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December 23, 2020 News » Cover Story

Sins of Omission 

Project Censored releases its annual list of news stories that have evaded the light of day.

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Every year since 1976, Project Censored has performed an invaluable service—shedding light on the most significant news that's somehow not fit to print. Censorship in an authoritarian society is obvious, from a distance, at least. There is a central agent or agency responsible for it, and the lines are clearly drawn. That's not the case in America, yet some stories rarely, if ever, see the light of day, such as stories about violence against Native American women and girls, even though four out of five of them experience violence at some point in their lives, overwhelmingly at the hands of non-Native perpetrators.

"I wouldn't say that we're more vulnerable," Annita Lucchesi, a Southern Cheyenne descendant and executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, told The Guardian. "I'd say that we're targeted. It's not about us being vulnerable victims, it's about the system being designed to target and marginalize our women."

And, the media erasure of their stories is part of that same system of targeting and marginalization. While journalists everyday work hard to expose injustices, they work within a system where some injustices are so deeply baked in that stories exposing them are rarely told and even more rarely expanded upon to give them their proper due.

That's where Project Censored comes in.

"The primary purpose of Project Censored is to explore and publicize the extent of news censorship in our society by locating stories about significant issues of which the public should be aware, but is not, for a variety of reasons," wrote its founder Carl Jensen on its 20th anniversary.

Thus, the list of censored stories that's the centerpiece of its annual book, State of the Free Press 2021 doesn't just help us to see individual stories we might otherwise have missed. It helps us see patterns—patterns of censorship and suppressed stories, and patterns of how those stories fit together.

This year, for example, among its top 10 stories there are two stories about violence and victimization of women of color, including the role of media neglect. There are similarities as well as differences between them and being able to see them both together in the following list helps us see them as distinct yet connected stories.

There are also three stories concerning the media itself and two involving climate change and their overlooked causes and risks while a third had a climate change component—senators' fossil fuel investments. Two are related to income inequality.

There are also further climate change threads woven through these stories—a highlighted connection between the extractive fossil fuel industry and violence against Native women, as well as an unmentioned connection via Monsanto's employment of FTI Consulting, which has been heavily involved in climate disinformation warfare.

These stories are only part of what Project Censored does. The book's other chapters are devoted to other forms of obfuscation that help keep censored stories obscured. There's a chapter devoted to "Junk Food News," meaning cheaply produced, stories focused on celebrityhood, industry-generated buzz and other trivia in place of substantive investigative journalism, and another devoted to "News Abuse," meaning genuinely important topics presented through a distorted lens or two. There's also a chapter devoted to "Déjà Vu News," tracking previous Project Censored stories to update them and track whether they've gained some of the wider attention they deserve. And the chapter Media Democracy in Action highlights individuals and organizations engaged in building a more inclusive, equitable, and democratic society.

City Weekly will publish a Top 10 summary of stories in a total of three issues. If the summaries leave you hungry for more, Project Censored has all that and more waiting for you in State of the Free Press 2021.


“Four in five Native women experience violence at some time in their lives.” - —the National Institute of Justice - SARAH ARNOFF
  • Sarah Arnoff
  • “Four in five Native women experience violence at some time in their lives.”—the National Institute of Justice

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
"In June 2019, the Canadian National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report, which received widespread news coverage in the United States," Project Censored notes. "U.S. corporate news outlets have provided nearly nothing in the way of reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States."

That's despite a problem of similar dimensions, and complexity, along with the election of the first two Native American congresswomen, Deb Haaland (who's since been nominated as Biden's Secretary of the Interior) and Sharice Davids, who, Ms. Magazine reported, "are supporting two bills that would address the federal government's failure to track and respond to violence against Indigenous women [and] are supported by a mass movement in the U.S. and Canada raising an alarm about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG)."

Four in five Native women experience violence at some time in their lives, according to a 2016 survey by the National Institute of Justice, cited in an August 2019 Think Progress report.

"About nine in 10 Native American rape or sexual-assault victims had assailants who were white or Black," according to a 1999 Justice Department report.

"Although the number of Native Americans murdered or missing in 2016 exceeded 3,000—roughly the number of people who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack—the Justice Department's missing persons database logged only 116 cases that year," Think Progress noted. "The sheer scale of the violence against Native women and the abysmal failure by the government to adequately address it, explains why the issue was given such prominence during this week's presidential candidates' forum in Sioux City—the first to focus entirely on Native American issues."

SARAH ARNOFF
  • Sarah Arnoff

But even that didn't grab media attention.

There are multiple complicating factors in reporting, tracking, investigating and prosecuting, which were explored in coverage by The Guardian and Yes! Magazine, as well as Ms. and Think Progress.

"Campaigners, including the Sovereign Bodies Institute, the Brave Heart Society and the Urban Indian Health Institute, identify aspects of systemic racism—including the indelible legacies of settler colonialism, issues with law enforcement, a lack of reliable and comprehensive data, and flawed policymaking—as deep-rooted sources of the crisis," Project Censored summed up. "As YES! Magazine reported, tribal communities in the United States often lack jurisdiction to respond to crimes."

This was partially remedied in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, known as VAWA, but "it left sex trafficking and other forms of sexual violence outside tribal jurisdiction, YES! Magazine reported."

The House voted to expand tribal jurisdiction in such cases in its 2019 VAWA reauthorization, but, Ms. reported, "The bill is now languishing in the Senate, where Republicans have so far blocked a vote."

Another facet of the problem explored by Yes! is the connection between the extractive fossil fuel industry and violence against Native women. The Canadian report "showed a strong link between extraction zones on the missing and murdered women crisis in Canada," Yes! noted. "It specifically cited rotational shift work, sexual harassment in the workplace, substance abuse, economic insecurity and a largely transient workforce as contributing to increased violence against Native women in communities near fossil fuel infrastructure."

"It creates this culture of using and abuse," said Annita Lucchesi, executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute. "If you can use and abuse the water and land, you can use and abuse the people around you, too."

Project Censored concluded, "As a result of limited news coverage, the United States is far from a national reckoning on its crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls."

Utahns know more than most
While it's true that the story has been grossly underreported on a national level, Utahns have benefited from broader coverage, thanks to the efforts of local media—including two cover features in City Weekly and features by Report for America corps member Zak Podmore and others in The Salt Lake Tribune. Thanks to such media accounts and the vital work of activists, nonprofits, state leaders, lawmakers and even the Trump administration, efforts are now underway to better track these cases locally. State Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored a 2020 bill creating a task force to address how the state can respond to MMIWG issues. This was after President Trump created a federal task force on the issue in late 2019. Romero also sponsored a resolution that made May 5 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and LGBT+ Awareness Day.

In late June 2020, Utah's U.S. Attorney appointed a coordinator to address underreported violence committed against Native American woman, children and two-spirited people.


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Monsanto "Intelligence Center" Targeted Journalists and Activists
In its fight to avoid liability for causing cancer, the agricultural giant Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) created an "intelligence fusion center" to "monitor and discredit" journalists and activists, Sam Levin reported for The Guardian in August 2019.

"More than 18,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup [weedkiller] caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks by manipulating scientific data and silencing critics," the Hill summarized. "The company has lost three high-profile cases in the past year, and Bayer is reportedly offering $8 billion to settle all outstanding claims."

"Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company's weedkiller," The Guardian reported.

This took place while also targeting Neil Young (who released a 2015 record, The Monsanto Years), and creating a massive, multi-million dollar spying and disinformation campaign targeting journalists writing about it, as well as scientists and advocates exposing the risks its product posed. Creating a covert army of seemingly neutral allies to attack its critics was central to Monsanto's strategy.

The Guardian's report was based on internal documents (primarily from 2015 to 2017) released during trial. They showed that "Monsanto planned a series of 'actions' to attack a book authored by Gillam prior to its release, including writing 'talking points' for 'third parties' to criticize the book and directing 'industry and farmer customers' on how to post negative reviews."

In addition, Monsanto paid Google to skew search results promoting criticism of Gilliam's work on Monsanto, and they discussed strategies for pressuring Reuters with the goal of getting her reassigned. The company "had a 'Carey Gillam Book' spreadsheet, with more than 20 actions dedicated to opposing her book before its publication." They also "wrote a lengthy report about singer Neil Young's anti-Monsanto advocacy, monitoring his impact on social media, and at one point considering 'legal action.'"

The entire pool of journalists covering the third trial was also targeted in a covert influence operation, Paul Thacker reported for The Huffington Post. A purported "freelancer for the BBC" schmoozed other reporters, trying to steer them toward writing stories critical of the plaintiffs suing Monsanto. Their curiosity aroused, they discovered that "her LinkedIn account said she worked for FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm that Monsanto and Bayer, Monsanto's parent company, had engaged for consulting," and she subsequently went into a digital disappearing act.

"FTI staff have previously attempted to obtain information under the guise of journalism," Thacker added. "In January, two FTI consultants working for Western Wire—a 'news and analysis' website backed by the oil and gas trade group Western Energy Alliance—attempted to question an attorney who represents communities suing Exxon over climate change."

Nor was FTI alone.

"Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters," Thacker wrote. "And all of it appears to be part of a pattern at the company of using a variety of tactics to intimidate, mislead and discredit journalists and critics."

"Monsanto officials were repeatedly worried about the release of documents on their financial relationships with scientists that could support the allegations they were 'covering up unflattering research," The Guardian noted. At the same time, they tried to attack critics as "anti-science."

The internal communications added fuel to the ongoing claims in court that Monsanto had, "'bullied' critics and scientists and worked to conceal the dangers of glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide," the report summed up.

"Monsanto's campaign to monitor and discredit journal­ists and other critics has received almost no corporate news coverage," Project Censored notes. A rare exception was a June 2019 ABC News report that nonetheless "consistently emphasized the perspective of Monsanto and Bayer."


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U.S. Military—A Massive, Hidden Contributor to Climate Crisis
It's said that an army travels on its stomach, but the Army itself has said, "Fuel is the 'blood of the military,'" as quoted in a study "Hidden Carbon Costs of the Everywhere War," by Oliver Belcher, Patrick Bigger, Ben Neimark and Cara Kennelly, who subsequently summarized their findings for The Conversation in June 2019.

The U.S. military is "one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-size countries," they wrote. If it were a country, it would rank as "the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world."

Studies of greenhouse gas emissions usually focus on civilian use, but the U.S. military has a larger carbon footprint than any civilian corporation in the world. "The U.S. military's climate policy remains fundamentally contradictory," their study notes. On the one hand, "The U.S. military sees climate change as a 'threat multiplier,' or a condition that will exacerbate other threats, and is fast becoming one of the leading federal agencies in the United States to invest in research and adoption of renewable energy [but] it remains the largest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world [and] this dependence on fossil fuels is unlikely to change as the USA continues to pursue open-ended operations around the globe."

While the military has invested in developing biofuels, "the entire point of these fuels is that they are 'drop-in'—they can be used in existing military kit—which means that, whenever convenient or cheaper, the infrastructure is already in place to undo whatever marginal gains have been made in decarbonisation."

Things will only get worse. "There is no shortage of evidence that the climate is on the brink of irreversible tipping points," the study notes. "Once past those tipping points, the impacts of climate change will continue to be more intense, prolonged and widespread, giving cover to even more extensive U.S. military interventions."

Understanding the military's climate impact requires a systems approach. "We argue that to account for the U.S. military as a major climate actor, one must understand the logistical supply chain that makes its acquisition and consumption of hydrocarbon-based fuels possible," the study states. "We show several 'path dependencies'—warfighting paradigms, weapons systems, bureaucratic requirements and waste—that are put in place by military supply chains and undergird a heavy reliance on carbon-based fuels by the U.S. military for years to come."

Data for their study was difficult to get. "A loophole in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol exempted the United States from reporting military emissions," Project Censored explains. "Although the Paris Accord closed this loophole, Neimark, Belcher and Bigger noted that, 'with the Trump administration due to withdraw from the accord in 2020, this gap ... will return.'" They only obtained fuel purchase data through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

Finally, Project Censored concluded: "Noting that 'action on climate change demands shuttering vast sections of the military machine,' Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger recommended that 'money spent procuring and distributing fuel across the U.S. empire' be reinvested as 'a peace dividend, helping to fund a Green New Deal in whatever form it might take.'"

Not surprisingly, the report had received "little to no corporate news coverage" as of May 2020 beyond scattered republication their Conversation piece.

This is Week 1 of a three-part feature. Author Paul Rosenberg is an activist turned journalist who has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Al Jazeera English, salon.com and numerous other periodicals. He has worked as an editor at Random Lengths News since 2002. Send comments to editor@cityweekly.net.

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