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Project Censored 

Lefty weeklies are always bitching about the mainstream press. Here're some rotten chestnuts we wish the alternative press would quit serving up.

Wednesday, Sep 18 2002
Every year, the renowned journalistic citadel at Sonoma State University unveils Project Censored, a list of the top 25 stories the mainstream media purportedly overlooked or undercovered in their mindless kowtowing to government and corporate control over the preceding year. Compiled into book form and breathlessly splashed on lesser metro-weekly covers nationwide (the San Francisco Bay Guardian proudly ran it three weeks ago), Project Censored has become, since its inception in 1976, a hallowed fixture of the alternative press.

Some of the stories on the list may deserve wider and more thorough coverage. But to label any of the subjects "censored" is either flat-out deception or an admission of astonishing ignorance. A quick stroll through the Nexis database reveals that nine of this year's top-10 "most censored" stories have already turned up in the New York Times, many of them with prominent placement, considerable depth, and angles not far off from Project Censored's leftist slant. Even Mother Jones, a paragon of lefty journalism, has slammed the list in an article headlined "The Unbearable Lameness of Project Censored."

We couldn't agree more. And although we have no idea why so many altweeklies insist on running the list every year (perhaps because Project Censored is so darned cheap?), we humbly submit a replacement. What follows is our own Project (Sure Wish They Were) Censored, a list of the top 10 stories whose importance has been ridiculously distorted by near-hysterical, brain-numbing repetition in the alternative press.

Look for it soon in bookstores near you.

10) The lionization of Mumia Abu-Jamal. You've seen him on T-shirts, buttons, fliers, posters, radio shows, Web sites, bumper stickers, and flags. You've read his books, heard his tape-recorded speeches, and watched with disbelief as he's transformed himself from a journalist-turned-cabdriver into a cabdriver-turned-political prisoner. But his story must be heard! Again! Ignore the hundreds of other death row inmates whose guilt has been questioned far more convincingly than Mumia Abu-Jamal's -- free Mumia, and the prison-industrial system will crumble!

9) The federal government's war against medical marijuana. Who do those Drug Enforcement Agency operatives think they are, busting into shady pot clubs under the auspices of the U.S. Congress and a federal statute? The gall of these people, exploiting the long-established primacy of federal law to flout state ballot measures! When will they learn that The Law means The Law?

8) Why [insert name of local citizen] thinks [insert name of obscure bureaucratic agency] is up to no good. And why [same local citizen] isn't going to take it anymore. An irate resident, pictured on the cover with arms folded in front of a flag-draped City Hall (slightly out of focus), says the County Mosquito Abatement Commission has been spraying where it shouldn't. This is his/her story.

7) The war in Afghanistan is really being waged so oil companies can build a pipeline. Come on, does anyone really think the U.S. military is in Afghanistan to chase the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks? If our armed forces were looking for Osama bin Laden, they would have found him by now, right? Don't believe what you hear about the uncaring United States packing up and moving out once the bombing finishes. We're in Afghanistan to stay -- and to build a gigantic oil pipeline without attracting the notice of thousands of journalists, diplomats, human rights workers, and international military personnel. Not to mention Afghan warlords.

6) (three-way tie) a. Everything has changed since Sept. 11, 2001; b. Nothing has changed since Sept. 11, 2001; or c. Either everything or nothing has changed (dueling opinions). There are, of course, only two possible conclusions to draw from the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. And the best place to draw them, obviously, is in the pages of a local alternative weekly.

5) Anything "written" by Nat Hentoff.

4) (tie) a. I've done Ecstasy, and raves aren't really what you think they are; or b. Burning Man isn't just a big party -- it's spiritual, too. First-person prose is the best, especially when it's drug-induced! Sure, you may have read a story or two dispelling the misconceptions surrounding Ecstasy, raves, and Burning Man, but those were written by other people. You won't know the real truth until you read about my experience, which was totally unique. Totally, dude.

3) How a big media company imposed its CEO's ideology on every single employee of every single affiliate (even janitors). Once a corporation takes over your formerly independent media enterprise, look out! Everyone will drink Starbucks, listen to Jewel, and forget everything he's always believed about editorial free will. Because, as we all know, that's how journalism works: Every story idea and editorial angle is dictated from the top, and even the most experienced editors, station managers, and columnists are powerless to resist.

2) A local DJ's ability to rub rotating plastic discs and radiate positive vibes is approximately equal, in terms of artistic difficulty, to the skill exhibited by, say, the first violinist in the New York Philharmonic. To prove our alternative weekly isn't staffed by only elitist East Coast college graduates or culturally out-of-touch ex-hippies, we'll "hit the street" and slather enough adulation on a 22-year-old DJ who lives with his parents to make you think he's found the Lost Chord.

1) The annual unveiling of Project Censored. "We define censorship as any interference with the free flow of information in American society," says project director Peter Phillips in this year's press release. "Corporate media in the United States is [sic] interested primarily in entertainment news to feed their bottom-line priorities. Very important news stories that should reach the American public often fall on the cutting-room floor to be replaced by sex scandals and celebrity updates." And, once every year in the altie press, those stories are replaced by a meaningless list.
-- By Matt Palmquist

Care With Facts

The New England Journal of Medicine is peeved at Supervisor Gavin Newsom. The San Francisco politician's "Care Not Cash" campaign has been using the prestigious journal's logo on its literature, implying that journal articles uphold Newsom's central claim -- that reducing General Assistance cash benefits to homeless people will reduce drug use. "We do not permit anyone to use our logo," says a spokeswoman for the Journal. "We have given the matter over to our legal department to handle."

The logo appears on campaign literature captioned, "The New England Journal of Medicine has found that cash-only systems cost lives." Newsom says that he talked to the Journal and that using the logo was "inappropriate, a mistake."

Apparently, that wasn't Newsom's only mistake.

Neither of the two Journal articles in question fully supports Newsom's argument that stripping the homeless of cash is effective medical or social policy. One of the articles seems to directly oppose Newsom's thesis.

Andrew Shaner, M.D., authored one of the articles that Newsom says he read as support for his Care Not Cash position. The 1995 study points out that -- among cocaine-addicted veterans who are schizophrenic and, largely, African-American -- drug use peaked after the arrival of disability payments at the first of the month. It concludes, "Simply discontinuing the disability payments will not eliminate drug abuse and might exacerbate hunger and homelessness."

Shaner, who is associate director of mental health for the Greater Los Angeles Health Care System and a professor of psychiatry at UCLA Medical School, is not pleased that his study is being incorrectly characterized in San Francisco. "It makes people think that I am an archconservative," he complains in a telephone interview. "Of course, some homeless addicts spend GA money on drugs. But taking the money away is not the solution." He says that the people he studied have very little in common with the diverse population of homeless people in San Francisco; for one thing, his subjects were all chronic cocaine users, all male, and mostly black. Not to mention 100 percent schizophrenic.

A 1999 Journal article frequently cited by the Proposition N campaign as supporting the Care Not Cash proposal does make a correlation between disability payments (rather than General Assistance or welfare payments) and deaths from substance abuse. But the study, which reviewed 30 million death certificates, did not focus on homeless people, or even poor people, because, "[i]nformation on income was not available from the death certificates. However, race was indicated on the death certificates, and in the United States, nonwhites are considerably more likely to be poor than whites." In other words, the study simply examined death rates of nonwhite people, of all incomes, from substance abuse, in connection with disability payments.

The strained use of social science to back the Care Not Cash effort does not, apparently, stop with the New England Journal of Medicine.

Prop. N proponents, including Newsom, frequently refer to "Rand reports" as evidence that reducing, or eliminating, biweekly checks, and replacing them with housing, drug treatment, and other benefits, will benefit homeless people. But a Rand organization report that deals with the effects of the federal government's 1994 elimination of Social Security payments for substance abusers in Los Angeles completely contradicts Prop. N's main "scientific" prop.

The December 2000 report, available on the Web site of UC's California Policy Research Center ( podus.pdf), concluded that taking cash payments from substance abusers increased financial burdens in other areas of government, including emergency health care, and did not appear to help the addicts recover. "Loss [of cash payments] was associated with more unstable housing, greater incarceration, lack of stable employment, and decreased income." Rand's researchers, who said they were surprised by the results of their investigation, recommended that the federal government restore cash benefits to people with "disabling substance abuse."
-- By Peter Byrne

About The Authors

Peter Byrne


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