The U.S. corporate media like to think of themselves as providing the official most accurate news reporting of the day. The New York Times motto of “all the news that’s fit to print” is a clear example of this perspective. However, with corporate media coverage that increasingly focuses on a narrow range of celebrity updates, news from “official” government sources and sensationalized crimes and disasters, the self-justification of being the most fit is no longer valid.
We need to broaden our understanding of censorship in this country. The dictionary definition of censorship as direct government control of news is no longer adequate. The private corporate media in the U.S. significantly under-covers and/or deliberately censors numerous important news stories every year.
The common theme of the most censored stories over the past year is the systemic erosion of human rights and civil liberties both in the U.S. and the world at large. The corporate media ignored the fact that habeas corpus can now be suspended for anyone by order of the president. With the approval of Congress, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006, signed by Bush on Oct. 17, 2006, allows for the suspension of habeas corpus for U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in The New York Times on Oct. 19, 2006, have given false comfort that American citizens will not be the victims of the measures legalized by this Act, the law is quite clear that “any person” can be targeted. The text in the MCA allows for the institution of a military alternative to the constitutional justice system for “any person” regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for all people living in the U.S. deemed by the president to be enemy combatants.
A law enacted last year allowing the government to institute martial law more easily is another civil liberties story ignored by the corporate media in 2007. The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 allows the president to station military troops anywhere in the United States and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.” In effect, the law repealed the Posse Comitatus Act, which had placed strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement in the U.S. since just after the Civil War.
Additionally, under the code-name Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally) three federally coordinated mass arrests occurred between April 2005 and October 2006. In an unprecedented move, more than 30,000 “fugitives” were arrested in the largest dragnets in the nation’s history. The operations, coordinated by the Justice Department and Homeland Security, directly involved over 960 agencies (state, local and federal) and are the first time in U.S. history that all of the domestic police agencies have been put under the direct control of the federal government.
Finally, the term “terrorism” has been dangerously expanded to include any acts that interfere or promote interference with the operations of animal enterprises. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), signed into law on Nov. 27, 2006 expands the definition of an “animal enterprise” to any business that “uses or sells animals or animal products.” The law essentially defines protesters, boycotters or picketers of businesses in the U.S. as terrorists.
Most people in our country believe in our Bill of Rights and value personal freedoms. Yet, our corporate media in the past year failed to adequately inform us about important changes in our civil rights and liberties. Despite our busy lives, we want to be informed about serious decisions made by the powerful, and we rely on the corporate media to keep us abreast of significant changes. When the media fails to cover these issues, what else can we call it but censorship?
A broader definition of censorship in America today needs to include any interference, deliberate or not, with the free flow of vital news information to the American people. With the size of the major media giants in the U.S., there is no excuse for consistently missing major news stories that affect all our lives.
Peter Phillips is a professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored. His latest book, Censored 2008, from Seven Stories Press is available in bookstores nationwide or at www.projectcensored.org.