10 things they don’t want you to read

Project Censored spotlights news the mainstream media won't touch

photo illustrations by hayley doshay

Read Project Censored's entire list of overlooked stories and purchase the book at www.projectcensored.org.

When Sonoma State University professor Carl Jensen started looking into the new media’s practice of self-censorship in 1976, the Internet was only a dream and most computers were still big mainframes with whirling tape reels and vacuum tubes.

Back then, the vast majority of Americans got all of their news from one daily newspaper and one of the three big TV networks. If a story wasn’t on ABC, NBC or CBS, it might as well not have happened.

Today, Americans are more likely to get their news from several different sources through Facebook. Daily newspapers all over the country are struggling and, in some cases, dying. A story that appears on one obscure outlet can suddenly become a viral sensation reaching millions of readers at the speed of light.

And yet, as Jensen’s Project Censored found, there are still numerous big, important news stories that receive very little exposure.

As Project Censored staffers Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth note, 90 percent of U.S. news media—the traditional outlets that employ full-time reporters—are controlled by six corporations. “The corporate media hardly represent the mainstream,” the staffers wrote in the current edition’s introduction.

“By contrast, the independent journalists that Project Censored has celebrated since its inception are now understood as vital components of what experts have identified as the newly developing ’networked fourth estate.’” The results are published in a book released last month by Seven Stories Press.

I’ve been writing about Project Censored for 25 years, and I think it’s safe to say that the stories on this year’s list are credible, valid and critically important. And, even in an era when most of us are drunk with information, overloaded by buzzing social media telling us things we didn’t think we needed to know, these stories haven’t gotten anywhere near the attention they deserve.

1. Half of global wealth owned by ‘The 1 Percent’

In January 2015, Oxfam, an international nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate poverty, published a report stating that 1 percent of the global population will own more wealth than the rest of the 99 percent combined by 2016.

The Oxfam report provided evidence that extreme inequality is not inevitable, but is, in fact, the result of political choices and economic policies established and maintained by the power elite, wealthy individuals whose strong influence keeps the status quo rigged in their own favor. In addition to reporting the latest figures on global economic inequality and its consequences, the Oxfam study outlined a nine-point plan that governments could adopt in creating new policies to address poverty and economic inequality.

According to an Oxfam report, the proportion of global wealth owned by the 1 percent has increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 and is projected to reach 50 percent in 2016.

Oxfam calculated that taxing billionaires just 1.5 percent of their wealth “could raise $74 billion a year, enough to fill the annual gaps in funding needed to get every child into school and to deliver health services in the world’s poorest countries.”

Corporate coverage of Oxfam reports has been minimal in quantity and problematic in quality. A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX and C-SPAN covered Oxfam’s January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with approximately seven broadcast segments from January 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., far from prime time.

2. Oil industry in California illegally dumps fracking wastewater

California state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity in October 2014 revealed that the oil industry had illegally dumped almost 3 billion gallons of wastewater from fracking (hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas) into central California aquifers. According to the Center for Biological Diversity report, the leaking occurred through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of contaminated waste.

The affected aquifers supply water for human consumption and for irrigation of crops for human consumption. The documents also revealed that water-supply wells located close to wastewater injection sites were tested and found to have high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates, all toxic chemicals linked to the oil industry’s wastewater.

According to the documents obtained by the center, the California State Water Resources Control Board admitted that an additional 19 wells could have been leaking wastewater into protected aquifers. One state agency official claimed that errors in the permitting process for wastewater injection could have occurred in multiple places. Adding to the magnitude of the danger, toxic chemicals such as benzene can migrate into water sources over a period of years, making accurate risk assessment difficult.

A previous study by the Center for Biological Diversity showed that “54 percent of California’s 1,553 active and new wastewater injection wells are within 10 miles of a recently active fault (active in the past 200 years).” The findings “raise significant concerns,” this report’s authors wrote, “because the distance from a wastewater injection well to a fault is a key risk factor influencing whether a well may induce an earthquake.”

The Center for Biological Diversity report’s revelations about water contamination came amidst legislative deliberation to regulate fracking in California. As both Donny Shaw of MapLight and Dan Bacher for IndyBay reported in May 2014, over the past five years, the oil industry has lobbied powerfully in the California state Legislature, spending more than $63 million in efforts to persuade state policymakers to permit the continuation and expansion of fracking.

Although corporate media have covered debate over fracking regulations, the Center for Biological Diversity study regarding the dumping of wastewater into California’s aquifers went all but ignored at first. There appears to have been a lag of more than three months between the initial independent news coverage of the Center for Biological Diversity revelations and corporate coverage.

In May 2015, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page feature on Central Valley crops irrigated with treated oil field water; however, the Los Angeles Times report made no mention of the Center for Biological Diversity’s findings regarding fracking wastewater contamination.

In June 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water supplies. Although the EPA’s assessment identified “important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources,” it concluded that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”

In response, Food & Water Watch issued a press release by Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, who wrote: “Sadly, the EPA study released today falls far short of the level of scrutiny and government oversight needed to protect the health and safety of the millions of American people affected by drilling and fracking for oil and gas.” Noting that the oil and gas industry refused to cooperate with the EPA on a single “prospective case study” of fracking’s impacts, Hunter concluded, “This reveals the undue influence the industry has over the government and shows that the industry is afraid to allow careful monitoring of their operations.”

3. 89 percent of Pakistani drone victims can’t be ID’d as militants

Since President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, an estimated 2,464 people have been killed by drone strikes targeted outside of the United States’ declared war zones. This figure was posted in February 2015 by Jack Serle and the team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, who maintain a database of all known strikes—based on fieldwork, media reports and leaked documents—which provides a clearer picture of the scale and impact of the U.S. drone program than the episodic reporting provided by corporate media.

According to Bureau data, Al Qaeda members comprise only 4 percent of the total 2,379 people killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan as of October 2014, just over ten years after the first such strikes.

Of the total killed, about 30 percent could be identified and 11 percent were defined as militants. Little is known about the remaining 1,675 unnamed victims.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s findings undermine the validity of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that “the only people we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level.”

4. Popular resistance to corporate water

Sacramento isn’t the onlY Place where activists speak out against the privatization of public water. In January 2000, the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, shut down the city in protest against the privatization of their municipal water system, which had resulted in rate hikes that doubled or tripled their water bills.

In February of that year, Pacific News Service correspondent Jim Shultz broke the story in the Western press with “A War Over Water,” his firsthand reports of clashes between riot police and protesters.

On the 15th anniversary of the Cochabamba protests, popular resistance to corporate water control continues to expand around the world, encompassing remunicipalization of privatized water utilities, direct action against unjust water shutoffs and rainwater harvesting. A common theme—access to water as a fundamental human right—unites these three issues.

Corporate efforts to privatize water rights are meeting robust grassroots resistance as communities around the world assert their rights to decide how water resources are used. Over the past 15 years, Victoria Collier reported for CounterPunch, there have been 180 cases across 35 countries of water “remunicipalization,” with water control returned from private ownership to the public. “From Spain to Buenos Aires, Cochabamba to Kazakhstan, Berlin to Malaysia, water privatization is being aggressively rejected,” she reported.

5. Fukushima nuclear disaster deepens

The 2011 nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, continues unresolved, despite both assurances by government authorities and major news media that the situation has been contained and the assessment of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency that Japan has made “significant progress” in cleaning up the site.

The continued dumping of extremely radioactive cooling water into the Pacific Ocean from the destroyed nuclear plant, already being detected along the Japanese coastline, has the potential to impact entire portions of the Pacific Ocean and North America’s western shoreline. Aside from the potential release of plutonium into the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo Electric Power Company recently admitted that the facility is releasing large quantities of water contaminated with tritium, cesium and strontium into the ocean every day.

While acknowledging that the water in remaining tanks at the Fukushima facility is heavily “tainted,” a December 2014 statement from the Japanese government’s Nuclear Radiation Authority affirmed a decision to dump it into the Pacific.

Aside from the potential release of plutonium into the Pacific Ocean, TEPCO admitted that the facility is releasing a whopping 150 billion becquerels of tritium and 7 billion becquerels of cesium- and strontium-contaminated water into the ocean every day. By contrast, the Japanese government does not allow over 100 becquerels per kilogram to be sold to its citizenry.

“This water contains plutonium 239 and its release into the ocean has both local as well as global repercussions,” wrote Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research.

6. Methane gas leading to unprecedented temperature rise

In recent years, atmospheric methane levels have reached an all-time high. A greenhouse gas that is a leading contributor to global warming, methane is far more destructive than carbon dioxide.

In his report for Truthout, Dahr Jamail quoted Paul Beckwith, a professor of climatology and meteorology at the University of Ottawa: “Our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two.” Such changes would have “unprecedented effects” for life on Earth.

The melting of arctic ice releases previously trapped methane into the atmosphere. “What happens in the Arctic,” Beckwith observed, “does not stay in the Arctic.” The loss of arctic ice affects the Earth as a whole. For example, as the temperature difference between the Arctic and the equator decreases, the jet stream increases. This in turn speeds the melting of arctic ice.

Leonid Yurganov, a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland, stated that “increased methane would influence air temperature near the surface. This would accelerate the Arctic warming and change the climate everywhere in the world.”

A 2013 study, published in Nature, reported that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane is “highly possible at any time.” As Jamail clarified, “That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide,” noting that, since 1850, humans have released a total of approximately 1,475 gigatons in carbon dioxide.

7. Writers fear NSA spying

Mass surveillance has “badly shaken writers’ faith that democratic governments will respect their rights to privacy and freedom of expression,” according to a January 2015 PEN America report based on the responses of 772 writers from 50 countries. Reporting for Common Dreams, Lauren McCauley covered not only the PEN America report, but also a July 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch indicating that U.S. journalists and lawyers increasingly avoid work on potentially controversial topics due to fear of government spying.

McCauley’s January 2015 Common Dreams story quoted one of the conclusions from the PEN America report: “If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers—particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today—may be greatly impoverished.”

According to the PEN America survey, 34 percent of writers in liberal democracies reported some degree of self-censorship (compared with 61 percent of writers living in authoritarian countries, and 44 percent in semidemocratic countries).

In the few instances when corporate news media covered the PEN America report, that coverage downplayed the scope of the report’s implications. For instance, while the New York Times’ Jennifer Schuessler filed a substantive story on the PEN America report, the Times ran her article in its arts section. A second Times article based on the PEN America report focused specifically on press freedom in Hong Kong, effectively ignoring the 49 other countries that the report addressed.

8. Police-involved killings higher in America

Compared with other capitalist countries, the United States is unquestionably different when it comes to the level of state violence directed against minorities, Richard Becker reported in January 2015 for Liberation.

Using 2011 figures, Becker wrote that, on a per capita basis, “the rate of killing by U.S. police was about 100 times that of English cops in 2011.” Similarly, U.S. police were 40 times as likely to kill as German police officers, and 20 times as likely to kill as their Canadian counterparts. This, Becker noted, is probably not the kind of “American exceptionalism” that President Barack Obama had in mind when he addressed graduating West Point cadets in May 2014.

It is not clear how many people police in the United States kill each year, since there is no federal agency that accurately keeps track of such information. The Federal Bureau of Investigation compiles annual statistics for “justified homicides” by police, and all reported police killings are registered as “justified” killings by the FBI. Since participation in reporting homicides to the FBI by police and sheriff’s departments is voluntary, only about 800 police agencies—out of 18,000—provide statistics.

According to FBI statistics, there were 461 “justified homicides” by police in 2013, but the website KilledByPolice.net reported that U.S. police killed around 748 people in just the last eight months of 2013, and 1,100 in 2014. The Killed By Police figures were compiled using establishment media sources; because not every police killing is reported, and checking all news sources across the country is virtually impossible, these figures likely underestimate the number of police killings of civilians.

9. 482 billionaires get more media coverage than 50 million poor

In June 2014, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting published a study showing that ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News give more media coverage to the 482 billionaires in the United States than to the 50 million people in poverty, airing almost four times as many stories that included the term “billionaire” as stories including terms such as “homeless” or “welfare.”

“The notion that the wealthiest nation on Earth has one in every six of its citizens living at or below the poverty threshold reflects not a lack of resources, but a lack of policy focus and attention—and this is due to a lack of public awareness to the issue,” Frederick Reese of MintPress News wrote.

The FAIR study showed that, between January 2013 and February 2014, an average of only 2.7 seconds per every 22-minute episode discussed poverty in some format. During the 14 month study, FAIR found just 23 news segments that addressed poverty. Those segments featured 54 sources, only 22 of which were people personally affected by poverty. “That means, on average, someone affected by poverty appeared on any nightly news show only once every 20 days,” FAIR reported.

Television news coverage of the rich was not only four times more frequent, but also “painted them in a favorable light,” according to the study.

For instance, during an August 2013 segment of NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams explained that billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos were purchasing newspapers “because they believe in quality work and a robust press.”

In March 2014, Tavis Smiley reported that “poverty represents less than 0.02 percent of lead media coverage.”

10. Country runs entirely on renewable energy

For 75 days straight during the first months of 2015, the nation of Costa Rica did not burn any fossil fuels to generate electricity. Instead, as a result of heavy rainfall, hydropower plants generated almost all of the country’s electricity.

The country’s geothermal, wind and solar energy sources made reliance on coal and petroleum sources unnecessary.

As Myles Gough reported, Costa Rica’s primary industries are tourism and agriculture, which require little energy, compared with industries such as mining or manufacturing. The nation also has topographical features (including volcanoes) that are conducive to producing renewable energy.

Both Lizzie Wade, writing for Wired, and Lindsay Fendt, of the Guardian, noted that the heavy rainfall that allowed Costa Rica to generate all its electricity from renewable sources in early 2015 is likely the result of climate change.