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Since 1976 Project Censored has been bringing us all the news the corporate media don’t want us to hear

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you with us once again.

Every year there are hundreds of newsworthy stories that the major media outlets just ignore. Every year the organization called Project Censored, which has been around since 1976, does the work of compiling these stories and putting together a list of the 25 most important and most ignored stories of the year. Many of these stories we’ve done here at The Real News Network have been covered in depth. But we want to get an idea of the scope of the work of the stories that Project Censored does, and what they consider to be the most important stories of the past year.

And now we are joined by one of the editors of the 2019 edition, Mickey Huff. Mickey is also the current director of Project Censored. And Mickey Huff, welcome. Good to have you with us here on The Real News.

MICKEY HUFF: Thanks, Marc. Pleasure to be on The Real News Network.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk a little bit first about the history of Project Censored. It began in ’76. How it began, what you’ve been doing these last 40 years, and what it contributes.

MICKEY HUFF: Well, Project Censored is founded at Sonoma State University by Carl Jensen, who came out of the news and ad business, and was very–you could say almost like a news junkie, right. Was somebody that really like news, helped put together the communications program at Sonoma State University in Northern California. That’s right out of San Francisco. And after the 1972 election, of course people may remember Nixon won in a landslide. But later, of course, it was revealed that there were numerous scandals, including Watergate, that led to his resignation.

So this is the short version of this story. Jensen went back and wondered, how could it be possible that Nixon was reelected so easily given the Watergate scandal? Because he went back and noticed that it took the big newspapers time to pick up on the story. But he noticed that smaller independent and alternative news outlets were reporting about Nixon’s scandals in the early parts of Watergate. So it led him to wonder that if even somebody like Carl Jensen could miss a story like that, who thought he was attuned to the news of the day, what else were people that were hip to news missing? And what were the major newspapers missing? And of course that begs the question are they missing it, or just ignoring it?

Well, that’s the genesis of Project Censored, that looks at the news that doesn’t make the news, and then asks and analyzes why. He turned it into a critical pedagogy for a curriculum to do what we now call validated independent news stories, where students go out and research Independent news and alternative news outlets, and then they fact check them and vet them with professors and experts so they learn critical thinking and critical reasoning skills along the way. Which turns out that that’s very important. I’m sure we’ll get into that. But Jensen then would post the top stories each year, and he would have judges and experts and journalists and other people come and be part of this project.

So it really kind of started ad hoc at Sonoma State University. But since then– Jensen directed it for 20 years; handed it off to sociologist Peter Phillips, who directed till 2010, when I took over with Andy Lee Roth. And we do a book every year since 1993 with Seven Stories Press in New York. So now these top stories are a resource embedded on between 10 and 20 campuses around the United States, with several hundred students, scores of faculty. We have 30 national and international judges that help us. And the book has turned into something that’s not only the top stories that you should have known about, that the corporate media had ignored or grossly distorted. But it also has what we call junk food news, news abuse, media democracy in action, constructive and solutions journalism. So it’s really an annual compendium, or an almanac of what, you know, what people need to know about news media each year.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk for a minute about this concept, about the complexity of what fake news really is, and what it has to do with the kind of really stunning story of a painting on the cover that focused on Orson Welles famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, that was really a kind of emblematic story about what fake news means. So let’s get into that for a second.

MICKEY HUFF: Absolutely. I mean, fake news has blown up in the past couple of years as a concept, as a meme, as a weaponized phrase. You know, we’ve seen both major parties do it. Certainly the sitting president it’s one of his favorite go-to, how the press is the enemy of the people kind of business, riffing on the Lugenpresse, and Nazi and German authoritarian slogans.

Fake news is nothing new. It’s propaganda, it’s disinformation. And it goes way back. It goes back centuries, of course. But you know, we trace it back in the book this year, Andy Roth and I, going back looking at the anniversary of the War of the Worlds, and certainly the 1938 so-called hoax broadcast, which wasn’t really a hoax at all. In fact, it was a dramatic reading of War of the worlds. It was made to sound very realistic. Some people tuning into radio, which was a–you know, not a new medium at the time, but certainly a rival medium to the newspapers as far as media go. And this is prior to television, that’s for sure. But anyway the story with this goes is that some people tuning in late to the broadcast freaked out and thought that oh my gosh, are aliens really invading the country? And this kind of thing.

We went and did a deep dive to find out–and communication scholars have studied this. There really wasn’t widespread panic and a hoax. There were some people, of course, that were fooled, or they didn’t understand what was happening. But more what happened was that the traditional media, the newspapers of the day, blew it up into a hoax to purposely discredit radio as a new medium, as a competitor. And so that whole hoax broadcast got blown out of proportion. In fact, the hoax itself was more or less a hoax, one might say.

But there’s a lot we can glean from the War of the Worlds. And Anson Stevens-Bollen has done such brilliant artwork this year for our cover that really speaks to that, the so-called black smoke of fake news, and that we can’t really hear what’s going on through the din of our 24/7 cable news cycle, and how they want to distract us with junk food news, sensationalism. Everything is Russiagate, right. The two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. That’s also a kind of fake news.

So the problem here is that there are so many different forms of fake news, whether it’s CIA fake news at the Washington Post; whether it’s Donald Trump talking about fake news as information he doesn’t like, using confirmation bias. Or the Democrats talking about the fake news, you know, that they see going on in the news media and in the Republican Party.

What we do at Project Censored is we try to reserve that term, fake news, and we simply use propaganda. And there’s propaganda coming from all sides. It needs to be deconstructed. And the best antidote to that is critical media literacy education, not blacklisting algorithms, bots, or censorship.

MARC STEINER: So one of the things, before we move into the stories that–some of the stories that you covered. We’re going to do another segment with you in a moment. One of the things that’s tricky about the War of the Worlds analogy here is that it really stuck. I mean, that is a common held belief in this country, that people who know about the War of the Worlds broadcast was there was nationwide panic, people killing themselves, jumping off bridges, and all the rest. That we have people actually–it’s something, it’s become common wisdom. That is what happened. So the notion of fake news and people not covering the news completely, or throwing out stories that are untrue, it’s not just since fake news. It’s not just what Trump says, or we’re talking about here. But it has a depth to it that people actually believe, and they walk away thinking this is what’s happening in our world. That’s the danger.

MICKEY HUFF: And then they build on that fallacious or house of cards historical construct, and base other perceptions on it which are just as flawed as the foundation. And you know, today’s fake news is tomorrow’s fake history. And as someone that’s a historian by day–and we do, you know, I do Project Censored obviously, also–it’s very important to get the record right. And there are many–there are many, many interested parties while current events are taking place that have a stake in molding the story, shaping and framing the story to meet certain needs or to benefit their owners or their advertisers, or to appeal to elite sources, or to have preexisting ideologies that they pretend are just the air we breathe, are fish in the water.

But we need to critically unpack that. And at Project Censored when we teach these classes and we teach about validating independent news, that’s what we’re telling people to do. We’re not telling people how to think. We’re teaching them how to think. We’re not telling them what to think. We’re encouraging them to come to their own conclusions. And part of that is being realized in the broad spectrum of news and information that exists in the world and in the United States. And it’s not just the six corporations that control 90 percent in the corporate media.

MARC STEINER: We’re here talking with Mickey Huff. Mickey Huff is the current director of Project Censored, and they put out a book every year. This is the book, Censored 2019, and it’s phenomenal. So we were talking about that. We’re about to talk about some of the more–well, they’re all interesting. We’re going to pick four interesting stories and try to go through them with Mickey Huff. I’m Marc Steiner here at The Real News. You’ll have to watch the next segment to check that out.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.