WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!

Project Censored is an early warning system of the problems that plague us. Over the years it tried to warn us about many of the challenges we now face.

Carl Jensen

(Press Democrat, Saturday, 10/13/01)

The free flow of information in America is slowing to a carefully monitored trickle.

The President of the United States says he can only trust eight members of Congress.

The Attorney General admonishes Congress to pass the controversial Anti-terrorism Act without debate.

The National Security Adviser cautions the television networks not to broadcast press conferences with Taliban leaders because they may contain hidden messages.

The military tells the press this is a “different war” and thus can’t observe the 1992 agreement allowing the media more access to information.

The State Department tells the Voice of America radio network not to broadcast an interview with Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

The President’s press secretary warns the media and all Americans, “to watch what they say and watch what they do.”

These are ominous signs for a democracy. We may be united in our effort to bring the terrorists to justice but we should not be so willing to give up our civil rights and civil liberties.

We must not allow patriotism to become an excuse for censorship. This is where Project Censored, the national media research project headquartered at Sonoma State University, plays such an important role in our society.

Project Censored is an early warning system of the problems that plague us. Over the years it tried to warn us about many of the challenges we now face.

One of those challenges is the threat of biological and chemical attacks in the United States. In the past ten years, Project Censored raised the issue of biological and chemical warfare seven times. A 1981 story reported that while research on these weapons was banned in 1969 due to public pressure, the CIA still maintained biological warfare stockpiles. Further, a 1998 story revealed that the biological weapons materials the UN inspection teams were seeking in Iraq was supplied by U.S. firms.

Another challenge is the possible Taliban use of U.S.-made Stinger missiles against our aircraft. A censored story of 1993 told how the CIA was desperately but unsuccessfully trying to buy back hundreds of surface-to-air Stinger missiles that it secretly gave the Afghan guerrillas a few years earlier. The top censored story of 1997 said the U.S. was the principal arms merchant for the world and warned that U.S. troops may be at risk from our own weapons.

In 1984, Project Censored reported that the U.S. had secretly given the Afghan rebels up to $300 million in covert aid, far more than the controversial $24 million it had given the Nicaraguan contras. A censored story in 1989 revealed how CBS News broadcast pro-guerrilla biased news coverage of the Afghanistan war.

Ironically, one of the censored stories of 1983 reported how the Pentagon wanted to establish special “state defense forces” to prevent or suppress terrorism. The proposal failed. For more information on these and other censored stories, please visit www.projectcensored.org.

The tragic events of September 11 shocked many Americans who could not believe anyone could hate us that much. An explanation might be found in the number seven censored story of 1999. It reported how international news began to fade from America’s newspapers in the 1970s following the Vietnam War.

Journalist Peter Arnett offered one explanation as to why Americans are less informed about what’s going on in the rest of the world. “…most of the nation’s newspapers and magazines and television stations, seeking greater profits through larger audiences, fed the public a diet of crime news, celebrity gossip, and soft features, choosing to exclude more serious topics that news managers feared would not stimulate public attention.”

All this is not to say that the terrorist acts would not have taken place if the press had provided us with more objective coverage of the Middle East but perhaps it would have made us more vigilant and better prepared.

Unfortunately, instead of alerting us to these and other important issues, the news media distracted us with a phenomenon Project Censored calls junk food news–stories about O.J. Simpson, Y2K, Monica Lewinsky, Gary Condit, and “reality” television programs like “Survivor.”

Finally we urge the press to be responsible in its coverage of this conflict. It is far easier but less responsible to beat the drums when jingoism runs loose in the streets than to carefully report events in a context that makes sense.

In the same way we survived Pearl Harbor, we will survive the 9/11 terrorist attack. In the meantime, let us not be terrorized into giving up any of our constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Carl Jensen Founder of Project Censored

Author: Carl Jensen

News Service: Project Censored

URL: http://www.projectcensored.org