Project Censored: Part 2 • The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2022

Posted In: News, , Investigative Reporting, National,   From Issue 926   By: Paul Rosenberg and PROJECT CENSORED

23rd February, 2022     0

In this second installment of our two-part series, we see more examples of how throughout its 45-year history, Project Censored has covered a lot of ground that the corporate mainstream media has missed.   Begun by Carl Jensen, a sociology professor at California's Sonoma State University, shortly after Watergate in 1976, it has steadily evolved as an informative compendium involving dozens of faculty members and institutions working together to come up with an annual list of the Top Censored Stories of the Year.

The Watergate burglary in June 1972 "sparked one of the biggest political cover-ups in modern history," Jensen later recalled. "And the press was an unwitting, if willing participant in the cover-up. Watergate taught us two important lessons about the press: First, the news media sometimes do fail to cover some important issues; and second, the news media often indulge in self-censorship," he says.

On the upside, it led to the creation of Project Censored.

As with the Watergate story, these stories aren't censored in the overt, heavy-handed manner of an authoritarian dictatorship, but in the often more effective manner reflecting our society as an oligarchy with highly centralized economic power pretending to be a "free marketplace of ideas."

It may give people what they think they want in the moment, but it leaves them hungry for more, if not downright malnourished in the long run. The missing stories concern vital subjects central to the healthy functioning of our democracy. The problem is that we may not even realize what we're missing, which is precisely why Project Censored is essential, because censorship today is so highly evolved that it now concentrates upon what the public as a whole can hear, rather than what any one individual can say.

7. Google’s Union-Busting Methods Revealed

In 2018, Google dropped its long-time slogan, "Don't be evil" from its code of conduct. In 2019, Google hired IRI Consultants, a union avoidance firm, “amid a wave of unprecedented worker organizing at the company,” as Vice’s Motherboard put it in January 2021, while reporting on leaked files from IRI that provided a disturbing picture of how far Google may have strayed in its willingness to sabotage its workers’ rights.

The 1935 National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal for companies to spy on employees and guarantees workers the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. “Nevertheless,” Project Censored noted, “companies like Google attempt to circumvent the law by hiring union avoidance firms like IRI Consultants as independent contractors to engage in surveillance and intimidation on their behalf.”

“Employers in the United States spend roughly $340 million on union avoidance consultants each year,” Lauren Kaori Gurley reported for Motherboard, but their practices are apparently so disreputable that IRI doesn’t identify its clients on its website “beyond saying the firm has been hired by universities, renewable energy companies, auto-makers, ‘the nation's largest food manufacturers,’ and ‘several top ten worldwide retailers,’ she reported.

"Consultants specialize in operating in the grey areas of the law," John Logan, a Professor of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State told Gurley. "They’re not quite illegal but they’re sort of bending the law if they’re not breaking it."

“The [leaked] documents show that the firm collected incredibly detailed information on 83 Seattle hospital employees, including their ‘personality, temperament, motivations, ethnicity, family background, spouses’ employment, finances, health issues, work ethic, job performance, disciplinary history, and involvement in union activity in the lead-up to a union election,’” Project Censored noted, “including descriptions of workers as ‘lazy,’ ‘impressionable,’ ‘money oriented,’ and ‘a single mother.’”

The documents Motherboard reported on didn’t come from Google, but from two Seattle-based hospitals owned by Conifer Health Solutions, who hired IRI on the sly — a common practice.

“Tracking the union avoidance firms behind anti-union campaigns is intentionally made difficult by firms that subcontract out work to other firms that hire independent contractors to avoid federal reporting requirements laid out by the Department of Labor and shield themselves from public scrutiny,” Motherboard explained, adding that the union organizing the workers had no idea of IRI’s involvement.

Google is not the only Big Tech company to enlist union avoidance consultants in recent years. In fall 2020 and spring 2021, employees at Amazon’s massive fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama launched a much-publicized unionization effort,” Project Censored noted. “As John Logan detailed in a lengthy article for LaborOnline, Amazon responded to the Bessemer drive by spending at least $3,200 per day on anti-union consultants Russ Brown and Rebecca Smith and by bringing in a second union-busting consulting firm,” as well as hiring “one of the largest law firms in the country specializing in union avoidance.”

Employees voted more than 2-1 against joining the union, but the election was overturned for a set of eight labor law violations after Project Censored’s book went to the publisher — a decision that Amazon is appealing.

“There has been some establishment press coverage of large corporations hiring union-avoidance firms to undermine workplace organizing, mostly focusing on tech giants like Google and Amazon,” Project Censored noted, including late 2019 stories in the New York Times and Washington Post reporting that Google had hired IRI, and a Feb. 23, 2020 New York Times Magazine cover story entitled “the Great Google Revolt,” which “mentioned in passing” the use of anti-union consultants by Google and others in Silicon Valley.

“However, there has been no corporate news coverage whatsoever of the sensational leaks that Motherboard released in January, and there has been very little in-depth corporate media reporting on the use of union-busting consultants in general,” Project Censored summed up, concluding, “The documents leaked to Motherboard confirm and greatly elaborate upon what labor organizers and educators have suspected of the specific tactics the union-busting firms employ.”

8. Pfizer Bullies South American Governments over COVID-19 Vaccine

“Pfizer has essentially held Latin American governments to ransom for access to its lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine,” Project Censored reports, the latest example of how it’s exerted undue influence to enrich itself at the expense of low- and middle-income nations going back to the 1980s, when it helped shape the intellectual property rules it’s now taking advantage of.

“Pfizer has been accused of ‘bullying’ Latin American governments in Covid vaccine negotiations and has asked some countries to put up sovereign assets, such as embassy buildings and military bases, as a guarantee against the cost of any future legal cases,” according to reporters at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In one case it resulted in a three-month delay in reaching a deal. “For Argentina and Brazil, no national deals were agreed at all,” BIJ reported. “Any hold-up in countries receiving vaccines means more people contracting Covid-19 and potentially dying.”

It’s normal for governments to provide some indemnity. But, “Pfizer asked for additional indemnity from civil cases, meaning that the company would not be held liable for adverse effects or for its own acts of negligence, fraud or malice,” BIJ reported. “This includes those linked to company practices – say if Pfizer sent the wrong vaccine or made errors during manufacturing.”

“Some liability protection is warranted, but certainly not for fraud, gross negligence, mismanagement, failure to follow good manufacturing practices,” the World Health Organization’s director of the Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, Lawrence Gostin, told BIJ. “Companies have no right to ask for indemnity for these things.”

During negotiations, which began in June 2020, “the Argentinian government believed that, at the least, Pfizer ought to be accountable for acts of negligence on its part in the delivery and distribution of the vaccine, but, instead of offering any compromise, Pfizer ‘demanded more and more,’ according to one government negotiator,” Project Censored summarized.

“That was when Pfizer called for Argentina to put up sovereign assets as collateral. Argentina broke off negotiations with Pfizer, leaving the nation’s leaders at that time without a vaccine supply for its people,” in December. “It was an extreme demand that I had only heard when the foreign debt had to be negotiated, but both in that case and in this one, we rejected it immediately,” an Argentine official told BIJ.

That same month, “just after the United States approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, In These Times’ Sarah Lazare filed a detailed report on the history of the pharmaceutical giant’s opposition to expanding vaccine access to poor countries, beginning in the mid-1980s during the negotiations that eventually resulted in the establishment of the WTO in 1995.

“Both globally and domestically, Pfizer played an important role in promoting the idea that international trade should be contingent on strong intellectual property rules, while casting countries that do not follow U.S. intellectual property rules as engaging in ‘piracy,’” a view they promoted to multiple business networks, shielded from wider public debate. “It was not a given, at the time, that intellectual property would be included in trade negotiations,” she explained. “Many Third World countries resisted such inclusion, on the grounds that stronger intellectual property rules would protect the monopoly power of corporations and undermine domestic price controls.”

"It is difficult to think of a clearer case for suspending intellectual property laws than a global pandemic," and "a swath of global activists, mainstream human rights groups and UN human rights experts have added their voices to the demand for a suspension of patent laws," Lazare noted. But Pfizer was joined in its opposition by pharmaceutical trade groups and individual companies, such as Moderna, another COVID-19 vaccine maker.

As a result, “One could make a map of global poverty, lay it over a map of vaccine access, and it would be a virtual one-to-one match,” she wrote. “Once again majority black and brown countries, by and large, are left to suffer and die.”

“Pfizer’s dealings in South America are not exactly secret,” Project Censored noted, but “As of May 2021, there has been no corporate media coverage of Pfizer’s actual dealings in South America or how the pharmaceutical giant helped establish the global intellectual property standards it now invokes to protect its control over access to the vaccine.”

Nor is this anything new, it concluded: “Big Pharma has a long, underreported track record of leaving developing nations’ medical needs unfulfilled, as Project Censored has previously documented.”

9. Police Use Dogs as Instruments of Violence, Targeting People of Color

The use of vicious dogs to control Black people dates back to slavery, but it’s not ancient history according to an investigative series of 13 linked reports, titled “Mauled: When Police Dogs are Weapons,” coordinated by the Marshall Project in partnership with AL.com, IndyStar, and the Invisible Institute. They found evidence that the pattern continues to this day, with disproportionate use of police dogs against people of color, often resulting in serious injury, with little or no justification.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a majority-Black city of 220,000, is the dog-bite capital of America, with a bite rate more than double the next-ranked city, Indianapolis. According to Bryn Stole and Grace Toohey’s February 2021 report:  Between 2017 and 2019, Baton Rouge police dogs bit at least 146 people, records show. Of those, 53 were 17 years old or younger; the youngest were just 13. Almost all of the people bitten were Black, and most were unarmed and suspected by police of nonviolent crimes like driving a stolen vehicle or burglary.

But Baton Rouge is hardly alone. Approximately 3,600 Americans annually are sent to the emergency room for severe bite injuries resulting from police dog attacks. These dog bites “can be more like shark attacks than nips from a family pet, according to experts and medical researchers,” a team of five reporters wrote in October 2020, as part of a summary of the main finding of their research. Other highlights from the series included:

• “Though our data shows dog bites in nearly every state, some cities use biting dogs far more often than others.” This ranged from just one incident in Chicago from 2017 to 2019 to more than 200 in Los Angeles and more than 220 in Indianapolis.

• “Most bite victims are men, and studies suggest that in some places, they have been disproportionately Black.” This includes the Ferguson, Missouri police department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where it’s been found that “dogs bit non-White people almost exclusively.”

• “Bites can cause life-altering injuries, even death. Dogs used in arrests are bred and trained to have a bite strong enough to punch through sheet metal.”

• “Many people bitten were unarmed, accused of non-violent crimes or weren't suspects at all.”

• “Some dogs won’t stop biting and must be pulled off by a handler, worsening injuries.”

• “There’s little accountability or compensation for many bite victims,” for a wide range of reasons. “Even when victims can bring cases, lawyers say they struggle because jurors tend to love police dogs,” what’s known as “the Lassie effect.”

Though the Black Lives Matter movement has significantly raised public awareness of police using disproportionate force against people of color, police “K-9 violence has received strikingly little attention from corporate news media.” There were exceptions: In October 2020, USA Today published a Marshall Project story simultaneously with the project, and in November 2020, the Washington Post ran a front-page story citing the Marshall Project’s reporting. In addition, NBC News covered Salt Lake City’s suspension of its K-9 program, “after a video circulated of a police dog biting a Black man who was kneeling on the ground with his hands held up.” But aside from these examples, “coverage appears to have been limited to local news outlets,” Project Censored concluded.

10. Activists Call Out Legacy of Racism and Sexism in Forced Sterilization

Forced sterilization was deemed constitutional in a 1927 Supreme Court decision, Buck v. Bell, after which forced sterilizations increased dramatically, to at least 60,000 forced sterilizations in some 32 states during the 20th Century, predominantly targeting women of color. And while state laws have been changed, it’s still constitutional, and still going on today — with at least five cases of women in ICE custody in Georgia in 2019 — while thousands of victims await restitution, as reports from the Conversation and YES! Magazine has documented.

“Organizations such as Project South, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab are actively working to document the extent of this underreported problem — and to bring an end to it.” Project Censored noted. But their work is even more underreported than the problem itself.

“During the height of this wave of eugenics by means of sterilization in the U.S., forced hysterectomies were so common in the Deep South that activist Fannie Lou Hamer coined the term ‘Mississippi Appendectomy’ to describe them,” Ray Levy Uyeda wrote in a YES! Magazine article, “How Organizers are Fighting an American Legacy of Forced Sterilization,” which begins with the story of Kelli Dillon. Dillon was a California prison inmate in 2001 when she underwent a procedure to remove a potentially cancerous growth — and the surgeon simultaneously performed an unauthorized hysterectomy, one of 148 forced sterilizations that year in California prisons, and one of 1,400 carried out between 1997 and 2010.

Dillon began organizing inside the women’s prison gathering testimonials from other victimized prisoners “and provided the personal accounts to staff at Justice Now that was laying the groundwork to petition for legislation that would ban the procedures in prisons,” Uyeda reported. She eventually sued the state of California for damages, and helped to shape legislation to compensate victims (finally passed this year) a story told in the 2020 documentary film, Belly of the Beast.

"All forced sterilization campaigns, regardless of their time or place, have one thing in common. They involve dehumanizing a particular subset of the population deemed less worthy of reproduction and family formation," Alexandra Minna Stern wrote at the Conversation. Stern directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab, where "Our interdisciplinary team explores the history of eugenics and sterilization in the U.S. using data and stories" — 35,000 of them so far captured from "historical records from North Carolina, California, Iowa and Michigan."

The history was more complicated than one might expect, Stern explained. “At first, sterilization programs targeted white men, expanding by the 1920s to affect the same number of women as men. The laws used broad and ever-changing disability labels like ‘feeblemindedness’ and ‘mental defective.’ Over time, though, women and people of color increasingly became the target, as eugenics amplified sexism and racism,” she wrote. “It is no coincidence that sterilization rates for Black women rose as desegregation got underway.”

“California Latinas for Reproductive Justice is working to secure legislative change for victims of the state’s sterilization efforts between 1909 and 1979,” Uyeda wrote. It was signed into law after Project Censored’s book went to print, making California the third state with such legislation, following the lead of North Carolina and Virginia, in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

“The history of eugenics has been thoroughly researched and criticized by scholars and human rights activists, but coverage by the corporate media of the US practice of forced sterilization throughout the 20th century and into the 21st has tended to be limited and narrowly focused,” Project Censored noted.

There was some corporate news coverage after the ICE forced sterilization stories emerged, but generally without “any mention of the activists resisting the practice. … Some establishment press articles on the topic of forced sterilization include comments from members of these organizations to provide context on the issue, but few spotlight the groups’ tireless organizing and record of accomplishments.” Two exceptions cited were articles from Marie Claire magazine and Refinery29, “a website targeted at younger women.” This only began to change in July 2021, as Project Censored’s book was going to print, “with the Associated Press and other establishment news outlets reporting that California is preparing to approve reparations of up to $25,000 per person to women who had been sterilized without consent.”

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