Covert Coverage

Obama's police state, troubled oceans and Japan's radiation top Project Censored's latest report of news stories ignored by big media.

People who get their information exclusively from mainstream media sources may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm on the left for President Barack Obama in this crucial election.

But that's probably because they weren't exposed to the full online furor sparked by Obama's continuation of the overreaching approach to national security by his predecessor, President George W. Bush. That includes Obama's signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the indefinite detention of those accused of supporting terrorism—even U.S. citizens.

We'll never know how this year's election would've been different if the corporate media adequately covered the National Defense Authorization Act's indefinite detention clause and other recent attacks on civil liberties.

What we can do is spread the word and support independent media sources that do cover these stories.

That's where Project Censored comes in.

Project Censored has been documenting inadequate media coverage of crucial stories since it began in 1976 at Sonoma State University. Each year, the group considers hundreds of news stories submitted by readers, evaluating their merits. Students search LexisNexis and other databases to see if the stories were under-reported, and if so, the stories are fact-checked by professors and experts in relevant fields. A panel of academics and journalists chooses the top 25 stories and rates their significance. The project maintains a vast online database of under-reported news stories that it has "validated" and publishes them in an annual book. Censored 2013: Dispatches from the Media Revolution will be released Oct. 30.

We've seen revolutionary unrest around the world, and the rise of a mass movement that connects disparate issues into a simple, powerful class analysis—the 99 percent versus 1 percent paradigm popularized by Occupy Wall Street. In this context, this year's Project Censored offers an element of hope.

For example, No. 7 on the top-25 list is the story of how the United Nations designated 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, recognizing the rapid growth of co-op businesses: organizations that are part-owned by all members and whose revenue is shared equitably among members. One billion people worldwide now work in co-ops.

Here's Project Censored's top-10 list for 2013:


President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his "war on terror." But it's President Obama who signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects.

Obama promised that "my administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict"—leaving us adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise.

Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the president, "in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements."

Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the National Defense Authorization Act's indefinite detention clause on Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement. 

Her ruling was overturned on Oct. 3, so the clause is back.


Big banks aren't the only entities our country has deemed "too big to fail." But our oceans won't be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. 

In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape—overfished, acidified, warming—and describes how the destruction of the ocean's complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water.

Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the "Great Dying," a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on Earth took 30 million years to recover.

In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 non-protected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.


A plume of toxic fallout floated to the U.S. after Japan's tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States.

One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and it would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published emails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group. 

And in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the U.S., mostly among infants. The researchers suggest—but don't establish—a possible link between the increased deaths and radiation.


We know FBI agents go into communities such as mosques, both undercover and in the guise of building relationships, quietly gathering information about individuals. This is part of an approach to finding what the FBI now considers the most likely kind of terrorists, "lone wolves."

Its strategy: "seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity," writes Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronson.

The publication, along with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California at Berkeley, examined the results of this strategy.

They found that 508 cases classified as terrorism-related have come before the U.S. Department of Justice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001.

In 243 of these cases, an informant was involved. In 49 cases, an informant actually led the plot. And "with three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings."


The Federal Reserve, the United States' quasi-private central bank, was audited for the first time in its history this year. The audit report states, "From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve banks provided more than a trillion emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system.” 

These loans had significantly less interest and fewer conditions than the high-profile TARP bailouts, and were rife with conflicts of interest.

Some examples: the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. served as a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the same time his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. William Dudley, now the New York Federal Reserve president, was granted a conflict of interest waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric while the companies got bailout funds. 

The audit was restricted to Federal Reserve lending during the financial crisis. On July 25, 2012, a bill to audit the Fed again, with fewer limitations, authored by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), passed the House of Representatives. HR 459 is expected to die in the Senate, but the movement to hold the Fed accountable seems to be growing.


Reporting on a study by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich didn't make the rounds nearly enough, according to Censored 2013. They found that, of 43,060 transnational companies, 147 control 40 percent of total global wealth. 

The researchers also built a model visually demonstrating how the connections between companies—what it calls the "super entity"—works.

Some have criticized the study, saying control of assets doesn't equate to ownership. True, but as we clearly saw in the 2008 financial collapse, corporations are capable of mismanaging assets in their control to the detriment of their actual owners. And a largely unregulated super entity like this is vulnerable to global collapse.


Can something really be censored when it's straight from the United Nations?

According to Project Censored evaluators, the corporate media under-reported the U.N. declaring 2012 to be the International Year of Cooperatives, based on the co-op business model's stunning growth.

The U.N. found that, in 2012, 1 billion people worldwide are co-op member-owners—one in five adults over the age of 15.

The largest is Spain's Mondragon Corporation, with more than 80,000 member-owners. The U.N. predicts that by 2025, worker-owned co-ops will be the world's fastest-growing business model, providing equitable distribution of wealth, genuine connection to the workplace, and, just maybe, a brighter future for our planet.


In January 2012, the BBC "revealed" how British Special Forces agents "blended in" with rebels in Libya to help topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a story that alternative media sources had reported a year earlier. NATO admits to bombing a pipe factory in the Libyan city of Brega that was key to a system bringing tap water to 70 percent of Libyans, saying that Gaddafi was storing weapons in the factory.

In Censored 2013, writer James F. Tracy makes the point that historical relations between the U.S. and Libya were left out of mainstream news coverage of the NATO campaign: "background knowledge and historical context confirming Al-Qaeda and Western involvement in the destabilization of the Gaddafi regime are also essential for making sense of corporate news narratives depicting the Libyan operation as a popular 'uprising.'"


On its website, the UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims its products are "made in America." That's true, but they're made in places in the U.S. where labor laws don't apply, with workers often paid just 23 cents an hour to be exposed to toxic materials with no legal recourse. These places are U.S. prisons.

Slavery conditions in prisons aren't exactly news. It's literally written into the Constitution; the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, outlaws "slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."

Prison industries are now closely tied to war and Department of Defense contracts. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns and land-mine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body armor  and camouflage uniforms.

This is happening in the U.S., where grossly disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Latinos are imprisoned. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year's book: "This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color."


Lawyers and other concerned citizens worry HR 347—also called the "anti-Occupy" bill—could have disastrous effects for the First Amendment right to protest.

Officially called the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, it would make it a felony to "knowingly" enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in "disorderly or disruptive" conduct in or near the zones.

The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be—the White House, areas hosting events deemed "National Special Security Events" or anywhere visited by the president, vice president and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of an election); and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order.

These people could be anywhere, and the zones have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the Super Bowl, and the Academy Awards.

Yael Chanoff is a staff writer with the San Francisco Bay Guardian.