Global Policy Forum

Massive Iraqi Death Toll Ignored by Tabloid Culture


By Marie-Helene Rousseau

Inter Press Service
November 4, 2008

The year is 1994. Pictures of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley cover the pages of prominent U.S. newspapers and magazines. Yet hidden from national view is the attempted elimination of the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda. When news of pop stars and their marriages and divorces takes precedence over stories about the Iraq War or privacy concerns in an age of increasing security measures, U.S. citizens are faced, as described by the director of Project Censored, "with a truth emergency". To address this emergency, Project Censored, a non-profit media project within the Sonoma State University Foundation, each year compiles 25 stories which they say have been neglected by the mainstream media. Since 1976, when Carl Jensen founded the research facility, these stories have comprised a yearbook of controversial stories that have gone largely unread and underreported. The organisation, now headed by Peter Phillips, a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University, works with students and faculty of SSU to review and select which of the 700-1,000 annually submitted stories make the final cut. A panel of judges that includes noted writers Noam Chomsky and Susan Faludi then ranks the 25 stories in order of importance. How do they determine what constitutes "censorship"? An explanation on states, "We define Modern Censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets."

The organisation outlines a set of criteria by which individuals can determine if a story is suitable for the "censored" list. The first of these criteria reads, "A Censored news story is one which contains information that the general United States population has a right and need to know, but to which it has had limited access." Indeed, none of the selected stories have appeared in the mainstream press, a category encompassing widely read publications such as The New York Times and the network news channels. Rather, the stories have been covered by a select number of independent media that are free from the constraints of corporate ownership. The number one story this year gave a staggering answer to a question that has been glossed over in the mainstream press -- just how many Iraqi lives have been lost because of the U.S. occupation? The answer is one million, and it exceeds the death toll of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, points out the Censored entry. But that figure, calculated by British the polling group Opinion Research Business (ORB), was reported in just three independent media outlets -- AlterNet, Inter Press Service (IPS), and After Downing Street. Michael Schwartz, of the nonpartisan coalition After Downing Street, also refuted in Censored the idea that most violence occurs only between Iraqis, placing the percentage of U.S.-inflicted Iraqi deaths at about 80 percent. Censored also points to what may be the most ominous consequence of media censorship -- a public lack of awareness.

Schwartz, in Censored, refers to a February 2007 Associated Press poll in which U.S. citizens were asked how many Iraqis died because of the U.S. occupation. The most common answers placed casualties at below 10,000. "This remarkable mass ignorance, like so many other elements of the Iraq War story, received no coverage in the mass media, not even by the Associated Press, which commissioned the study," he writes. Many of the stories included in this year's compilation dealt with the aftermath of the Iraq War as well as privacy concerns in an age of increasing security measures. At number three on the list, "InfraGard: The FBI Deputizes Business" reveals that members of the business community may be part of an anti-terrorism line of defence, but are also the first ones reaping the benefits of it. This programme is called InfraGard, and goes as far back as 1996, when it started in Cleveland with 350 members from the Fortune 500. By transmitting information about private individuals to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, 23,000 members of private industry guarantee that they will receive warnings of a terrorist attack before private individuals -- even before certain elected officials, reported The Progressive in an article by Matt Rothschild. Rothschild's article also asserts that an InfraGard member can even shoot to kill in the case of martial law "without fear of prosecution". Although in February, the FBI released a statement denouncing the piece, Rothschild is sticking by his story.

The Winter Soldier hearings, which took place in Silver Springs, Maryland in March of 2008 organised by Veterans against War, also found a place on the list at number nine. The testimonies of more than 300 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans revealed atrocities they not only saw, but also participated in, such as desecrating corpses and targeting civilians. These revelatory hearings were covered in just three print media outlets -- The Nation, One World, and Inter Press Service -- as well as one radio station, Pacifica Radio. If the U.S. government deems that a person, directly or indirectly, poses the risk of threatening U.S. operations in the Middle East, the U.S. treasury department can seize their property and freeze their assets -- a story on this is number five on the list. Two executive orders were established giving the treasury department this power, one in July of 2007 and more recently in August of 2007. The first executive order is limited to Iraq, and threatens seizure of property in the event someone committing, or posing a risk of committing violent acts in opposition to U.S. operations there. The second order, targeted to operations in Lebanon, goes a little further, broadening the scope to actions, non-violent or otherwise, that undermine U.S. involvement in Lebanon. Under this order, dependents of the individuals (spouse, children) would also have their assets frozen, and would not be allowed to receive humanitarian aid, Censored states. The two executive orders were covered in The Progressive, and Global Research. While mass media closely followed such stories as Angelina Jolie's pregnancy and Alec Baldwin's marital problems, reports regarding the aftermath of the Iraq War and privacy concerns were hidden. News of abuse and death in juvenile detention centres, unprecedented rates of arrests for marijuana possession in the U.S., corporate profiteering from No Child Left Behind, and the American Psychological Association's sanctioning and aiding in torture methods lay buried underneath images of Paris Hilton's new escapades. And those are just the top 25.

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