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Project Censored: 10 stories the media neglected this year

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“What won out is something much more palpable to the advertisers,” says Robert McChesney, an author, longtime media reform advocate, professor at University of Illinois and host of Media Matters from 2000-2012. Blandness beat out fearless truth-telling.

Even worse than kowtowing to advertisers is the false objectivity the media tries to achieve, McChesney told us, neutering its news to stay “neutral” on a topic. This handcuffs journalists into not drawing conclusions, even when they are well-supported by the facts.

In order to report a story, they rely on the words of others to make claims, limiting what they can report.

“You allow people in power to set the range of legitimate debate, and you report on it,” McChesney said.

Project Censored stories reflect that dynamic—many of them require journalists to take a stand or present an illuminating perspective on a set of dry facts. For example, reporting on the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor is easy, but talking about why the rich are getting richer is where journalists begin to worry about their objectivity, Gladstone said.

“I think that there is a desire to stay away from stories that will inspire rhetoric of class warfare,” she said.

Unable to tell the story of a trend and unable to talk about rising inequality for fear of appearing partisan, reporters often fail to connect the dots for their readers.

One of Project Censored’s stories this year, “Bank Interests Inflate Global Prices by 35 to 40 Percent,” is a good example of the need for a media watchdog. Researchers point to interest payments as the primary way wealth is transferred from Main Street to Wall Street.

It’s how the banks are picking the pockets of the 99 percent. But if no politician is calling out the banks on this practice, if no advocacy group is gaining enough traction, shouldn’t it be the media’s role to protect the public and sound the battle cry?

“So much of media criticism is really political commentary squeezed through a media squeezer,” Gladstone said, “and it comes out media shaped.”

SHAPING THE MEDIA

McChesney says journalism should be a proactive watchdog by independently stating that something needs to be done. He said there’s more watchdog journalism calling out inequity in democracies where there is a more robust and funded media.

And they often have one thing we in the US don’t—government subsidies for journalism.

“All the other democracies in the world, there are huge subsidies for public media and journalism,” McChesney said. “They not only rank ahead of us in terms of being democratic, they also rank ahead of us in terms of having a free press. Our press is shrinking.”

No matter what the ultimate economic solution is, the crisis of reporting is largely a crisis of money. McChesney calls it a “whole knife in the heart of journalism.”

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