“Most people seem to realize there’s something wrong with the news media in the United States,” said Mickey Huff, social sciences and history professor at Diablo Valley College and director of “Project Censored.” Huff, speaking to an audience at Berkeley City College’s (BCC) auditorium on Feb. 6, sought to urge his listeners to think more critically about the news media and the information which it presents, discuss the purpose of Project Censored, and present a cinematic creation by former Project Censored participants Christopher Oscar and Doug Hecker entitled “Project Censored: The Movie.”
According to its website, Project Censored “educates students and the public about the importance of a truly free press for democratic self-government. We expose and oppose news censorship and we promote independent investigative journalism, media literacy, and critical thinking.”
The primary publication of the organization is a compendium of underreported news stories. The stories, which are culled by students from national news media outlets are then checked for accuracy, submitted to faculty members overseeing their respective programs for vetting, and then re-checked for any new reporting. After this review process, the finalized stories are sent out to “national judges” who whittle the pool down to a top 25 stories that are subsequently published in an annual volume.
Past national judges have included academic and activist luminaries such as linguist Noam Chomsky and the late historian Howard Zinn.
“Project Censored,” founded in 1976, has changed somewhat in its near 40-year history. Since taking the helm as director in 2010, Huff has expanded the program from being localized to Sonoma State University to include the involvement of 18 colleges and universities in Project Censored’s current edition, “Censored 2013.”
Submissions tallied “233 factual stories [from] 219 college students,” said Huff, which were considered for publication.
The primary thrust of Huff’s visit to BCC was the screening of “Project Censored: The Movie,” which, after a brief introduction by BCC Global Studies Program Direct Joan Berezin, was presented in full to those in attendance.
Intended as a primer for students and public alike as to the problems with the “main-scream” media, “Project Censored: The Movie” detailed what it termed “junk food news,” news reporting which was more concerned with tabloidized renditions of celebrity gossip and simple regurgitation of the statements of public officials than factual reporting.
One of the prime examples given of such “junk food news” was the case of Serene Branson, a reporter for the Los Angeles CBS affiliate KCBS, who in a report somehow lost her ability to speak on-camera and began babbling incoherently.
As it turned out, according to “Project Censored: The Movie,” there was nothing wrong with Branson, but the story dominated the national news cycle for the better part of a week.
To this end, Huff quoted his father, who said, “It’s garbage. Stop paying attention to it altogether.”
Huff also noted that this kind of reporting was not simply designed to suspend what he called “critical thinking,” but was designed to manipulate. Huff said this type of reporting had been going on for quite a long time, referring to reporting on everything from World War I to the first invasion of Iraq.
According to Huff, prior to the first invasion of Iraq, then-President George H.W. Bush made multiple claims that the Iraqis were throwing babies out of incubators, and during World War I then-President Woodrow Wilson claimed the Germans were tearing the limbs off of babies.
Neither instance was true, according to Huff, but “this kind of emotional appeal,” he said, “is very powerful.”
Bringing the argument into the current context, Huff said, “Corporate news is owned by corporations and produced for profit.” With specific regard to Fox News, Huff said, “…fair and balanced.. Anyone who needs to tell you that probably isn’t.”