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The News That Didn't Make The News-And Why
Given the surfeit of media analysis these days, I was uncertain if I could handle yet another navel-gazing exercise. I was tired of the futile outrage, the slinging of darts and the bestowal of laurels, the laying of blame or the uncritical adulation ... the extremes of emotion surrounding the issue of responsible journalism. It was refreshing to find that the fourth annual published wrap-up of stories that didn't make it into the mainstream media sidesteps widely bandied-about arguments.
Censored! The News That Didn 't Make the News-And Why by Carl Jensen takes the position that the heart of the matter is secrecy versus the people's right to know, First Amendment Rights, a truly open democracy and real journalistic responsibility.
Project Censored was founded by Jensen in 1976. Now international, Project Censored "ferrets out and publicizes stories of national importance on issues that have been over-looked or underreported by the mainstream news media."
In 1992, more than 700 submissions were received from journalists, educators, librarians and others interested in the public's right to know. Synopses are published of 25 shortlisted censored stories, along with comments by the original authors and others. Reprints of the original top ten censored stories are included. Juxtaposed arc the Associated Press top ten stories (see in-set) and the top "junk food news" stories (Woody/Mia, Di/Fergie, Dan Quayle/Murphy Brown, etc.) with commentaries.
The judges are from university faculties or in some way involved with the media. Four of the fourteen (Noam Chomsky, Nicholas Johnson, Jack L. Nelson and Sheila Rabb Weidcnfeld) have participated in the selection process since 1976.
It could be argued that a form of censorship is being applied in the selection process. However, this yearbook includes a rather comprehensive look at the definitions of censorship. A number of judges presented their points of view and it's clear there is a diversity of background and opinion at work here.
They note that distortion through omission (lack of thorough investigation), suppression (conscious withholding of information), and reporting after the fact rather than before the event are some of the ways that the truth is manipulated. The public becomes hamstrung in its ability to make knowledgeable decisions. As Jensen reminds us, democracy cannot work in this environment.
The catalytic event that triggered Jensen's launch of the project was the 1972 landslide re-election of Richard Nixon as president-after Watergate. How, asked Jensen, could the American people elect such a man to the office of the president of the United States of America? Jensen decided to take responsibility for the bewilderment he felt.
Upon investigation it became clear that the White House, among other things, meddled in the airing of a CBS-TV Evening News two-part series on Watergate before the election. The notion that the break-in was a "two-bit burglary" not worthy of press attention was Nixon-inspired prevailing wisdom until Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward dug in with their investigation and made it a national story. This led to impeachment hearings and Nixon's subsequent resignation.
In short, the American people had been bamboozled. The press was a partner in crime-unwittingly or perhaps willingly.
It's a chicken and egg kind of thing: If the information had been available would the turn of events have been different? Consider story number four from the inset above. If the U.S. did not supply weapons to developing countries would the tragic events of AP story number four have occurred? Another question Project Censored raises: why in an election year was the news spotlight on international news rather than domestic issues?
When considering censorship, most people conjure up the distopian Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four. Extreme, controlling, diabolical-a sinister totalitarian state, the "Evil Empire", a name coined by Ronald Reagan (and adopted by the media) to describe the former Soviet Union. Seldom, if ever, is systematic censorship within the U.S. considered news.
Yet Watergate happened in the United States. And if you look at the coverage that's presented in the commentaries and reprints of the top ten censored stories of 1992 you may begin to wonder if you' ve suddenly fallen into some surreal wonderland. Very little coincides with what's coming through the mass media.
The questions raised in this book concent priorities and the nature of mass media, ownership, deregulation, financial scandals, economic restructuring, environmental rip-offs, nuclear nightmares, weapons proliferation, drugs, youth alienation.... The list goes on ad nauseam.
These stories cannot be dismissed; they must be investigated. The information age is here, they say. But what is "information"? The quantity of "junk food news" doesn't and can't substitute for quality investigation. But whose responsibility is it?
The Top Ten Censored Stories of 1992 juxtaposed with the Associated Press stories are:
Published in Sources, Summer 1993