Since its founding in 1976, Project Censored has focused on stories — like Watergate before the 1972 election — that aren’t censored in the authoritarian government sense, but in a broader, expanded sense reflective of what a functioning democracy should be; censorship is defined as “the suppression of information, whether purposeful or not, by any method — including bias, omission, underreporting, or self-censorship — that prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in society.” It is, after all, the reason that journalism enjoys special protection in the First Amendment: Without the free flow of vital information, government based on the consent of the governed is but an illusory dream.
Yet, from the very beginning, as A.J. Liebling put it, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
In their introduction, Project Censored’s Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth take this condition head-on, under the heading, State of the Free Billionaire, in contrast to the volume’s title, State of the Free Press 2023. Following a swift recap of historic media criticism highlights — Upton Sinclair, the aforementioned Leibling, Ben Bagdikian, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky — they dryly observe, “History shows that consolidated media, controlled by a handful of elite owners, seldom serves the public interest,” and briefly survey the contemporary landscape before narrowing their gaze to the broadest of influencers:
Despite the promise of boundless access to information, Silicon Valley mirrors legacy media in its consolidated ownership and privileging of elite narratives. This new class of billionaire oligarchs owns or controls the most popular media platforms, including the companies often referred to as the FAANGs — Facebook (Meta), Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (Alphabet).
Obviously, this was written before Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, but it’s an apt reminder that his wildly out-of-touch worldview is not just an individual, personal aberration, but also a symptom of wider systemic dysfunction.
“In pursuit of their own interests and investments, media tycoons past and present, again and again, appear to be conveniently oblivious to the main frame through which they filter news — that of class, including class structure and class interests,” Huff and Roth write. “Consequently, they often overlook (or ignore) conflicts of interest that implicate media owners, funders, investors, and advertisers, not to mention their business clients on Wall Street and in Big Pharma, Big Tech, and the military–industrial complex.”
This observation perfectly frames the majority of stories in Project Censored’s top 10 list, starting with the first two stories: massive subsidies of the fossil fuel industry and rampant wage theft — concentrated on the most vulnerable workers — that eclipse street crime in the magnitude of losses, but is rarely punished, even when offenders are caught dead to rights. It echoes clearly through the stories on congress members’ investments in the fossil fuel industry, the role of corporate consolidation in driving up inflation in food prices, Bill Gates’ hidden influence on journalism, and major media outlets lobbying against regulation of surreptitious online advertising. Indeed, only one story out of 10 is somewhat removed from the sphere of corporate corruption concerns: the story of the CIA’s plans to kidnap or kill Julian Assange.
But the dominance of this one pattern truly is remarkable. It shows how profoundly the concentration of corporate wealth and power in the hands of so few distorts everything we see — or don’t — in the world around us every day.
Since 1976, Project Censored has identified the most important stories of each year on the basis of the exposure that was denied to them by forces beyond the First Amendment. Its goal is to educate students and the public about the importance of a truly free press for democratic self-government. This list covers the most under-reported stories of 2022, as compiled by the project. Capsules have been edited for space. More details are available at projectcensored.org.
©Random Lengths News, a division of Beacon Light Press, 2022
Paul Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, senior editor for Random Lengths News and a columnist for Salon and Al Jazeera English.