Sunday, July 29, 2007

“Project Censored” Head Discusses Politics, Media

Phillips Says Impeachment Essential, but Not Enough


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Ever since 1976, an aggressive group of faculty, students and staff from Sonoma State University in Northern California have been part of “Project Censored,” an organization aimed at finding the news stories least likely to be covered in the U.S. mainstream media. Since 1996, the project has been headed by Peter Phillips, who spoke July 25 at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in San Diego and explained not only how the program operates but why it’s needed.

Phillips started his talk by demonstrating that, common to the Right-wing myth that America has a “liberal media,” in fact “the media maintain a corporate bias through concentrated ownership, self-censorship, reliance on government and official sources for ‘news’ and an almost reverent attitude towards the ‘free market.’ The owners and managers of the media share a class identity with the powerful, and their sense of what is ‘newsworthy’ is influenced by their social background, their values and what they call ‘common sense.’ Journalists and editors are not immune from influence from owners and managers if they want to see their stories in print. As editors come and go, they learn the parameters of this so-called ‘common-sense’ view of the world. So a lot of what passes for ‘censorship’ or ‘manufacturing consent’ is structural, in that journalists and editors come to understand what is ‘acceptable’ news.”

According to Phillips, when Project Censored started in 1976 there were 50 large companies that owned almost all the American corporate media. Today, due mostly to mergers and acquisitions, it’s down to 10. What’s more, many of the major media conglomerates also share members of their boards of directors with leading defense contractors, private equity firms like the Carlyle Group, and other major corporations. Phillips added that, just like the media companies to which they supply “news” stories, public relations firms have also consolidated, and companies like WPP and the Rennen Group have actually launched successful campaigns to get Americans to support wars in the Third World.

WPP’s Hill and Knowlton subsidiary was responsible for the false story that Iraqi forces involved in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait seized incubators from maternity wards in Kuwaiti hospitals and left the babies on the hospital floor to die, Phillips said. The Rennen group, Phillips added, not only ran the first Bush administration’s campaign against Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989 but “created the Iraqi National Congress and hired Ahmad Chalabi to run it. They coordinated the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in 2003 and helped promote Jessica Lynch’s famous ‘rescue.’ According to Phillips, that last stunt was designed to make sure the U.S. media didn’t mention that on the same day, U.S. forces shelled the Palestine Hotel, where most foreign journalists covering the Iraq war were staying, and targeted the Baghdad headquarters of the Arab news channel al-Jazeera.

Phillips pointed out that under the current Bush administration, U.S. government spending on public relations zoomed up from the $38 million Clinton’s presidency spent in its last year in office, 2000, to over $1.6 billion between 2003 and 2005. He noted that the “New American Censorship” — the title of his talk — “has gone beyond simply ‘manufacturing consent’ to the deliberate management and containment of information.”

One particularly “censored” story Phillips cited was the report from the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2005 on autopsies of 45 detainees who had died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the reports, 23 of their deaths were listed as “homicides” — which, the ACLU claimed, meant they had literally been tortured to death — and most of the rest died of heart attacks likely induced by torture. The ACLU gave a press conference and the Associated Press covered it, sending a 1,000-word story to over 1,700 U.S. newspapers — but only 12 used it, and the Los Angeles Times was the only major paper to pick it up.

The Left alternative press didn’t do any better on this story than the corporate mainstream did, Phillips added. Mother Jones, Znet and the and Web sites had the story, but The Nation, The Progressive and Amy Goodman’s well-respected “Democracy Now” radio show all ignored it. “So there’s some degree of self-censorship in all media in the U.S.,” Phillips said.

“One story in Censored 2008 will be about the Military Commissions Act and how it allows the suspension of habeas corpus for any person in the U.S. who’s designated an ‘enemy combatant,’” Phillips said. “No witnesses, no lawyers: you just disappear. Non-citizens can be locked up pending designation as ‘enemy combatants’ by the President, so the 24 million legal and illegal aliens in the U.S. can be locked up forever without legal representation. The New York Times covered this but said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only for terrorists.’ There’s an effort in Congress to restore habeas corpus, but that’s missing from the public dialogue because the media aren’t covering it.”

With that revelation, Phillips segued into the second part of his three-part talk, detailing the sheer extent of the attacks on civil rights and constitutional traditions being launched by the supposedly “conservative” Bush administration. He cited “Operation Falcon,” under which all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies coordinate their powers and execute mass arrests of 10,000 or more. According to Phillips, this has already happened three times, and not only have the media not reported it but the government has only announced how many “felons” they have apprehended. He also mentioned provisions in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act that gut the 1886 Posse Comitatus Act and allow the president to station military troops anywhere in the U.S. and use them “to suppress any ‘public disorder’ he wants.”

Phillips also cited the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mass raids on the homes and workplaces of supposedly undocumented immigrants, and the no-bid contract Halliburton, vice-president Dick Cheney’s former company, received last year for $385 million to build mass “detention centers” within the U.S. He mentioned a contract given to Lockheed Martin to develop a spy blimp that could be put in place permanently to take high-resolution photographs over a 600-mile radius, and a rival effort by Blackwater to develop a similar blimp of their own. Phillips also discussed the Animal Enterprise Control Act, a recent law which defines any interference with a business that uses animals in any way as “terrorism.” According to Phillips, “the language is so broad it could make ‘terrorists’ out of boycotters of a grocery store.”

Where all this is coming from, Phillips explained, is the mind-set of the part of the ruling class, the so-called “neoconservatives,” currently in charge in the U.S. He briefly mentioned the philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973), who was born in Germany, left a year after the Nazis took over, settled in the U.S. in 1937 and, while at the University of Chicago, formed an intellectual circle that included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork; former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former assistant to vice-president Cheney; former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes; former Secretary of Education William Bennett; Weekly Standard editor and former Quayle Chief of Staff William Kristol — all of whom studied either under Strauss himself or under professors trained by him.

“Neoconservatives,” Phillips explained, “believe that democracy is best defined by an ignorant public and a powerful, strong state; that such nationalism requires an external threat; and if such a threat doesn’t exist, it must be manufactured.” Phillips traced the history of neoconservative ideas from Strauss’s openly antidemocratic principles to the role of his disciples in the first Bush administration and the report Cheney, Wolfowitz, Libby and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in 1992 “calling for U.S. domination of the world and overthrow of any rivals that could challenge us, so the United States must be all-powerful.”

Contrary to the common wisdom that Bush’s defeat in the 1992 election put the neoconservative project on hold for eight years, Phillips explained that President Clinton “had to deal with pressure from defense contractors,” so the much-vaunted “peace dividend” from the collapse of the Soviet Union never materialized. “Clinton got people in the government o propose selling U.S. weapons abroad to keep the defense companies profitable and allow them to merge,” Phillips explained. Meanwhile, the neoconservatives from the first Bush administration regrouped and formed the Project for a New American Century, whose 2000 report became the foreign-policy blueprint for the second Bush administration and its so-called “war on terror.” (It also named China as the main potential rival to U.S. world domination that had to be contained — ironically, since in order to maintain its empire the U.S. is running a huge national debt, much of which is being financed by China and its bondholders.)

“So when you talk about impeaching Bush and Cheney, it’s not just them,” Phillips said. “It’s a handful of military companies making huge profits. In order to justify this huge expenditure, and the over 700 military bases America maintains worldwide, we need a ‘war on terror.’ Cheney told a Jewish-American group last year that the terrorists ‘have no sense of morality’ and intend first to seize one country, then to establish a totalitarian Islamic empire from Spain to Indonesia. So, according to Cheney, we have to occupy these regions to prevent that. It means space weapons, satellite spy blimps surrounding China, and containing China’s ability to meet their oil needs by attacking Iran.”

Though Phillips clearly regards the impeachment of Bush and Cheney as only the beginning of the struggle to defeat the neoconservatives and restore American liberty, he also sees impeachment as a necessary first step. Indeed, one of the books he was promoting at his talk was a compilation of various Left-wing writers offering 12 reasons for impeachment. “The big ones are lying to the American people to get them to support the war in Iraq; authorizing and directing the torture of thousands of captives — and it’s not just Bush and Cheney, it’s the entire power structure,” Phillips said. “It’s building an imperial presidency; ordering free-fire zones and killing 10,000 Iraqi civilians each month. When people say we shouldn’t impeach now — when they say we should just let the clock run out on the Bush administration and keep the war going as an issue against the Republicans in 2008 — I say 10,000 civilian deaths per month is a big reason for impeachment and ending the war now.”