The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2014 (First of a Two-Part Series)

Project Censored Breaks Down the Top Under-Reported Stories in the Mainstream Media

Posted In: News, National,   From Issue 805   By: Robert E Martin

19th February, 2015     0

Introduction by Robert E. Martin

Compiled by Project Censored

For thirty years now, the Sonoma State University student and faculty program has conducted its annual search for major & significant but under-reported news stories; and once again, Project Censored has cast the spotlight on stories many Americans rarely hear about, but need to know about.

"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 Professor 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 real 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 into 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 such as NBC and CBS by corporations such as 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."

The Top 10 censored stories are culled from reporters, 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 who vote to determine the order of significance.  Here are the top five stores in this first of our two part-installment in The Review.

 

1. Ocean Acidification Increasing at Unprecedented Rate

• October 1, 2014

It’s well known that burning fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. Less understood is that a quarter of this carbon dioxide—about twenty trillion pounds, every year—is absorbed by oceans.

Writing for the Seattle Times Craig Welch invited us to “imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That’s what we do to the oceans every day.” As Welch and others reported, this carbon dioxide is changing the ocean’s chemistry faster than at any time in human history, in ways that have potentially devastating consequences for both ocean life and for humans who depend on the world’s fisheries as vital sources of protein and livelihood.

When CO2 mixes with seawater, it lowers the pH levels of the water, making it more acidic and sour. In turn this erodes some animals’ shells and skeletons and robs the water of ingredients that those animals require for healthy development. Known as ocean acidification, this phenomenon, Welch wrote, “is helping push the seas toward a great unraveling that threatens to scramble marine life on a scale almost too big to fathom, and far faster than first expected.”

The impacts of ocean acidification have been most pronounced in the Arctic and Antarctic, because cold, deep seas absorb more carbon dioxide. Julia Whitty reported for Mother Jones that we’ve enjoyed a free ride so far: “The ocean has swallowed our atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions and slowed global warming during the past few critical decades while we dithered in disbelief.”

Now, however, the average acidity of surface ocean waters worldwide is more than 30 percent greater than at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Whitty’s coverage draws on findings from the 2013 Arctic Ocean Acidification Assessment. The Arctic Ocean is especially vulnerable, she wrote, because short, simple food webs are characteristic of Arctic marine ecosystems. “Energy is channeled in just a few steps from small plants and animals to large predators like seabirds and seals.” As a result, the integrity of the entire system depends heavily on keystone species, including pteropods (also known as sea butterflies) and echinoderms (more commonly known as sea stars and urchins).

Although larger creatures like birds and mammals may not be directly affected by ocean acidification, Whitty reported, they will be indirectly affected if their food sources “decline, expand, relocate, or otherwise change in response to ocean acidification.” As ocean acidification impacts the abundance, productivity, and distribution of Arctic marine species, these changes are likely to affect the culture, diet, and livelihoods of indigenous Arctic peoples and other Arctic residents.

The impacts of ocean acidification are not limited to the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, however. As Eli Klintisch reported for Science magazine, researchers have documented impacts to tiny marine snails in the Pacific Ocean along the west coast of North America. Normally pteropods have smooth shells. As Klintisch described, a study led by Nina Bednaršek of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and her colleagues found that pteropods from thirteen coastal sites between Washington state and southern California had pitted shells.

The impacts of the pteropods’ fast dissolving shells are difficult to predict, but they could be profound. On one hand, pteropods are among the most abundant organisms on the earth; on the other hand, like other small creatures at the bottom of the ocean food chain that have not been closely studied, their role in the ecosystem is not completely understood. We do know that the pteropods examined in the Royal Society study are a key food source for pink salmon. Pink salmon, in turn, are crucial to the North Pacific fishery.

Scientists initially believed that fish would not be directly affected by ocean acidification, but recent research indicates otherwise. From clownfish off the coast of Papua New Guinea (remember Nemo?) to walleye pollock (got fish sticks?) scientists have found that exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide scramble fish’s sense of smell, hearing, and sight. Though fish are excellent at altering their blood chemistry to accommodate changing seas, elevated CO2 levels disrupt many fish’s brain signaling. Baby clownfish exposed to high levels of CO2 were five times more likely to die when placed back in the wild.

As Welch reported, “Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year—less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000.”

Sources:

Julia Whitty, “10 Key Findings From a Rapidly Acidifying Arctic Ocean,” Mother Jones, May 7, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/05/arctic-ocean-rapidly-getting-more-acidic.

Craig Welch, “Sea Change, The Pacific’s Perilous Turn,” Seattle Times, September 12, 2013, http://apps.seattletimes.com/reports/sea-change/2013/sep/11/pacific-ocean-perilous-turn-overview.

Eli Kintisch, “Snails Are Dissolving in Pacific Ocean,” ScienceNOW, May 1, 2014, http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/05/snails-are-dissolving-pacific-ocean.

 

2. Top Ten US Aid Recipients All Practice Torture

• October 1, 2014

The top ten nations slated to receive US foreign assistance in fiscal year 2014 all practice torture and are responsible for major human rights abuses, Daniel Wickham has reported. Wickham based this conclusion on a combination of projected foreign assistance figures from a January 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service, and from findings on torture reported independently by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other major human rights organizations.

A Congressional Research Service report, prepared for the members and committees of Congress, indicated the projected fiscal year 2014 budgets for US foreign assistance by country. According to this report, the top ten countries and their expected assistance (in millions of current US dollars) are as follows: Israel 3,100 / Afghanistan 2,200 / Egypt 1,600 / Pakistan 1,200 / Nigeria 693 / Jordan 671 / Iraq 573 / Kenya 564 / Tanzania 553 / Uganda 456.

Wick ham reported that, according to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other leading human rights organizations, each of the listed countries is accused of torturing people in the last year, and at least half are reported to be doing so on a massive scale.

For example, Israel, the top recipient of US financial assistance, has been accused of committing major human rights abuses over the last year, including the torture of Palestinian children. A recent report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel described how detained children “suspected of minor crimes” have been sexually assaulted by Israeli security forces and kept in outdoor cages during the winter. It found that “74 per cent of Palestinian child detainees experience physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation.” A United Nations report indicated that torture is “widespread” in Afghanistan, while Amnesty International documented torture as a “common” practice in Iraq, and an “abysmal” human rights situation in Egypt. Human Rights Watch reported that torture is practiced with “near-total impunity” in Jordan.

As Wickham reported, financial assistance to such governments could violate existing US law, which mandates that little or no funding be granted to a country that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture.” The United States remains a signatory of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified in October 1994. That the top ten recipients of U.S. foreign assistance “all practice torture raises serious questions,” Wickham wrote, “about the Obama administration’s stance on human rights. If the United States wants to be taken seriously on these issues, a serious re-evaluation of its foreign assistance programme is needed.”

Source: Daniel Wickham, “Top 10 US Aid Recipients All Practice Torture,” Left Foot Forward, January 30, 2014, http://www.leftfootforward.org/2014/01/top-ten-us-aid-recipients-all-practice-torture. Student Researcher: Alyssa Tufaro (Florida Atlantic University) Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)

 

3. WikiLeaks Revelations on Trans-Pacific Partnership Ignored by Corporate Media

• October 1, 2014

On November 13, 2013, WikiLeaks published a section of a trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty, or TPP. On the surface, the treaty is meant to facilitate trade among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. However, there are a number of red flags surrounding the agreement.

Eight hundred million people, and one-third of all world trade, stand to be affected by the treaty—and yet only three people from each member nation have access to the entire document. Meanwhile, six hundred “corporate advisors,” representing big oil, pharmaceutical, and entertainment companies, are involved in the writing and negotiations of the treaty.

The influence of these companies is clear, as large sections of the proposal involve corporate law and intellectual property rights, rather than free trade. Corporations could gain the ability to sue governments not only for loss, but prospective loss. At the same time, patents and copyrights would see more protection. This means longer patents, leading to less access to generic drugs, and a lockdown on Internet content.

Commenting on the leaked TPP chapter, which details how corporations could seek financial compensation for non-tariff barriers to trade, Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign observed, “The Tribunals that adjudicate these cases don’t have the power to literally demand that a government change its policies, but they can award payments worth millions and even billions of dollars, such that if a country doesn’t want additional cases brought against it, it gets the line.”

Furthermore, as James Trimarco wrote in YES! Magazine, observers believe the TPP “could pull the rug out from under national and local governments trying to regulate the sale and import of GMO [genetically modified organism] foods.” Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch pointed out that because the TPP is being negotiated in secret, it is hard to say whether it would outlaw the labeling or banning of GMO foods. However, the chief US negotiator on agriculture is Islam Siddiqui, a former Monsanto lobbyist, and the US Food and Drug Administration does not currently recognize GMO foods as any different form non-GMO foods, therefore they do not see a reason that products containing GMO ingredients should be specially labeled.

Though the WikiLeaks exposure was followed quickly by an anti-TPP push in Congress, the lack of coverage in corporate US media is disconcerting. Japanese, Australian, and even Russian media discuss the TPP openly, while American news sources remained silent—even as the Obama administration attempts to fast-track it through Congress.

The Washington Post was alone among the major establishment press in covering the WikiLeak’s revelations about the TPP. For example, Timothy B. Lee reported that the intellectual property section of the treaty is “a wish list for Hollywood and the pharmaceutical industry” and speculated whether the leak might “derail Obama’s trade agenda.” However, the Post relegated even this relatively superficial and US-focused perspective to its online blog. Other major papers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal passed on this story of far-reaching global import.

Sources:

Zachary Keck, “Congress May Have Just Killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Diplomat, November 18, 2013, http://thediplomat.com/2013/11/congress-may-have-killed-the-trans-pacific-partnership.

John Robles, “The TPP Is a Corporate Coup D’état—Kristinn Hrafnsson,” Voice of Russia, November 15, 2013, http://voiceofrussia.com/2013_11_15/The-TPP-is-a-corporate-coup-d-tat-Kristinn-Hrafnsson-5798.

 

4. Corporate Internet Providers Threaten Net Neutrality

• October 1, 2014

As Censored 2015 went to press, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had just publicly revealed its proposed new rules for Internet traffic. A 3–2 vote by the FCC opened a four-month window for formal public comments on how strict those rules should be, and galvanized corporate media attention on the issue of net neutrality. By contrast, for months leading up to this development, independent journalists, including Paul Ausick, Cole Stangler and Jennifer Yeh, have been informing the public about the anticipated showdown over net neutrality and the stakes in that battle.

In September of 2013, the federal appeals court of Washington DC began a crucial case brought by Verizon Communications Inc., challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to regulate Internet service providers.

Under the FCC’s current Open Internet Order, service providers such as Verizon, cannot charge varying prices or give priority to users that access certain websites or may be able to pay more for faster speeds compared to competitors. Verizon claims the FCC violates their First Amendment right and they should have the ability to manage and promote the content they see fit. The FCC has continually ruled that controlling communications is not in the best interest of the public. If the court decides in favor of Verizon and revokes the Open Internet Order, the FCC will have no way to regulate unbiased data access, changing the future for everyday Internet users in the twenty-first century.

Cole Stangler, a reporter for In These Times, described how many open Internet advocates fear that service providers “could ultimately enable the construction of a multi-tiered Internet landscape resembling something like cable television—where wealthy conglomerates have access to a mass consumer base and other providers, such as independent media, struggle to reach an audience.”

Today the Internet is a critical medium for public communication. Amalia Deloney, grassroots policy director at the Center for Media Justice, pointed out that corporate oversight would pose a threat to public discourse and organizing efforts. The consequent trepidation seems to be that service providers could make specific websites impossibly slow to load, successfully regulating communication among would-be activists. It seems Internet service providers would do more to limit free speech than advocate for it.

Verizon v. FCC has been well covered by both corporate and independent media. However, corporate outlets such as the New York Times and Forbes tend to highlight the business aspects of the case, skimming over vital particulars affecting the public and the Internet’s future.

Sources:

Paul Ausick, “Verizon Goes After FCC in Court Monday,” 24/7 Wall St., September 9, 2013, http://247wallst.com/telecom-wireless/2013/09/09/verizon-goes-after-fcc-in-court-monday.

Cole Stangler, “Your Internet’s in Danger,” In These Times, October 2, 2013, http://inthesetimes.com/article/15689/your_internets_in_danger.

Jennifer Yeh, “Legal Gymnastics Ensue in Oral Arguments for Verizon vs. FCC,” Free Press, September 10, 2013, http://www.freepress.net/blog/2013/09/10/legal-gymnastics-ensue-oral-arguments-verizon-vs-fcc.

Student Researcher: Petra Dillman (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

 

5. Bankers Back on Wall Street Despite Major Crimes

• October 1, 2014

A story spanning a decade has come to an unfortunate yet unsurprising end. Three former General Electric bankers—Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg, and Peter Grimm—had been convicted in 2012 for rigging auctions of municipal bonds, essentially stealing from projects intended to build public schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes in virtually every US state.

However, in November 2013, those convictions were reversed on a technicality: Because it took federal prosecutors so long to build the massive case, the statute of limitations ran out. The three men were released from prison the next day—just in time, as a defense attorney noted, to be home for Thanksgiving dinner.

These men were part of a decade-long scheme that bilked cities and towns of funds for public-works projects by paying kickbacks to brokers and manipulating bids. Between August 1999 and November 2006, Carollo, Goldberg, and Grimm participated in countless rigged bids via telephone. Like mafiosi, they used a secret language and code words to keep their underground business low-key. Prosecutors accumulated over 570,000 recorded phone conversations that directly linked the men to fraudulent activity. Evidence at trial established that they cost municipalities around the country millions of dollars.

This type of white-collar immorality is a major issue because cash-strapped municipalities could have used the stolen money to provide essential services. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone called this fraud the equivalent of robbing a church fund to pay for lap dances. Taibbi, however, is among a few reporters—including Paul Burton and Jonathan Hemmerdinger of the Bond Buyer—to consistently inform the public on these crimes and to point out the perhaps insurmountable obstacles faced by even an activist US Department of Justice in getting convictions. “It really is hard to put these guys away,” Taibbi wrote. “It’s even harder to keep them there.”

Meanwhile, as Janine Jackson reported for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra!, “While there have been substantive inquiries into the wrongdoing of investment banks and auditors, those calling for jail time are often dismissed as irrational, driven by ‘blood lust’ (Washington Post, 9/12/13), ‘anger’ (Chicago Tribune, 11/30/13) or ‘vengeance’ (Washington Post, 11/18/13).”

Various media outlets have explained that, while bad business decisions are not crimes, knowingly selling fraudulent mortgages and other dubious financial products is punishable by jail time. People have pointed to multiple reasons for the lack of prosecutions, such as regulatory agencies stopping key functions and non-deterrent settlements from government watchdogs. Media outlets have also made the case that imprisonment and increased liability would be ineffective, and many press accounts appear to be arguing for the legality of CEO actions. As Jackson reported, “Many press accounts seem more intent on explaining why what CEOs did wasn’t a crime than on asking whether it should be.”

However, outlets acknowledging the human victims of Wall Street wrongdoing have been less dismissive of imprisonment. Calls for jail time can be seen as demands for equal treatment under law. For example, in February 2013, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone argued against the emerging distinction between “an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.”

Sources:

Max Stendahl, “Former GE Execs Freed from Prison after Convictions Nixed,” Law360, November 27, 2013, http://www.law360.com/articles/492222/former-ge-execs-freed-from-prison-after-convictions-nixed.

Matt Taibbi, “Another Batch of Wall Street Villains Freed on Technicality,” Rolling Stone, December 4, 2013, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/another-batch-of-wall-street-villains-freed-on-technicality-20131204.

Janine Jackson, “Why Aren’t Big Bankers in Jail?” Extra! (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), January 1, 2014, http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/why-arent-big-bankers-in-jail.

Matt Taibbi, “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” Rolling Stone, February 14, 2013, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/gangster-bankers-too-big-to-jail-20130214.

Student Researchers: Markisha Barber (Frostburg State University), and Noah Tenney and Tania Sanchez (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluators: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University) and Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

 

 

 

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