International Book Fair
was books as cultural support to the construction of the Bolivarian
revolution and building socialism for the 21st century.
In Venezuela the corporate media are still owned by the elites. The five
major TV networks, and nine of ten of the major newspapers maintain a
continuing media effort to undermine Chavez and the socialist revolution.
But despite the corporate media and $20 million
annual support to the anti-Chavez opposition institutions from
National Endowment for Democracy,
two-thirds of the people in Venezuela continue to support President Hugo
Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
The democracies of South America are realizing
that the neo-liberal formulas for capitalism are not working and that
new forms of resource allocation are necessary for human betterment.
It is a learning process for all involved and
certainly a democratic effort from the bottom up.
of Media Democracy in Action - Cuba
“You cannot kill truth by murdering
journalists,” said Tubal Páez, president of the Journalist Union
In May of 2008, One hundred and fifty Cuban and
South American journalists, ambassadors, politicians, and foreign guests
gathered at the Jose Marti International Journalist Institute to honor the
50th anniversary of the death of Carlos Bastidas Arguello - the last
journalist killed in Cuba.
Carlos Bastidas was 23 years old when he was
assassinated by Fulgencio Batista’s secret police after having visited Fidel
Castro’s forces in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
Edmundo Bastidas, Carlos’ brother, told
about how a river of change flowed from the Maestra (teacher) mountains,
symbolized by his brother’s efforts to help secure a new future for Cuba.
The celebration in Havana was held in honor of World Press Freedom Day,
which is observed every year in May. The UN first declared this day in 1993
to honor journalists who lost their lives reporting the news and to defend
media freedom worldwide.
Cuban journalists share a common sense of a continuing counter-revolutionary
threat by US financed Cuban-Americans living in Miami. This is not an
entirely unwarranted feeling in that many hundreds of terrorist actions
against Cuba have occurred with US backing over the past fifty years.
In addition to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion,
these attacks include the blowing up of a Cuban airlines plane in 1976
killing seventy-three people, the starting in 1981 of an epidemic of dengue
fever that killed 158 people, and several hotel bombings in the 1990s, one
of which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist.
In the context of this external threat, Cuban journalists quietly
acknowledge that some self-censorship will undoubtedly occur regarding news
stories that could be used by the “enemy” against the Cuban people.
Nonetheless, Cuban journalists strongly value freedom of the press and there
was no evidence of overt government control.
Ricardo Alarcon, President of the
National Assembly Cuba allows CNN, AP and Chicago Tribune to maintain
offices in Cuba, noted that the US refuses to allow Cuban journalists to
work in the United States.16
Cuban journalists complain that the US corporate media is biased and refuses
to cover the positive aspects of socialism in Cuba.
Unknown to most Americans are the facts
that Cuba is the number one country in percentage of organic foods
produced in the world, has an impressive health care system with a lower
infant mortality rate than the US, trains doctor from all over the world,
and has enjoyed a 43% increase in GDP between 2005 and 2008.
Neither Cuba nor Venezuela are utopian societies. Developing countries
subject to continuing pressure by the US may be cautious and suspicious of
provocateurs that would incite violence or provoke US military intervention.
But in these countries, the ability of local
media expressing voices of local communities is something from which media
reformers can learn.
to Corporate Media Propaganda
Tens of thousands of Americans engaged in various social justice issues
constantly witness how corporate media marginalize, denigrate, or simply
ignore their concerns.
Activist groups working on issues like 9/11
Truth, election fraud, impeachment in the Bush era, war propaganda, civil
liberties abridgements, torture, the Wall Street meltdown, and
corporate-caused environmental crises have been systematically excluded from
mainstream news and the national conversation leading to a genuine
Truth Emergency in the country as a whole.
Now, however, a growing number of activists are finally saying “enough!” and
joining forces to address this truth emergency by developing new
journalistic systems and practices of their own. They are working to reveal
the common corporate denominators behind the diverse crises we face and to
develop networks of trustworthy news sources that tell people what is really
These activists know we need a journalism that
moves beyond inquiries into particular crimes and atrocities, and exposes
wider patterns of corruption, propaganda and illicit political control by a
military and corporate elite.
Recent efforts at national media reform through
micro-power community radio - similar to the 400 people’s radio stations in
Venezuela - and campaign finance changes, that would mandate access for all
candidates on national media, have been strongly resisted by the National
Association of Broadcasters (NAB).
NAB, considered one of the most powerful
corporate lobby groups in Washington, works hard to protect over $200
billion dollars of annual advertising and the several hundred million
dollars political candidates spend in each election cycle.
The Truth Emergency movement now recognizes that corporate media’s political
power and failure to meet its First Amendment obligation to keep the public
informed leaves a huge task.
Citizens must mobilize resources to redevelop
news and information systems from the bottom up. Citizen journalists can
expand distribution of news via small independent newspapers, local
magazines, independent radio, and cable access TV. Using the internet, the
public can interconnect with like-minded grassroots news organizations to
share important stories.
These changes are already in progress.
Becoming the Media -
Media Freedom International and Project Censored
In response to Truth Emergency conference, the
Media Freedom Foundation and
Project Censored launched an effort to both
become a repository of independent news and information as well as a
producer of content in what are called Validated Independent News stories
vetted by college and university professors and students around the world.
As corporate media continue their entertainment
agenda and the PR industry - working for governments and corporations -
increasingly dominates news content, there exists a socio-cultural opening
to transform how the public receives and actually participates in the
validation and creation of their own news.
Corporate media are increasingly irrelevant to working people and to
People need to tell their own news stories from
real experiences and perspectives, as an alternative to the hierarchically
imposed and “official” top-down narrative. What better project in support of
media democracy than for universities and colleges worldwide to support
truth telling and validate news stories and independent news sources.
Only 5% of college students under 30 read a daily newspaper. Most get their
news from corporate television and increasingly on the internet. One of the
biggest problems with independent media sources on the internet is a
perception of inconsistent reliability. The public is often suspicious of
the truthfulness and accuracy of news postings from non-corporate media
Over the past ten years, in hundreds of
presentations all over the US, Project Censored staff has frequently been
“what are the best sources for news and whom
can we trust?”
The goal of this effort is to encourage young
people to use independent media as their primary sources of news and
information and to learn about trustworthy news sources through the Media
Freedom International News Research Affiliate Program.
By the end of 2008, there were over thirty
affiliate colleges and universities with plans to expand that participation
several fold this next year. Through these institutions, validated
independent news stories can be researched by students and scholars, then
written, produced and disseminated via the web.
In addition, on any given day at the Media
Freedom Foundation website, one can view enough independent news stories
from RSS feeds to fill nearly fifty written pages, more than even the
largest US newspapers. An informed electorate cannot remain passive
consumers of corporate news. As aforementioned activist David Mathison
suggested in his how-to manual,
Be the Media, where he argues and instructs not only about how to
build community media but how to build community through media.17
Part of building community is in developing awareness about the type of
world we want to participate in creating, and developing strategies for
achieving change. New forms of media that promote widespread responsibility
for both creating and disseminating information do not remove the need for
people to protest, to demonstrate, to march, to boycott and to demand entry
into corporate board rooms.
Rather it assures that voices can be heard and,
as shown in Howard Rheingold’s
Smartmobbing Democracy,18 the
power of new Internet communication technologies can be harnessed to
mobilize more effectively.
Contrasted with previous more limited
technologies, Rheingold points out that now,
“[m]obile and deskbound media such as blogs,
listserves and social networking sites allow for many-to-many
Technology has helped level the playing field by
creating a virtual sphere where people can exchange ideas and instigate
Grassroots, bottom-up, peer-to-peer efforts have
increased in influence and effectiveness due to the speed and breadth of new
communication technologies. We are currently experiencing a potential for
collective activism on a scale never before seen.
The continued expansion of independent internet news sources allows for the
mass political awareness of key issues and truth emergencies in the world.
The involvement of university and college professors and their students in
validating news stories will be an important component of reliability
verification of these sources.
As we learn who we can trust in the independent
news world, we will be in a stronger position for the continued development
and expansion of democratic social movement/anti-war efforts in the future.
It is up to the people to unite and oppose the common oppressors manifested
in a militarist and unresponsive government along with their corporate media
courtiers and PR propagandists. Only then, when the public forms and
controls its own information resources, will it be armed with the power that
knowledge gives to move beyond the media induced mindsets that limit change
to modest reform.
Grassroots media providing voice to those who
would challenge elite domination are our best hope to create a truly vibrant
democratic society that promises as well as delivers liberty, peace, and
economic justice to all.
1. US General Tommy Franks, quoted in the
San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 2002.
2. Peter Phillips and Andrew Roth, Censored
2009, (New York: Seven Stories, Press, 2008), 19-25. This story is the
number one censored story of the year at Project Censored for this year.
3. Various theories exist on the problem of
the subject, from historian Rick Shenkman’s Just How Stupid Are We to
historian and cultural critic Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with
Kansas, but few examine its affects on the peace community. For more on
the issue of American historical amnesia, see Gore Vidal on Democracy
Now!, also, In These Times and for a broader academic look at the issue
of how Americans have become arguably the least informed, most
entertained people in the modern world, see the now classic work from
the late New York University media scholar Neil Postman, Amusing
Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, (New
York: Viking Adult, 1985). This article hopes to shine more light on the
impact of all of the aforementioned on the peace movement in general and
what can be done about it. For another view of this written earlier, at
the outset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, see Felix Kolb and Alicia
Swords, “Do Peace Movements Matter?” Commondreams.org, May 12, 2003.
4. C. Wright Mills. The Power Elite, (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2000, reissue). Also, continuing with
this theme in terms of democratic communications theory/policy and the
ideas of an open society, see the work of Jurgen Habermas, The
Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a
category of Bourgeois Society, published in1962, and The Theory of
Communicative Action, from 1981, as well as Karl Popper’s The Open
Society and Its Enemies, first published in 1945.
5. Norman Soloman, “The
Military-Industrial-Media Complex: Why war is covered from the warriors’
perspective,” Extra! July/August 2005, published by Fairness and
Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).
6. Cenk Uygur, “Conservative Media vs
Progressive Media” Posted on The Daily Kos blog, July 1, 2009.
7. Linda Milazzo, “Corporate Media Turned
Out for Jena, but Not for Anti-War. Here’s Why.” Atlantic Free Press,
September 23, 2007.
8. For more on the Winter Soldiers, see
Censored 2009, chapter 1, story 9, p. 58-62 and online and chapter 12,
pp.297-319. See the KPFA radio and Corp Watch website for the coverage.
9. Peter Phillips, Censored 2008, (New York:
Seven Stories Press, 2007), 35-44.
10. See Censored 2008, chapter 1, story 6,
11. Diane Farsetta, Center for Media
Democracy, studies on Pentagon propaganda online. Norman Soloman, “The
Military-Industrial-Media Complex: Why war is covered from the warriors’
perspective,” Extra! July/August 2005, published by Fairness and
Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), on the FAIR website.
12. For several excellent studies of US Iraq
War propaganda, see PR Watch’s John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Weapons
of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq, (New
York: Tarcher Penguin, 2003), and their follow up Best War Ever: Lies,
Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq, (New York: Penguin, 2006), and the
exhaustive work by Anthony R. DiMaggio, Mass Media, Mass Propaganda:
Examining American News in the “War on Terror,” (UK: Lexington Books,
2008). Additionally, forthcoming in fall 2009, just reviewed by the
authors, is Robert P. Abele, The Anatomy of a Deception: A
Reconstruction and Analysis of the Decision to Invade Iraq, (Baltimore:
University Press of America, 2009).
For reports on the continuation of war policy under President Barack
Obama, see Center for Media Democracy’s John Stauber, “How Obama Took
Over the Peace Movement,” and Peter Phillips, “Barack Obama
Administration Continues US Military Dominance.”
13. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky,
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1988, 2002). For an introduction of the Propaganda
Model, see chapter 1, or see a retrospective by Edward Herman online.
14. Peter Phillips, Censored 2008, see
chapter 7, “Left Progressive Media Inside the Propaganda Model,”
15. Co-author Peter Phillips interviewed
Carmon Aponte while visiting the Patare Community TV and radio station
in a trip to Venezuela for a book fair in 2008. The station was one of
thirty-four locally controlled community television stations and four
hundred radio stations now in the barrios throughout Venezuela.
16. Co-author Peter Phillips attended the
major journalism conference in Cuba in 2008. About his experiences
there, Phillips remarked, “During my five days in Havana, I met with
dozens of journalists, communication studies faculty and students, union
representatives and politicians. The underlying theme of my visit was to
determine the state of media freedom in Cuba and to build a better
understanding between media democracy activists in the US and those in
Phillips continued, “I toured the two main radio stations in Havana,
Radio Rebelde and Radio Havana. Both have Internet access to multiple
global news sources including CNN, Reuters, Associated Press and BBC
with several newscasters pulling stories for public broadcast. Over 90
municipalities in Cuba have their own locally run radio stations, and
journalists report local news from every province.”
“During the course of several hours in each station I (Phillips) was
interviewed on the air about media consolidation and censorship in the
US and was able to ask journalists about censorship in Cuba as well. Of
the dozens I interviewed all said that they have complete freedom to
write or broadcast any stories they choose. This was a far cry from the
Stalinist media system so often depicted by US interests.”
17. For more details see the Project
Censored website , for independent media feeds see Media Freedom
Foundation, and for more on the Project Censored International
Affiliates Program. For more on how to become the media, see David
Mathison’s work online. For more on Smart Mobs, see Howard Rheingold’s
18. Howard Rheingold, “Smartmobbing
Democracy,” in Rebooting America: Ideas for Redesigning American
Democracy for the Internet Age, ed. Allison Fine, Micah L. Sifry, Andrew
Rasiej and Josh Levy. Retrieved from The Personal Democracy Press