Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dialogue a Key Ingredient of Democracy Missing in US Corporate News Media

For anyone imbibing US corporate news media, the outcome is certain: they will be treated to a zero-calorie infotainment diet served on traditional feeding intervals at the networks, or for the insatiable junk food news consumer, round the clock cable news menus heavy on advertiser appetizers and tabloid dessert specials. This is a recipe for a literal Truth Emergency in our society. When we rely on corporate media outlets to provide context for national discourse, we find ourselves in a sea of information but are left with a paucity of understanding regarding anything relevant in our daily lives.

So-called “news” topics range from Tyra Banks’ figure fluctuations to the Balloon Boy hoax; from the White House Beer Summit to the death of Michael Jackson; while We the People become bloated from ubiquitous, no news nonsense. Absent from this smorgasbord of purported news programming¬ is any actual information, or news, generating healthy democratic dialogue and responsive representative government policy on the most important issues facing the general public– our faltering economy, lack of healthcare, and issues of war and peace.

The purpose of the free press, as enunciated by key founders of America, was to keep the citizenry informed, engaged, and in dialogue with one another about the crucial issues of the day. The health of any democracy can be diagnosed by the degree to which information flows freely in the culture. Anything that interferes with that free flow of information is a form of censorship, which acts to derail, distort, and deny the efficacy of any true democratic experiment.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison supported a vigorous public arena of discourse, debate, and competing ideas. In short, they wanted to encourage the process of dialogue and free expression as vehicles to achieve the best of democratic possibilities.

Jefferson opined that newspapers would better serve the country, by reporting the facts of matters at hand, than any form of government. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson said, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Now imagine Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly advocating honest, open dialogue on their corporate media programs.

Madison warned, "A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” Now envision that Americans demand that the truth be spoken across the so-called public airwaves. The sharing of knowledge becomes a dialogue that leads to informed opinions and choices, ones that measure up to the national values and principles in our founding documents.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are not just words on parchment. They are the very concepts that make us humane in the modern world. The media, the supposed free press, should be encouraging robust dialogues while fighting for the future of all Americans, not just for the insurance companies, banks, big pharma, and the military industrial complex. In keeping with the founders’ notions of natural rights and intent in providing for the general welfare, we would do well to note that healthcare is a human right, workers have the right to the fruits of their labor, environmental degradation is a crime against humanity, and war is terrorism. These positions should all be part of our national discourse in a truly free press. Where are these voices in the corporate media cacophony?

Instead, the privileged institutions of corporate media are daily miring us in cynicism (reports of personal scandals, rampant corruption, and Congressional stagnation), rationalizing us into deep denial (falsely claiming the recession is over while key public indicators refute this), and leaving us footing a multi-trillion dollar tab for Wall Street bailouts and illegal wars (TARP, Iraq, Afghanistan, but nothing left for the public at home). A truly free press would herald these vile decrees and deeds as those of charlatans and demagogues. We must be the change we wish to see and we must not rely on spoon-fed, top down, corporate media propaganda. We must become the media in the process of sharing knowledge with each other on the road to a better world. Since the corporate media are not in the business of news and are not beholden to empirical truths, rather, only to shareholder profits and their own bottom line, they should not be trusted.

If a failing corporate media system ensconced in hyper-reality creates an excited delirium of knowinglessness, that system must be declared incapable of accurately informing the citizenry. The public must turn to independent journalism based in muckraking traditions, with transparent fact-based reporting that asks the tough and critical questions of itself and its leaders. An actual free press would provide factual knowledge and encourage us to engage with each other in our local communities on a daily basis in the quest to solve societal problems.

This is possible with our collective efforts, so long as we simultaneously reject the projected imaginings of the corporate media profiteers and their industry of illusion. The health and meaningfulness of our cultural dialogue, as well as the future of our republic, may well depend upon how swiftly and significantly we address the current Truth Emergency and what we do about it.

Mickey Huff is most recently co-editor with Peter Phillips, of Censored 2010 (where many of the ideas in this essay are further developed); is associate professor of History at Diablo Valley College; former associate director of Project Censored; and on the executive committee at the Media Freedom Foundation. He blogs at http://dailycensored.org and http://mythinfo.blogspot.com, and helps maintain http://mediafreedominternational.org. He can be reached at mhuff@dvc.edu.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What Would You Expect In Return If You Gave Someone 64 Million Dollars?

What Would You Expect In Return If You Gave Someone 64 Million Dollars?
By Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff

You'll find the answer to the title question and other puzzling social and political issues in the new book from Project Censored, Censored 2010, co-edited by Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff, and researched this year by over two hundred faculty and students at nine colleges and universities. The work includes the annual selection of the twenty-five most important news stories not covered by the US corporate media and a comprehensive critical review of media today.

1. US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street
Federal lawmakers responsible for overseeing the US economy and approving over $700 billion in bailout funds have received millions of dollars from Wall Street firms. Since 2001, eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional and presidential candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties. The donors include investment bankers Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, insurer American International Group, and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

2. US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s
Schools in the United States are more segregated today than they have been in more than four decades. Millions of non-white students are locked into “dropout factory” high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate, and few are well prepared for college or a future in the US economy.

3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates
The international community has come out in force to condemn and declare war on the Somali fishermen pirates, while discreetly protecting the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fleets from around the world that have been poaching and dumping toxic waste in Somali waters since the fall of the Somali government eighteen years ago.

4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina
One of the most lethal patches of ground in North America is located in the backwoods of North Carolina, where Shearon Harris nuclear plant is housed and owned by Progress Energy. The plant contains the largest radioactive waste storage pools in the country.

5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products
US deregulation of toxic substances, such as lead in lipsticks, mercury in electronics, and phthalates (endocrine disruptors) in baby toys, may not only pose disastrous consequences to our health, but also to our economic and political status in the world. International markets are moving toward a European model of insisting on environmental and consumer safety. Hundreds of companies located in the US produce or import hundreds of chemicals designated as dangerous by the European Union.

6. Lobbyists Buy Congress
According to a study by The Center for Responsive Politics, special interests paid Washington lobbyists $3.2 billion in 2008, or $32,523 per legislator per day—more than any other year on record. This was a 13.7 percent increase from 2007.

7. Obama’s Military Appointments Have Corrupt Past
Obama’s retention of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense makes Gates the first person ever in US history from an opposing party to be kept on as Secretary of Defense or War. Gates was formally a senior CIA official under Reagan who helped undermine the CIA analytical division’s commitment to objective intelligence.

8. Bailed out Banks and America’s Wealthiest Cheat IRS Out of Billions
A 2008 study done by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that eighty-three of the top publicly held US companies have operations in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the Virgin Islands. Fourteen of these companies, including AIG, Bank of America, and Citigroup, received money from government bailouts.

9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza
Israel’s repeated firing of US-made white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes, Human Rights Watch said in a report released March 25, 2009.

10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate
In November 2008, Ecuador became the first country to examine the legitimacy and structure of its foreign debt. An independent debt audit documented hundreds of allegations of irregularity, illegality, and illegitimacy in contracts of debt to predatory international lenders. The loans, according to the report, violated Ecuador’s domestic laws, US Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, and general principles of international law.

Peter Phillips is Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and former director of Project Censored. Mickey Huff is Associate Professor of History at Diablo Valley College and former associate director of Project Censored. They both serve on the executive committee of the Media Freedom Foundation and work with Media Freedom International publishing Validated Independent News and Investigate Reports in support of a truly free press, in contrast to corporate media propaganda. They are co-editors of Censored 2010 from Seven Stories Press.