STORIES CENSORED BY CORPORATE MEDIA Part 1

A central purpose of my blog posts is to share information that is under-reported by the mainstream, corporate media. This post and the next one will share highlights from the State of the Free Press report from Project Censored, which annually identifies its list of the most important issues that were under-reported by the corporate media. The corporate consolidation of the media – print, TV, on-line, and social media – into a handful of huge, for-profit corporations, often owned and run by billionaire oligarchs, has restricted the content and quality of the information reported and, therefore, skewed the terms and content of public debate and decision making. Project Censored works to hold the corporate news media accountable.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

Over the years, Project Censored’s State of the Free Press report has identified under-reported issues involving climate change, corporate corruption, campaign financing, poverty, racism, and war. In addition, the report’s diverse contributors advocate for press freedom and media literacy as necessary to hold powerful interests accountable and to promote a just, inclusive, and democratic society. The authors note that, “History shows that consolidated media, controlled by a handful of elite owners, seldom serves the public interest.”

The corporate media’s owners filter the news they report through a class-driven frame, which they may be oblivious to. They overlook or ignore conflicts of interest between their ownership, their investors’ and their advertisers’ interests and the interests of the public that they are supposedly serving with objective news coverage. The concentration of corporate wealth and power skews or distorts what they report and, therefore, what the public learns or doesn’t learn about our society, our economy, and our policy making.

The corporate media’s self-censorship of certain stories and topics does not occur through explicit, blanket bans on reporting them, but through omission or under-reporting due to bias based on the personal perspectives of owners, some editors, and some reporters who tend to be white, male, and economically well-off. Although specific incidents of, for example, corporate corruption may be reported, the overall underlying pattern, scope, and scale of stories are often not presented. This reporting is what is referred to as “episodic,” i.e., about a specific episode or example. It lacks the context that would allow the public to truly understand the scope and scale of the issue or topic. The lack of what’s referred to as “thematic” reporting means the consumer of information is not given a complete picture or understanding of what’s happening in society, and what can and perhaps should be done to address problems, such as corporate corruption.

As a result, citizens and voters in our democratic society are under-informed, in particular about the role of government policies in shaping our economy and society. Therefore, they are ill-equipped to be knowledgeable citizens and voters in a democracy and “government based on the consent of the governed is but an illusory dream.” [1]

An overarching element of many of the under-reported stories is corporate power and sometimes outright corporate corruption. A secondary theme is the exercise of corporate power in influencing government policy making and functioning.

UNDER-REPORTED STORY #1: Public subsidy of the fossil fuel industry is over $5 trillion per year worldwide. The subsidy is largely indirect and reflects externalized costs, i.e., costs of using fossil fuels that the industry doesn’t pay. These costs include the health costs of deadly air pollution (42% of the total), damages from extreme, climate-change-driven weather events (29%), and costs of traffic accidents and congestion (15%). Two-thirds of the subsidy occurs in just five countries: the United States, Russia, India, China, and Japan. No national government sets fossil fuels prices at a level that would cover the external costs of fossil fuel use. These were key findings of an International Monetary Fund study of 191 countries published in September 2021 that was ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

UNDER-REPORTED STORY #2: U.S. employer wage theft from workers is billions of dollars annually and goes largely unpunished. In 2017, the Economic Policy Institute released a study of one form of wage theft: minimum wage violations. It estimated that workers lose $15 billion each year to this type of wage theft, which is rarely reported by the corporate media. For the sake of comparison, street crime is heavily reported by the media, even though its financial impact is less – an estimated $14 billion in 2017 according to the FBI.

Nonetheless, employers are seldom punished for minimum wage violations that steal workers’ pay. A Center for Public Integrity report in 2021 found that over 15 years only one in four employers who were repeat offenders were fined and only 14% of those were required to pay a penalty to the aggrieved worker beyond paying the back wages they owed.

Employer wage theft also includes not paying overtime, requiring workers to work hours “off-the-clock” that they’re not paid for, and withholding tips. Most wage theft is from low-come workers, including, disproportionately, workers of color as well as immigrant and guest workers.

Another form of wage theft is misclassifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees. This has occurred with port-based truck drivers for years and has become an epidemic with the growth of gig workers in recent years. A 2014 study by the National Employment Law Center estimated that California port truckers have $800 million to $1 billion in wages stolen annually through misclassification.

Both federal and state enforcement of wage and labor laws are weak and underfunded. The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act of 2022 is designed to address enforcement issues but is unlikely to pass in Congress.

Given its scale, wage theft is dramatically under-reported by the corporate media. When it is covered, the reporting is episodic, focusing on a specific employer and specific employees. Thematic reporting that includes the scope of the problem, the weak enforcement, and the light punishment of offenders is very rare indeed.

UNDER-REPORTED STORY #3: EPA failed to make reports on dangerous chemicals public. In January 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped publicly releasing legally required reports about chemicals presenting a substantial risk of harm to health or the environment. By November of 2021, the EPA had received at least 1,240 reports of substantial risk of harm, but only one was publicly available.

In January 2022, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a lawsuit to force the EPA to make the reports publicly available. Within a few weeks, the EPA announced it would resume the public release of the reports. There was essentially no reporting of any of this in the corporate media.

UNDER-REPORTED STORY #4: At least 128 Members of Congress have investments in the fossil fuel industry. At least 100 U.S. Representatives and 28 U.S. Senators have investments in the fossil fuel industry. Despite detailed reporting of this in non-corporate media in late 2021, this story has been virtually ignored by the mainstream corporate media. The Senators’ investments add up to roughly $12.5 million with Senator Manchin (D-WV) topping the list with up to $5.5 million in industry investments. (Most reporting is in ranges not specific dollar amounts.) In the House, Representative Taylor (R-TX) topped the list with investments of up to $12.4 million.

Notably, many of the Members of Congress with fossil fuel investments sit on committees that have jurisdiction over energy-related policies. Therefore, they have substantial conflicts of interest as elected legislators supposedly acting in the public’s interest. By the way, the fossil fuel industry spent at least $40 million on congressional campaigns in the 2020 election cycle and spent almost $120 million on lobbying in 2020.

My next post will summarize the six other stories or topics censored by the corporate media that Project Censored had in its top ten list for the year.

[1]      Rosenberg, P., 1/2/23, “Project Censored, Part 1: Billionaire press domination,” The American Prospect, p. 1, (https://prospect.org/power/project-censored-part-1-billionaire-press-domination/)

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2 thoughts on “STORIES CENSORED BY CORPORATE MEDIA Part 1

  1. Thank you John. We are in for a troubling couple of years I fear but your voice is an important one in helping us keep a clear view of what is not so obvious to most people. Should I be responding to your post? I will if you’d like. I’m working on a committee to protect our democracy and our first book will be Yascha Mounk’s, The Great Experiment:.., are you familiar with it? Hi to Alice, Carolyn Sent from my iPad

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    1. You’re more than welcome, Carolyn. Yes, it sounds like the US House will be nothing but trouble for the next 2 years. I don’t know that book. I’d love to hear more about and responding to my posts here is always welcome. Maybe we can get some others engaged in a discussion!

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