Every year since 1976, Project Censored has spotlighted the 25 most significant news stories that were largely ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream press.
The term "censored" doesn't mean that some government agent stood over newsrooms with a rubber stamp and forbade the publication of the news, or even that the information was completely out of the public eye. The stories Project Censored highlights may have run in one or two news outlets but didn't get the type of attention they deserved.
The project staff begins by sifting through hundreds of stories nominated by individuals at Sonoma State, where the project is based, as well as 30 affiliate universities all over the country.
Articles are verified, fact-checked and selected by a team of students, faculty and evaluators from the wider community, then sent to a panel of national judges to be ranked. The end product is a book, co-edited this year by Peter Phillips and Associate Director Mickey Huff, which summarizes the top stories, provides in-depth media analysis and includes resources for readers who are hungry for more substantive reporting.
Project Censored doesn't just expose gaping holes in the news brought to you by the likes of Fox, CNN or USA Today--it also shines a light on less prominent, but more incisive alternative-media sources serving up in-depth investigations and watchdog reports.
The Project Censored book this year uses the term "truth emergency."
"We call it an emergency because it's a democratic emergency," Huff asserted. In this media climate, he said, "We're awash in a sea of information. But we have a paucity of understanding about what the truth is."
Here's this year's list:
1. Congress sells out to Wall Street
The total tab for the Wall Street bailout, including money spent and promised by the United States government, works out to an estimated $42,000 for every man, woman and child, according to American Casino, a documentary about sub-prime lending and the financial meltdown. But another twist in the story has received scant attention from the mainstream news media: the unsettling combination of lax oversight from national politicians with high-dollar campaign contributions from financial players.
"The worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'etat," Matt Taibbi wrote in "The Big Takeover," a March 2009 Rolling Stone article. "They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations."
In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, the financial sector spent $1.7 billion on campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. Since 2001, eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates and the Republican and Democratic parties. Wall Street's political contributions coincided with a weakening of federal banking regulations, which in turn created a recipe for the financial disaster that sent the global economy reeling.
Sources: "Lax Oversight? Maybe $64 Million to DC Pols Explains It," Greg Gordon, Truthout.org and McClatchey Newspapers, Oct. 2, 2008; "Congressmen Hear from TARP Recipients Who Funded Their Campaigns," Lindsay Renick Mayer, Capitol Eye, Feb. 10, 2009; "The Big Takeover," Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, March 2009.
2. De facto segregation in education
Latinos and African Americans attend more segregated public schools today than they have for four decades, Professor Gary Orfield notes in "Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge," a study conducted by the Civil Rights Project of the University of California Los Angeles.
About 44 percent of students in the nation's public school system are people of color, and this group will soon make up the majority of the population in the United States. Yet this racial diversity often isn't reflected from school to school. Instead, two out of every five African American and Latino youth attend schools that Orfield characterizes as "intensely segregated," comprised of 90 to 100 percent people of color.
For Latinos, the trend reflects growing residential segregation. For African Americans, the study attributes a significant part of the reversal to ending desegregation plans in public schools. Schools segregated by race and poverty tend to have much higher dropout rates, teacher turnover and greater exposure to crime and gangs. The most severe segregation is in western states, including California.
Source: "Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge," Gary Orfield, The Civil Rights Project, UCLA, Jan. 2009.
3. Somali pirates: The untold story
Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa were gold for mainstream news outlets. Even as the pirates' exploits around the Gulf of Aden captured the world's attention, little ink was devoted to factors that made the Somalis desperate enough to resort to piracy in the first place: the dumping of nuclear waste and rampant over-fishing in their coastal waters.
In the early 1990s, when the Somali government collapsed, foreign interests swooped into unguarded coastal waters to trawl for food--and ventured into unprotected Somali territories to cheaply dispose of nuclear waste. Those activities continued with impunity for years. The ramifications of toxic dumping hit full force with the 2005 tsunami, when leaking barrels were washed ashore, sickening hundreds and causing birth defects. The uncontrolled fishing harvests, meanwhile, damaged the economic livelihoods of Somali fishermen and eroded the country's supply of a primary food source. That's when the piracy started.
Sources: "Toxic waste behind Somali piracy," Najad Abdullahi, Al Jazeera English, Oct. 11, 2008; "You are being lied to about pirates," Johann Hari, The Huffington Post, Jan. 4, 2009; "The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other," Mohamed Abshir Waldo, WardheerNews, Jan. 8, 2009.
4. North Carolina's nuclear nightmare
The Shearon Harris nuclear plant in North Carolina's Wake County isn't just a power-generating station. The Progress Energy plant bears the distinction of housing the largest radioactive-waste storage pools in the country. Spent fuel rods from two other nuclear plants are stored beneath circulating cold water to prevent the radioactive waste from heating.
The hidden danger, according to investigative reporter Jeffery St. Clair, is the looming threat of a pool fire. Citing a study by Brookhaven National Laboratory, St. Clair highlighted in Counterpunch the catastrophe that could ensue if a pool were to ignite. A possible 140,000 people could wind up with cancer. Contamination could stretch for thousands of square miles. And damages could reach an estimated $500 billion.
Shearon Harris' track record is pocked with problems requiring temporary shutdowns of the plant and malfunctions of the facility's emergency-warning system.
When a study was sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission highlighting the safety risks and recommending technological fixes to address the problem, St. Clair noted, a pro-nuclear commissioner successfully persuaded the agency to dismiss the concerns.
Source: "Pools of Fire," Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch, Aug. 9, 2008.
5. United States fails to protect against Daily Toxins
Two years ago, the European Union enacted a new environmental policy requiring close scrutiny and restriction of toxic chemicals used in everyday products that can threaten health. The European legislation aimed to gradually phase out these toxic materials and replace them with safer alternatives.
The story that's gone unreported by mainstream American news media is how this game-changing legislation might impact the United States, where chemical corporations lobby to ensure comparatively lax oversight of toxic substances.
The implications of loose restrictions on toxic products are chilling: Just one-third of the 267 chemicals on the EU's watch list have ever been tested by the EPA, and only two are regulated under federal law. Meanwhile, researchers at University of California Berkeley estimate that 42 billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily, and only a fraction of them have ever undergone risk assessments.
Sources: "European Chemical Clampdown Reaches Across Atlantic," David Biello, Scientific American, Sept. 30, 2008; "How Europe's New Chemical Rules Affect US," Environmental Defense Fund, Sept. 30, 2008; "US Lags Behind Europe in Regulating Toxicity of Everyday Products," Mark Schapiro, Democracy Now! Feb. 24, 2009.
6. As economy shrinks, D.C. lobbying grows
In 2008, as the economy tumbled and unemployment soared, Washington lobbyists working for special interests were paid $3.2 billion--more than any other year on record. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, special interests spent a collective $32,523 per legislator, per day, for every day Congress was in session.
One event that triggered the lobbying boom, according to CRP director Sheila Krumholz, was the federal bailout. With the U.S. government shelling out billions in stimulus money, industries wanted to ensure they'd get a piece of the pie. Ironically, some of the first in line were the same players who helped precipitate the nation's sharp economic downturn.
The list of highest-ranking spenders on lobbying reads like a roster of some of the most powerful interests nationwide. Topping the list was the health sector, which spent $478.5 million lobbying Congress last year. A very close runner-up was the finance, insurance and real-estate sector, spending $453.5 million.
Source: "Washington Lobbying Grew to $3.2 Billion Last Year, Despite Economy," Center for Responsive Politics, opensecrets.org.
7. Obama's controversial defense appointees
President Barack Obama's appointments to the U.S. Department of Defense have raised serious questions among critics.
Obama's decision to retain Robert Gates, secretary of defense under George W. Bush, marks the first time in history that a president has opted to keep a defense secretary of an outgoing opposing party in power.
Gates, a former CIA director, has faced criticism for allegedly spinning intelligence reports for political means. In Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, author and former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman described him as "the chief action officer for the Reagan administration's drive to tailor intelligence reporting to White House political desires."
Critics are also uneasy about the appointment of Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who formerly served as a senior vice president at defense giant Raytheon and was a registered lobbyist for the company until July 2008. Lynn, who previously served as Pentagon comptroller under the Clinton administration, came under fire during his confirmation hearing due to "questionable accounting practices." The Defense Department flunked multiple audits under Lynn's leadership because it was unable to properly account for $3.4 trillion in financial transactions made over the course of several years.
Sources: "The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates," Robert Parry, consortiumnews.com, Nov. 13, 2008; "Obama's Defense Department Appointees--The 3.4 Trillion Dollar Question," Andrew Hughes, Global Research, Feb. 13, 2009; "Obama Nominee Admiral Dennis Blair Aided perpetrators of 1999 church Killings in East Timor," Allan Nairn, Democracy Now! Jan. 7, 2009; "Ties to Chevron, Boeing Raise Concern on Possible NSA Pick," Roxana Tiron, The Hill, Nov. 24, 2008.
8. Big business cheats the IRS
The Cayman Islands and Bermuda are magnets for financial giants such as Bank of America, Citigroup, American International Group and 11 other beneficiaries of the federal government's bailout. The offshore oases provide safe harbors to stash cash out of the reach of Uncle Sam.
According to a 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office, 83 of the top publicly held U.S. companies, including some receiving substantial portions of federal bailout dollars, have operations in tax havens allowing them to avoid paying taxes.
In December 2008, banking giant Goldman Sachs reported its first-ever quarterly loss, then followed up with a statement that its tax rate would drop from 34.1 percent to 1 percent, citing "changes in geographic earnings mix" as the reason. The difference: instead of paying $6 billion in total worldwide taxes as it did in 2007, Goldman Sachs would pay a total of $14 million in 2008. In the same year, it received $10 billion and debt guarantees from the U.S. government.
Sources: "Goldman Sachs's Tax Rate Drops to 1% or $14 Million," Christine Harper, Bloomberg, Dec. 16, 2008; "Gimme Shelter: Tax Evasion and the Obama Administration," Thomas B. Edsall, The Huffington Post, Feb. 23, 2009.
9. United States and white phosphorous strikes in Gaza
In mid-January, as part of a military campaign, the Israeli Defense Forces fired several shells that hit the headquarters of a United Nations relief agency in Gaza City.
The shells contained white phosphorous, a smoke-producing, spontaneously flammable agent that is designed to obscure battle territory but can also ignite buildings and burns if it touches the skin. The attack on the relief-agency headquarters is just one civilian structure researchers discovered had been hit during the air strikes. In the aftermath, Human Rights Watch volunteers found spent white phosphorous shells on streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards and at a U.N. school in Gaza.
Human Rights Watch says that IDF's use of white phosphorous violated international law, which prohibits deliberate, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that result in civilian casualties. The United States was a primary source of funding and weaponry for Israel's military campaign.
Sources: "White Phosphorus Use Evidence of War Crimes," Report: "Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza," Fred Abrahams, Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2009; "Suspend Military Aid to Israel, Amnesty Urges Obama after Detailing U.S. Weapons Used in Gaza," Rory McCarthy, Guardian/UK, Feb. 23, 2009; "US Weaponry Facilitates Killings in Gaza," Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, Jan. 8, 2009; "U.S. military re-supplying Israel with ammunition through Greece," Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News, Jan. 8, 2009.
10. Ecuador says it won't pay illegitimate debt
When President Rafael Correa announced Ecuador would default on its foreign debt last December, he didn't say it was because the country was unable to pay. Rather, he framed it as a moral stand. The news was mainly reported in financial publications, and the stories quoted harsh critics who characterized Correa as an extreme leftist with ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
But there's much more to the story. The announcement came in the wake of an exhaustive audit of Ecuador's debt. The unprecedented audit documented hundreds of allegations of irregularity and illegality in the decades of debt collection from international lenders. Although Ecuador had made payments exceeding the value of the principal since the time it initially took out loans in the 1970s, its foreign debt had swelled due to extraordinarily high interest rates.
Correa's move to stand up against foreign lenders did not go unnoticed by other debt-ridden nations, and it could set a precedent.
Sources: "As Crisis Mounts, Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate and Illegal," Daniel Denvir, Alternet, Nov. 26, 2008; "Invalid Loans to Ecuador: Who Owes Who," Committee for the Integral Audit of Public Credit, YouTube, Fall 2008; "Ecuador's Debt Default," Neil Watkins and Sarah Anders, Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec. 15, 2008.
Other stories in the Top 25
11. Private Corporations Profit from the Occupation of Palestine
12. Mysterious Death of Mike Connell--Karl Rove's Election Thief
13. Katrina's Hidden Race War
14. Congress Invested in Defense Contracts
15. World Bank's Carbon Trade Fiasco
16. U.S. Repression of Haiti Continues
17. The ICC Facilitates U.S. Covert War in Sudan
18. Ecuador's Constitutional Rights of Nature
19. Bank Bailout Recipients Spend to Defeat Labor
20. Secret Control of the Presidential Debates
21. Recession Causes States to Cut Welfare
22. Obama's Trilateral Commission Team
23. Activists Slam World Water Forum as a Corporate-Driven Fraud
24. Dollar Glut Finances U.S. Military Expansion
25. Fast Track Oil Exploitation in Western Amazon: :
Read them all at projectcensored.org.