November 18, 2010
From Mickey Z’s interview with Mickey Huff at Planet Green:
Z: In a land where freedom of the press is considered sacred and the media is usually portrayed as a collection of closet Leninists yearning to sacrifice Tea Party virgins on the altar of Fidel Castro, why in the world do we need Project Censored?
Huff: Unfortunately, both the myth of a free press and the “liberal” media persist in the US, regardless of mountains of evidence to the contrary manifest in various social science studies dealing with media content and bias over at least the past few decades (not to mention scores of articles and books—and Project Censored has been looking at this problem, in terms of what does and does not get reported, for going on 35 years now). The top-down, managed-news, propaganda system corporate media deliver day in and day out, is by design, not accident. And it’s a problem with a pattern. Our books are filled with examples year after year in addition to other sources. One reason for this is that the bottom line for corporate media is no different than other for-profit businesses—it’s the bottom line. Reporting the truth, portending to factual accuracy, presenting a diversity of viewpoints, are not the prime concerns of corporate media. Selling eyeballs to advertisers is. Therein lies a major part of the problem for a free press. As A.J. Liebling once put it, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Z: Where does the term “Junk Food News” come in?
Huff: Along the way, corporate media tell other stories that support the overall status quo of our capitalist economic system (oft at odds with principles of democracy) which rely heavily on historical myths and appeals to emotion in the process of cajoling the public on one issue or another. However, increasingly, corporate media is proving itself irrelevant in terms of news and reporting as more and more Junk Food News (Twinkies for the brain) becomes standard programming (with stories like Balloon Boy, various celebrity deaths and anniversaries of them, the latest escapades of Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, “reality” television, and the like). In the US, corporate media help create an excited delirium of knowinglessness on a hyperreal landscape where the end result is a confused and alienated public- from FOX to CNN, and across the AM radio dial, we increasingly have vitriol not virtue, gossip not fact, surface not substance. It is what Dr. Peter Phillips and I have referred to as a literal Truth Emergency—a lack of purity, facts, and deep political meaning in news reporting.
For these reasons, and more, Project Censored, has its work cut out for it. The mission of Project Censored is to teach students and the public about the role of a free press in a free society—and to “tell the News That Didn’t Make the News and Why.” We examine the contents of news and information important to the maintenance of a healthy and functioning democracy. We define modern media censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets. On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story—or piece of a news story—based on anything other than a desire to tell the full story about any given matter (i.e., the truth). Such manipulation can take the form of political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions).
Z: What has been the role and impact of Project Censored in all this?
Huff: Project Censored, quite simply, seeks media accountability. In our view, the only valid justification for declining a news story is that in a medium limited by time and space, another news story was simply more important to the people of the community, whether local, national or international. While admittedly a subjective process, it is nonetheless, a process to be undertaken by the news people themselves (the investigative journalists and editors), NOT by the managers and CEOs of their “parent company.” No professional journalist or researcher should ever have to face the destruction of his or her career (or life) simply because they wanted to tell the truth. While no two people will always agree on what story is more important than another, a system where the working reporters and editors run the newsroom would at least provide a fertile environment for debate, dissent and critical thinking.
The growth of independent media and journalism in recent years shows that people throughout the world yearn to hold not only their leaders accountable, but their media sources as well. For that reason, the Project Censored research program continues, in its small way, to support and highlight those who tell the truth about the powerful (no matter the consequences) and we are relentless in our quest to make under reported factual information more available to the public while holding accountable the most ubiquitous of information disseminators, the corporate media, for their output, from the framed and incomplete to the trivial and mundane.