Just four days before the 2004 presidential election, a prestigious British medical journal published the results of a rigorous study by Dr. Les Roberts, a widely respected researcher. Roberts concluded that close to 100,000 people had died in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Most were noncombatant civilians. Many were children.
But that news didnít make the front pages of the major newspapers. It wasnít on the network news. So most voters knew little or nothing about the brutal civilian impact of President George W. Bushís war when they went to the polls.
Thatís just one of the big stories the mainstream news media ignored, blacked out, or underreported over the past year, according to Project Censored, a media watchdog group based at Californiaís Sonoma State University.
Every year, project researchers scour the media looking for news that never really made the news, publishing the results in a book, this year titled Censored 2006. Of course, as Project Censored staffers painstakingly explain every year, their "censored" stories arenít literally censored, per se. Most can be found on the Internet if you know where to look. And some have even received some ink in the mainstream press. "Censorship," explains project director Peter Phillips, "is any interference with the free flow of information in society." The stories highlighted by Project Censored simply havenít received the kind of attention they warrant, and therefore havenít made it into the greater public consciousness.
"If there were a real democratic press, these are the kind of stories they would do," says Sut Jhally, professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts and executive director of the Media Education Foundation.
Can a story really be "censored" in the Internet age, when information from millions of sources whips around the world in a matter of seconds? Absolutely, says Jhally.
"The Internet is a great place to go if you already know that the mainstream media is heavily biased" and you actively search out sites on the outer limits of the Web, he notes. "The challenge for a democratic society is how to get vital information not only at the margins but at the center of our culture."
Not every article or source Project Censored has cited over the years is completely credible; at least one this year is pretty shaky (see number four). But most of the stories that made the projectís top 10 were published by reliable sources and included only verifiable information.
1) Bush administration moves to eliminate open government
While the Bush administration has expanded its ability to keep tabs on civilians, itís been working to make sure the public ó and even Congress ó canít find out what the government is doing.
One year ago, Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) released an 81-page analysis of how the administration has administered the countryís major open-government laws. His report found that the feds consistently "narrowed the scope and application" of the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other key public-information legislation, while expanding laws blocking access to certain records ó even creating new categories of "protected" information and exempting entire departments from public scrutiny.
When those methods havenít been enough, the Bush administration has simply refused to release records ó even when the requester was a congressional subcommittee or the Government Accountability Office, the study found. A few of the potentially incriminating documents Bush & Co. have refused to hand over to their colleagues on Capitol Hill include records of contacts between large energy companies and Vice-President Dick Cheneyís energy task force; White House memos pertaining to Saddam Husseinís, shall we say, "elusive" weapons of mass destruction; and reports describing torture at Abu Ghraib.
2) Media coverage fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the civilian death toll
Decades from now, the civilized world may well look back on the assaults on Fallujah in April and November 2004 and point to them as examples of the United Statesí and Britainís utter disregard for the most basic wartime rules of engagement.
Not long after the "coalition" had embarked on its second offensive, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for an investigation into whether the Americans and their allies had engaged in "the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons, and the use of human shields," among other possible "grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions ... considered war crimes" under federal law.
More than 83 percent of Fallujahís 300,000 residents fled the city, Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell, staffers with the American Friends Service Committee, reported in AFSCís Peacework magazine. Men between the ages of 15 and 45 were refused safe passage, and all who remained ó about 50,000 ó were treated as enemy combatants, according to the article.
Numerous sources reported that coalition forces cut off water and electricity, seized the main hospital, shot at anyone who ventured out into the open, executed families waving white flags while trying to swim across the Euphrates or otherwise flee the city, shot at ambulances, raided homes and killed people who didnít understand English, rolled over injured people with tanks, and allowed corpses to rot in the streets and be eaten by dogs.
Medical staff and others reported seeing people, dead and alive, with melted faces and limbs, injuries consistent with the use of phosphorous bombs.
The US militaryís refusal to keep an Iraqi-death count has been mirrored by the mainstream media, which systematically dodges the question of how many Iraqi civilians have been killed.
Les Roberts, an investigator with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, conducted a rigorous inquiry into pre- and post-invasion mortality in Iraq, sneaking into Iraq by lying flat on the bed of an SUV and training observers on the scene. The results were published in the Lancet, a prestigious peer-reviewed British medical journal, on October 29, 2004 ó just four days before the US presidential elections. Roberts and his team (including researchers from Columbia University and from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad) concluded that "the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably about 100,000 people, and may be much higher."
The vast majority of those deaths resulted from violence ó particularly, aerial bombardments ó and more than half of the fatalities were women or children, they found.
3) Another year of distorted election coverage
George W. Bush prevailed by three million votes on November 2, 2004 ó despite exit polls that clearly projected Kerry winning by a margin of five million.
"Exit polls are highly accurate," Steve Freeman, professor at the University of Pennsylvaniaís Center for Organizational Dynamics, and Temple University statistician Josh Mitteldorf wrote in In These Times. "They remove most of the sources of potential polling error by identifying actual voters and asking them immediately afterward who they had voted for."
The eight-million-vote discrepancy was well beyond the pollís recognized, less-than-one-percent margin of error. And when Freeman and Mitteldorf analyzed the data collected by the two companies that conducted the polls, they found concrete evidence of potential fraud in the official count.
"Only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots did the official count and the exit polls fall within the normal sampling margin of error," they wrote. And "the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official count was considerably greater in the critical swing states."
Inconsistencies were so much more marked in African-American communities as to renew calls for racial equity in our voting system. "It is now time to make counting that vote a right, not just casting it, before Jim Crow rides again in the next election," wrote the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Greg Palast in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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Issue Date: September 9 - 15, 2005
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