A Different Kind of News Hole

As someone who has written repeatedly about the myriad failures of the mainstream media, it soothes my potentially wire-tapped soul to know that organizations such as Project Censored are working hard to pick up the slack. They offer many excellent resources, from a long list of news publications not owned by Rupert Murdoch (getting shorter every day, it seems), to a handy corporate/media ownership chart (did you know the Associated Press wire service and Lockheed Martin share board members?), to a study of conservative -- yes, conservative -- bias in the Associated Press wire service (which I'm sure they'll tell you has absolutely, positively nothing to do with the board member from Lockheed Martin, or the three from Mutual Insurance). But perhaps their best and most important work, the work to which I want to draw your attention today, is their list of the top 25 underreported (or, in their words, "censored") stories of 2006-2007.

Their website is almost enough to make you cry "Conspiracy theorists!" until you realize that the government is in fact spying on its citizens; that there is in fact a vast, secretive, private Christian army growing with the explicit support of our government but subject to virtually no oversight; and that the government has in fact sold the ground we walk (or, er, drive) on to corporations. And though there is still much truly impressive investigative journalism going on these days (despite all my ranting to the contrary), particularly among reporters of the dead tree variety, the sad truth is that far too much of what we need to know is being kept from us for a myriad of reasons, ranging from laziness to selfishness to deliberate deception.

One of the prime responsibilities of the news media is to act as a filter for their audiences -- to wade through the nearly incomprehensible vastness of new (and not-so-new) information each day and bring you the important bits. No single person could possibly be expected to do this by his or herself. In fairness, no single news organization should be expected to shoulder this load alone, either. (Unfortunately, as many media watchdogs have shown, multiple mainstream news organizations often misjudge, misevaluate, or simply self-censor the same critical stories.) In that spirit, allow me to speed-summarize some of the more important bits that got buried this past year beneath an avalanche of missing white girls, Anna Nicole Smith, and Don Imus.

The first and most important by far is the Military Commissions Act, which stripped "enemy combatants" of the right to question their imprisonment by the U.S. government or to challenge their arrest in a traditional court of law. And if you're thinking "Civil rights? Who needs 'em!" then this next story's for you, too: the John Warner Defense Authorization Act was signed into law on the same day as the MCA, and it allows, among other things, the president to deploy federal troops to take control of the National Guard and local police -- without the permission or authority of state government -- in the event of a "public emergency."

Continuing with the neocon push toward martial law (and toward giving everything the most testosterone-laden name possible), there was Operation FALCON, the nation's largest-ever series of federally coordinated criminal raids, and the first time in this nation's history that the local and state police have been placed directly under federal control -- a dangerous precedent indeed. Masterminded by ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, they supposedly targeted sex offenders, traditional violent crime, and terrorist threats and resulted in over 30,000 arrests, but less than 10% of those arrested were even suspected of sex offenses, less than 2% owned a firearm, and no connection has yet been made between the arrestees and terrorism. If any connection ever actually existed, Gonzales apparently cannot recall. Was Operation FALCON an experiment for the feasibility of a U.S. police state? Fredo probably can't recall that, either.

If that's still not enough Bush-backed tyranny for you, then how about that slave labor used to construct our own embassy in Iraq? And speaking of Iraq, what about the meteoric rise of Blackwater? They have just lost their license to operate in Iraq, and it's about time that somebody's government decided to apply a little oversight to the otherwise-uncontained massive private army. We can only hope now that they do their not-masters the courtesy of listening, because with over 50,000 trainees having gone through their doors, nobody's pushing them out of Iraq (or anywhere else, for that matter) if they don't want to go.

Also on the foreign policy front, we have the creation of AFRICOM, a permanent military base in Africa meant, presumably, to ensure the smooth and continued flow of "diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian aid" oil. There's also the increasingly aggressive and destructive U.S.- and EU-driven trade agreements and investment treaties that force backbreaking concessions from poor nations and limit their access to patented technology and medicines (that's "competitive liberalization," thank you very much, says Bush).

There's also trade shenanigans with India putting tens of thousands of poor rural farmers out of business, the privatization of America's infrastructure, and the purchasing of impoverished nations' debts to other nations by "vulture funds," who then demand payment or sue for collection . . . And that's only the top 10.

If you want to know more about these stories (or see the rest of the top 25) but aren't quite prepared to wade through the Project Censored report itself, the San Francisco Bay Guardian did a superb job of running through each item on the top 25 list. I encourage you to go there now. (Go on; I'll wait.) Read the article. Visit Project Censored. And question why more newspapers have not carried this report or the stories the report highlights. While a thousand American men and women die each year for a war that might never have happened had more media outlets done their jobs -- done service to the common people and the truth instead of to corporate and political overlords -- the least you and I can do is sacrifice an hour's time to become better informed. To realize that rather than spreading democracy, BushCo is stripping its foundations away from us one by one. To learn to separate spin from truth, and to be shrewd (and, perhaps -- sadly -- cynical) enough to understand that just because you saw it in the paper or heard it on the news does not automatically make it right. And to search for the truths that are not being heard, that are being buried or suppressed or willfully ignored. Project Censored's new report makes this task a little easier.

I've said before
that democracy cannot flourish without a responsible, unbiased, unafraid media to police it. But when the police are lazy, unimaginative, or otherwise ineffectual, it is up to us as citizens of a participatory democracy to actually participate -- to become informed media consumers and, ultimately, informed voters who will not permit our leaders to continue to trade away human rights and civil liberties in the media-free shadows of corporate and government backrooms.