Want news? ‘Shut up and go shopping’

A Sonoma State University team rolled into Chico this week to talk about the news you haven’t read, and it’s as grim as you probably thought it would be.

But the real story brought by these media reform crusaders is perhaps more alarming than even underreported news stories of government corruption, chilling U.S. foreign-policy initiatives and new infringements on citizens’ privacy.

Each year faculty members and a team of almost 100 students at that campus compile a list of the 25 most important news stories that the mainstream media have ignored, dismissed or distorted during the previous year. While the media investigation known as “Project Censored” helps shed light on important stories, it also underlines the form censorship takes in this country.

The six corporations that now control most media outlets push what Project Censored calls “junk food news” and increasingly discourage or block stories that would inform the American electorate about its own government and corporate power, said Peter Phillips, director of the project and chairman of the Sonoma State Sociology Department.

“Basically the message is, ‘Shut up and go shopping,'” said Phillips, who spoke Tuesday at the Harlan Adams Theatre. “The corporate media are busy entertaining us instead of keeping us informed about what the powerful are doing. There’s a symbiotic relationship between corporations and the people in power.”

Phillips said Americans should demand legislation that would force a break-up of media monopolies. The 500-seat theater was half empty Tuesday, but Phillips and two of his students had visited journalism and sociology classes earlier in the day.

One example, Phillips said, is that of television reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, who lost their jobs after putting together a story on the danger of hormones fed to cows. A Fox affiliate refused to air the story as it was written after receiving a threatening letter from Monsanto.

Sonoma State students and faculty researchers each year consider thousands of stories reported by alternative and independent media sources. They evaluate the attention from major media that nominated stories received, as well as the research, reporting accuracy and number of sources in each story. The stories are also evaluated by experts in the community and a panel of nationally renowned journalists.

Within days, Project Censored hopes to have this year’s list of 25 censored or underreported stories ready.

So brace yourself. They’re looking at a story about Iran’s plans to launch a competitive stock exchange for global oil in Euros that could trigger a crash of the American dollar. Stories about the Bush administration’s plans for Iraqi oil and how a national identification card would help the government track citizens.

In its 2005 book, Project Censored acknowledges that it disseminates complex stories often involving the U.S. government and American corporations. But more than 200 people vote on which stories should make the list, indicating some degree of consensus about which stories are most important, it says.

And, hey, is it really that much harder than reading day after day about a pop star who’s continually accused of boy groping or a fertilizer salesman who murdered his wife?