Don't read this book before you go to bed. Like a piece of chocolate ganache cake, it'll sit with you, rich in complex flavors but giving you an ache. But this ache will rest on the left side of your chest, just under the fifth rib, in the region of your heart. For this is a weighty collection of stories most of us don't know, what with the global economy in shambles, automakers crying foul and the latest celebrity sighting on TMZ. Assembled from what's termed the "independent media," these news stories, classified as "under-covered" by Project Censored, bring us back to reality.
Chapter One gives you the coming attractions: 25 news stories from 2007-2008 permeated with what the authors call "corptocracy life under a government of, for and by large multinational corporations that increasingly diminish the value of life in the quest of profit." That about says it all: more than a million Iraqi deaths caused by the U.S. occupation, the FBI deputizing businesses, our government's right to freeze war protesters' assets, the human trafficking of guest workers, the American Psychological Association's complicity in CIA torture, Bush's pals making millions off No Child Left Behind, the record number of marijuana arrests and unanswered questions about 9/11, to name several. A synopsis of each story, with sources and updates, gives the reader a full picture of the issue at hand.
But wait, there's more. Indeed, that is what distresses: the sheer volume. While the goal of presenting underreported stories is admirable, the delivery is often awkward, with reportage sometimes falling into rhetoric. What does ring true is the amazing arrogance of powerful people in business, government and the media, working together for the benefit of themselves rather than the truth.
In addition to the Top 25 Censored Stories, there are updates from last year's Top 25, a report on junk-food news items (Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, et al.) and the real news happening at that time; an understandable and alarming report on the ties between health-care policy and the insurance industry; U.S. media bias in reporting the Hamas government in Gaza; a brilliant look at the finely crafted public-relations snow job of selling Gardasil, a vaccine against a virus that can cause cervical cancer; an essay on how power shapes the news (no surprises there); a paper on myth-making and the events of 9/11; the provocatively titled "The Pentagon's Child Recruiting Strategy"; and the searing account of "Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations" by military personnel.
Positive stories fill a slim section, with limp examples of environmental, health care and activist activity reported. Unfortunately, these stories of hope and change rarely amount to more than a paragraph of generalizations, and most come from the same source, Yes! Magazine. Too bad the authors don't devote similar journalistic attention to this section as they do to the rest of the collection. Likewise, a report on the first annual conference of "Truth Emergency Meets Media Reform" offers a manifesto stating "undemocratic media is a form of mind control for the powerful," while its Action Steps languish in vagueness: take back the media, reduce consumerism, build a spiritual component into the Truth Movement.
All this talk about truth makes one itch. The idea of truth we like; it's just when it intersects with things like grocery shopping or watching TV that it becomes uncomfortable. By not asking questions, some part of ourselves pushes away the idea that we're partially responsible for bad things. Remember that old poem by Martin Niemšller? "In Germany, they came first for the Communists. And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist . . ." Read this and speak up.
Censored 2009: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2007-08 Edited by Peter Phillips, Andrew Roth and Project Censored Seven Stories Press, 416 pages, 2008.
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