Corporate Media Harms Not Only Through Omission, But Also by Distortion

From The Washington Post’sInvestigation of the January 6 insurrectionTo The Wall Street Journal’s series about FacebookAnd Reuters’How to examine “qualified immunity” protectsPolice are not to be prosecuted for excessive force. Establishment news outlets deserve credit for reporting a number of important stories over the past year. The establishment press failed to cover as many important stories accurately and thoroughly as they did. Project Censored is a non-profit news watch that continues to monitor and identify the top 25 most important, sometimes life-changing stories that corporate media ignore or misinterpret every year.

Past critics complained that the stories included in Project Censored’s annual lists are not actually “censored” because some of them have been covered by “dozens of publications,” albeit smaller, independent ones. Others point out that stories that appear on our list sometimes receive attention from “at least one major mainstream newspaper, magazine, [or] television news program.” Such criticisms miss the point of Project Censored’s work and gloss over significant gaps, biases and blockades in corporate media coverage that the Project exposes.

The “censored” stories that Project Censored lists in its annual story have not necessarily been completely and irrevocably repressed by the government or some other powerful institution, such as big business or a political party.

Censorship in that specific sense is known in First Amendment law as “prior restraint,” the direct effort to PreventPublication or publicization is allowed for ideas or expressions. This type of censorship in the United States is rare.

Instead, the independently reported stories that Project Censored highlights as “censored” have typically been subject to PartialOr IncompleteCorporate coverage. This indirect censorship may be subtler, but it is still important. In the end, misreporting or underreporting can prove more harmful than not reporting. A partial blockade of news coverage doesn’t have to be total to ensure that an issue is not known to everyone, but only to a select group of people who are actively seeking information on the topic. Using stories drawn from Project Censored’s 2020-2021 story list, we identify four recurring patterns of indirect censorship in corporate news coverage where the outlets failed to provide the coverage and context that these stories deserved based on their social significance and relevance to current political and cultural debates.

Important facts and perspectives were not included

Consider, for example, historic wave of wildcat strikes for workers’ rights since the onset of COVID-19, one story on the Project’s 2020-2021 list. Tens of thousands of U.S. service employees, drivers, teachers, and health workers have participated in more than a thousand unauthorized, short-term work stops as a response to unsafe working conditions and stagnant wages. This recent wave of labor unrest may be remembered as the most severe strike since the 1970s. The establishment news outlets didn’t cover these strikes even if they were covered in some detail in local and specialized corporate outlets. This was despite the fact that coverage lasted for more than one year, from July 2021 to July 2021.

Reports of individual strike action here and there were not sufficient to show the extent of the resistance of local workers to pandemic work conditions. The only wildcat strikes that received any sustained commercial media attention from October 2021 onwards (whenever reporting by corporate media on the current strike wave began belatedly to pick up) was the August 2020 National Basketball Association players’ refusal to play in the aftermath of the police shooting of Black motorist Jacob Blake; work stoppages following the Blake shooting by WNBA and MLB teamsAlso attracted some corporate media attention.

Discordant News Framed as “Opinion”

News that challenges the political and economic status quo is frequently framed as “opinion” or “commentary” by corporate news media. Independent outlets, such as The Nation, GuardianAnd The InterceptWe have carefully documented the efforts of Canary Mission, a scandal-mongering website devoted to demonizing Israel’s critics, and its impact on free speech rights. Dating back to 2019, establishment coverage of Canary Mission and the organization’s McCarthyite tactics has been limited to an editorialIn The New York Times Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate Reporting on similar issues is also possible how factory farming creates a perfect breeding groundSmall, independent news organizations covered the most important aspects of new diseases that could easily spread to humans. Except for a large report published by VoxThe only corporate coverage that was of note was an op-edIn the Los Angeles Times.

Isolated Corporate Coverage

Project Censored’s 2020-2021 story list also includes several topics that were the subject of extensive and well-researched articles in a single major corporate newspaper or magazine but which never got picked up or investigated further by any other major news organization. For example, Europe’s hunger for biomass fuel made from American forestsThe subject of an excellent New York Times articleThis was the first time that a corporate news outlet had published an op ed on the subject. The Atlantic reprinted an articleFrom Hakai MagazineThe online journal, based in Canada, focuses on environmental issues. the dire consequences of the darkening of coastal waters, another story on Project’s 2020-2021 list, but no other corporate news outlet paid any attention to the topic whatsoever.

Blockaded Issues

Finally, some of the stories among this year’s Top 25 have, in fact, been completely ignored by the corporate news media. The dangers and legal harassment facing journalists investigating global financial corruptionThe corporate news media have paid attention to a number of issues, such as. outsideThe United States, but very few domestically. YouTube’s wholesale demonetizing of progressive channels and video makersU.S. corporate media has completely ignored it, even though they have published numerous stories about YouTube deplatforming rightwing pundits.

Independent Media: The Need for Independent Media

Corporate news media are guilty of both “sins of omission” (neglecting significant facts about important issues, failing to follow up on stories that challenge the status quo) and “sins of distortion” (framing news that contradicts conventional wisdom as “opinion,” failing to interpret clearly interrelated events, such as the recent spate of wildcat strikes, as part of an overarching trend). This record of establishment press failure — amply documented by 45 years of Project Censored’s annual story lists — underscores the vital necessity of independent news reporting. In counterpoint to the corporate media’s narrow definitions of who and what count as newsworthy, which often reinforce deep-rooted inequalities, independent news outlets bring to light newsworthy stories that simultaneously expose social injustices and highlight compounding gaps and biases in corporate news coverage.