Fake news is not a new thing. With the return of its annual list of censored stories in Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored’s vivid cover art recalls H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The current news landscape may feel as desolate as the cover art suggests. “But Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news,” editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observed in the book’s introduction.
In the end, the authors argued that “critical media education — rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers, or legislative bans — is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion.”
Project Censored has long been engaged in much more than just uncovering and publicizing stories that don’t get enough attention in the mainstream media. Through it all, the list of underreported stories remains central to Project Censored’s mission, which, the editors point out, can be read in two different ways, “as a critique of the shortcomings of U.S. corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories, or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues.”
The cover art theme works at two levels, as the editors explain. First, the famous Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds 80 years ago this month — on Oct. 30, 1938 — used a number of dramatic devices to present the drama as though it were an actual crisis in progress. It became an example of the potential power of fake news in the radio media era.
“The broadcast became legendary for allegedly leading to widespread panic throughout the United States,” the editors of Project Censored noted.
But that narrative about widespread panic is actually a more long-term form of fake news, as Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow have documented in a series of articles over the past decade. Both the audience size and degree of panic have been significantly inflated over time, they explained.
Here are this year’s top 10 underreported stories:
1. Global Decline in Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish
According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017–2018, released in January 2018, a striking worldwide decline in basic human rights has driven an overall decline in the rule of law since, October 2016, the month before Trump’s election.
Fundamental rights — one of eight categories measured — declined in 71 out of 113 nations surveyed. Overall, 34 percent of countries’ scores declined, while just 29 percent improved. The United States ranked 19th, down one from 2016, with declines in checks on government powers and deepening discrimination.
Fundamental rights include absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labor rights. “All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement,” Yale professor of history and law Samuel Moyn told The Guardian the day the index was released. “Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning. But human rights movements have not historically set out to name or shame inequality.”
The United States also scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.
“With scores of 0.50 for equal treatment and absence of discrimination (on a scale of 0 to 1), 0.48 for discrimination in the civil justice system, and 0.37 for discrimination in the criminal justice system, the U.S. finds itself ranked 78 out of 113 countries on all three subfactors,” the World Justice Project stated.
The four Nordic countries — Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden — remained in the top four positions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia were the only top 10 countries outside of Europe.
“The WJP’s 2017–2018 Rule of Law Index received scant attention from U.S. corporate media,” Project Censored noted.
Will Bordell and Jon Robins, “‘A Crisis for Human Rights’: New Index Reveals Global Fall in BasicJustice,” The Guardian, Jan. 31, 2018.
2. “Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders
In March 2017, WikiLeaks released Vault 7, a trove of 8,761 leaked confidential CIA files about its global hacking programs, which WikiLeaks described as the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” It drew significant media attention.
But almost no one noticed what George Eliason of OpEdNews pointed out. “Sure, the CIA has all these tools available,” Eliason noted. “Yes, they are used on the public. The important part is [that] it’s not the CIA that’s using them. That’s the part that needs to frighten you.”
As Eliason went on to explain, the CIA’s mission prevents it from using the tools, especially on Americans. “All the tools are unclassified, open-source, and can be used by anyone,” Eliason explained. “It makes them not exactly usable for secret agent work. That’s what makes it impossible for them to use Vault 7 tools directly.”
Drawing heavily on more than a decade of reporting by Tim Shorrock for Mother Jones and The Nation, Eliason’s OpEdNews series reported on the explosive growth of private contractors in the intelligence community, which allows the CIA and other agencies to gain access to intelligence gathered by methods they’re prohibited from using.
In a 2016 report for The Nation, Shorrock estimated that 80 percent of an estimated 58,000 private intelligence contractors worked for the five largest companies. He concluded that “not only has intelligence been privatized to an unimaginable degree, but an unprecedented consolidation of corporate power inside U.S. intelligence has left the country dangerously dependent on a handful of companies for its spying and surveillance needs.”
Eliason reported how private contractors pioneered open-source intelligence by circulating or selling the information they gathered before the agency employing them had reviewed and classified it, therefore, “no one broke any laws.” As a result, according to Eliason’s second article, “People with no security clearances and radical political agendas have state-sized cyber tools at their disposal, [which they can use] for their own political agendas, private business, and personal vendettas.”
Mainstream media reporting on Vault 7 sometimes noted but failed to focus on the dangerous role of private contractors, Project Censored pointed out — with the notable exception of a Washington Post op-ed in which Shorrock reviewed his previous reporting and concluded that overreliance on private intelligence contractors was “a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct.”
George Eliason, “The Private Contractors Using Vault 7 Tools for U.S. Gov: Testimony Shows U.S. Intel Needs a Ground-Up Rebuild Part 1,” OpEdNews, March 31, 2017.
George Eliason, “How Intel for Hire Is Making U.S. Intelligence a Threat to the World Part 2,” OpEdNews, Feb. 14, 2018.
3. World’s Richest 1 Percent Continue to Become Wealthier
In November 2017, Credit Suisse released its 8th Annual Global Wealth Report, which The Guardian reported on under the headline, “Richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, study finds.”
The wealth share of the world’s richest people increased “from 42.5 percent at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1 percent in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn),” The Guardian reported, adding that “The biggest losers … are young people who should not expect to become as rich as their parents.”
Despite being more educated than their parents, “millennials are doing less well than their parents at the same age, especially in relation to income, home ownership, and other dimensions of well-being assessed in this report,” said Rohner Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner. “We expect only a minority of high achievers and those in high demand sectors such as technology or finance to effectively overcome the ‘millennial disadvantage.'”
The report added: “No other part of the wealth pyramid has been transformed as much since 2000 as the millionaire and ultra-high net worth individual (known as UHNWI) segments. The number of millionaires has increased by 170 percent, while the number of UHNWIs (individuals with net worth of USD 50 million or more) has risen five-fold, making them by far the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.”
There were of 2.3 million new dollar millionaires this year, taking the total to 36 million. “At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000,” The Guardian reported. “Collectively these people, who account for 70 percent of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth.”
Project Censored noted: “Tremendous concentration of wealth and the extreme poverty that results from it are problems that affect everyone in the world, but wealth inequalities do not receive nearly as much attention as they should in the establishment press. The few corporate news reports that have addressed this issue — including an August 2017 Bloomberg article and a July 2016 report for CBS’s MoneyWatch — focused exclusively on wealth inequality within the United States.”
As Project Censored has previously reported, “corporate news consistently covers the world’s billionaires while ignoring millions of humans who live in poverty.”
Rupert Neate, “Richest 1% Own Half the World’s Wealth, Study Finds,” The Guardian, Nov. 14, 2017.
4. How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cellphones and Wi-Fi Are Safe
Are cellphones and other wireless devices really as safe we’ve been led to believe? Don’t bet on it, according to decades of buried research reviewed in a March 2018 investigation for The Nation by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie.
“The wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries did, it also borrowed from the same public relations playbook those industries pioneered,” Hertsgaard and Dowie reported. “Like their tobacco and fossil-fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products. … On the contrary, the industry — in America, Europe, and Asia — has spent untold millions of dollars in the past 25 years proclaiming that science is on its side, that the critics are quack, and that consumers have nothing to fear.”
Their report coincided with several new developments bringing the issue to the fore, including a Kaiser Permanente study (published December 2017 in Scientific Reports) finding much higher risks of miscarriage, a study in the October 2017 American Journal of Epidemiology, finding increased risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor), and a disclosure by the National Frequency Agency of France that nine out of 10 cellphones exceed government radiation safety limits when tested in the way they are actually used: next to the human body.
As The Nation reported, George Carlo, a scientist hired by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in 1993 to research cellphone safety and allay public fears, heading up the industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project, was unceremoniously fired and publicly attacked by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in 1999, after uncovering disturbing evidence of danger.
Carlo sent letters to each of the industry’s chieftains on Oct. 7, 1999, reiterating that the Wireless Technology Research project had found the following: “The risk of rare neuro-epithelial tumors on the outside of the brain was more than doubled … in cell phone users”; there was an apparent “correlation between brain tumors occurring on the right side of the head and the use of the phone on the right side of the head”; and “the ability of radiation from a phone’s antenna to cause functional genetic damage [was] definitely positive….”
Carlo urged CEOs to do the right thing and give consumers the information they need to make an informed judgment about how much of this unknown risk they wish to assume, especially since some in the industry had repeatedly and falsely claimed that wireless phones are safe for all consumers “including children.”
The Kaiser study involved exposure to magnetic field non-ionizing radiation associated with wireless devices as well as cellphones and found a 2.72 times higher risk of miscarriage for those with higher versus lower exposure. Lead investigator De-Kun Li warned that the possible effects of this radiation have been controversial because, “from a public health point of view, everybody is exposed. If there is any health effect, the potential impact is huge.”
Project Censored summarized: “The wireless industry has ‘war-gamed’ science by playing offense as well as defense, actively sponsoring studies that result in published findings supportive of the industry, while aiming to discredit competing research that raises questions about the safety of cellular devices and other wireless technologies. When studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, industry spokespeople have pointed out that the findings are disputed by other researchers.”
This is same strategy used by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries described in the 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.
While some local media have covered the findings of a few selected studies, Project Censored noted, “the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line — that is, that evidence linking Wi-Fi and cellphone radiation to health issues, including cancer and other medical problems, is either inconclusive or disputed…. As Hertsgaard and Dowie’s
Nation report suggested, corporate coverage of this sort is partly how the telecom industry remains successful in avoiding the consequences of [its] actions.”
Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation,” The Nation, March 29, 2018.
“Phonegate: French Government Data Indicates Cell Phones Expose Consumers to Radiation
Levels Higher Than Manufacturers Claim,” Environmental Health Trust, June 2, 2017, updated June 2018.
Marc Arazi, “Cell Phone Radiation Scandal: French Government Data Indicates Cell Phones Expose Consumers to Radiation Levels Higher Than Manufacturers Claim,” Dr. Marc Arazi blog, June 3, 2017.
Marc Arazi, “Phonegate: New Legal Proceedings against ANFR and Initial Reaction to the Communiqué of Nicolas Hulot,” Dr. Marc Arazi blog, Dec. 2, 2017.
5. Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors
On May 1, 2017, the Washington Post introduced a policy prohibiting its employees from criticizing its advertisers and business partners, and encouraging them to snitch on one another.
“A new social-media policy at the Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that ‘adversely affects the Post‘s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners,'” Andrew Beaujon reported in The Washingtonian the next month. “In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action ‘up to and including termination of employment.'”
Beaujon also cited, “a clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: ‘If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of the Post‘s Social Media Policy … you should contact the Post‘s Human Resources Department.'”
Project Censored noted, that mainstream news coverage of the Washington Post‘s social media policy has been extremely limited.”
It’s part of a much broader problem, identified in Jeremy Iggers’ 1998 book, Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest. Iggers argued that journalism ethics focused on individual reporters completely missed the larger issue of corporate conflicts whose systemic effects fundamentally undermined journalism’s role in a democracy.
Andrew Beaujon, “The Washington Post‘s New Social Media Policy Forbids Disparaging Advertisers,” Washingtonian, June 27, 2017.
6. The Impacts of Russiagate
Russiagate, of course, is not an underreported story. But Project Censored noted that mainstream news’ wall-to-wall coverage of “Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories.”
In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show from Feb. 20 to March 31, 2017 which found that “Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.” Maté wrote: “Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).”
At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote: “As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia’s ‘attack on our democracy’ that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering, and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together.”
Aaron Maté, “MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Sees a ‘Russia Connection’ Lurking Around Every Corner,” The Intercept, April 12, 2017.
Norman Solomon, “Is MSNBC Now the Most Dangerous Warmonger Network?” Truthdig, March 1, 2018.
7. Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization
The world’s agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon loss to the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science, actually reversing the processes driving global warming. A set of practices known as “regenerative agriculture” could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association in May 2017.
Cummins, who’s also a founding member of Regeneration International, wrote that regenerative agriculture offers a “world-changing paradigm” that can help solve many of today’s environmental and public health problems.
As The Guardian explained: “Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: It stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater, and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.”
Cummins wrote: “We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis. We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100 percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.”
In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved. “Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion … a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing,” Cummins noted. “Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet. … The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers, and herders with several billion health-, environmental-, and justice-minded consumers to overturn ‘business as usual’ and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity, and regeneration.”
If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t be surprised.
“Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in The New York Times Magazine and Salon,” Project Censored wrote.
Ronnie Cummins, “Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming—and Civilization,” Organic Consumers Association, May 28, 2017.
8. Congress Passes Intrusive Data Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill
On March 21, the 2,232-page omnibus spending bill was released, and it passed both houses and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent “must-past” legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.
“The CLOUD Act enables the U.S. government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations’ data privacy laws and without the need for warrants,” Project Censored summarized.
It also significantly weakens protections against foreign government actions. “It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s David Ruiz wrote. “It never received a hearing. … It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because Congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this unvetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill.”
Congressional leadership failed to listen to citizen concerns, Ruiz wrote, with potentially devastating consequences: “Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy, and human rights,” concluded Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.
“The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it,” Project Censored noted. “[A glowing Washington Post op-ed] made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens’ personal data, [and a CNET report that] highlighted the liberties that the CLOUD Act would provide corporations by simplifying legal issues concerning overseas servers.”
Because of this failure, U.S. laws will surely be bypassed on U.S. soil. Greene noted that the CLOUD Act negates protections of two interrelated existing laws. It creates an exception to the Stored Communications Act that allows certified foreign governments to request personal data directly from U.S. companies.
Robyn Greene, “Somewhat Improved, the CLOUD Act Still Poses a Threat to Privacy and Human Rights,” Just Security, March 23, 2018.
David Ruiz, “Responsibility Deflected, the CLOUD Act Passes,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 22, 2018.
9. Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature
In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers their ancestor, as a living entity with rights.
The Guardian reported it as “a world-first,” although the surrounding Te Urewera National Park had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, expressed in a dissent by Justice William O. Douglas. In addition, the broader idea of “rights of nature” has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia, and by some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.
The tribe’s perspective was explained to The Guardian by its lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert.
“We consider the river an ancestor and always have,” Albert said. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that, from our perspective, treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”
But that could be just the beginning. “It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world,” reported Kayla DeVault for YES! Magazine.
Other indigenous people are advancing this perspective, DeVault wrote: “In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This was the first time a North American tribe used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.”
DeVault added, “[If the New Zealand Whanganui River settlement] was able to correct the gap in Western and indigenous paradigms in New Zealand, surely a similar effort to protect the Missouri River could be produced for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River nations by the American government.”
The same could be done with a wide range of other environmental justice disputes involving Native American tribes. Tanasescu described the broader sweep of recent developments in the “rights of nature,” noting that significant problems have resulted from the lack of specific guardianship provisions, which are integral to the Whanganui River law.
“By granting natural entities personhood one by one and assigning them specific guardians, over time New Zealand could drastically change an ossified legal system that still sees oceans, mountains and forests primarily as property, guaranteeing nature its day in court,” Tanasescu concluded.
“A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India,” Project Censored noted. “However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States.”
Kayla DeVault, “What Legal Personhood for U.S. Rivers Would Do,” YES! Magazine, Sept. 12, 2017.
Eleanor Ainge Roy, “New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights as Human Being,” The Guardian, March 16, 2017.
Mihnea Tanasescu, “When a River Is a Person: From Ecuador to New Zealand, Nature Gets Its Day in Court,” The Conversation, June 19, 2017.
10. FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”
At the same time that white supremacists were preparing for the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottsville, which resulted in the killing of Heather Heyer in August 2017, the FBI’s counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different, though actually non-existent threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story.
“But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists,” Foreign Policy reported.
“The use of terms like ‘Black identity extremists’ is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists,” said former FBI agent Mike German, who now works for the Brennen Center for Justice. “Basically, it’s Black people who scare them.”
“It’s classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together,” said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of Black writers. “The language — Black identity extremist — strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”
“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting Black activists and this is not surprising,” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson told Foreign Policy.
A former homeland security official told Foreign Policy that carelessly connecting unrelated groups will make it harder for law enforcement to identify real threats. ‘It’s so convoluted — it’s compromising officer safety,” the former official said.
“The corporate media [has] covered the FBI report on ‘black identity extremists’ in narrow or misleading ways,” Project Censored noted, citing examples from The New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. “Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrives.”
Jana Winter and Sharon Weinberger, “The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists,'” Foreign Policy, Oct. 6, 2017.
Hatewatch Staff, “FBI ‘Black Identity Extremists’ Report Stirs Controversy,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Oct. 25, 2017.
Amy Goodman, interview with Christian Picciolini, “Life After Hate: Trump Admin Stops Funding Former Neo-Nazis Who Now Fight White Supremacy,” Democracy Now!, Aug. 17, 2017,
Brandon E. Patterson, “Police Spied on New York Black Lives Matter Group, Internal Police Documents Show,” Mother Jones, Oct. 19, 2017.
Paul Rosenberg is a senior editor for Random Length News. This is an edited version of Rosenberg’s report.
Correction: The original version of this report misspelled Orson Welles’ last name.