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Censored Censorship

Posted 4/18/2001

Every year, Project Censored announces it has uncovered the most important stories ignored by the mainstream press ("News Hole," April 4)--and every year that list is so narrow and predictable that project director Peter Phillips and his crew might as well have cloned last year's roster.

This year Phillips said, presumably with a straight face, that Project Censored's work is getting easier because "as the media becomes [sic] more corporatized and consolidated, it all starts to look the same." He ought to examine his own list: All 10 of this year's "most censored stories"--and nearly all of the 15 runners-up--center around two subjects: the predations of multinational corporations and U.S. malfeasance in foreign or environmental affairs. By startling coincidence, those subjects have dominated Project Censored's list year after year. Are these the only subjects the U.S. mass media ignore? Or could it be time to admit that Project Censored is every bit as blindered as the corporate media it criticizes, just with a different set of prejudices?

Let's start with the obvious. Last November voters dealt a hammer blow to the failed War on Drugs--or would have, had the mass media bothered to report the story so that it might have some impact on policy-makers. Nevada and Colorado joined the six states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have voted to legalize medical marijuana. California voters overwhelmingly backed a measure to substitute treatment for incarceration for nonviolent, first- and second-time drug offenders. While the media generally reported the results, the coverage ignored the clear pattern: Whenever voters get a chance, they reject rigid drug-war tactics. If voters in one or two states move to cut taxes the headlines scream "tax revolt," but a revolt against the failed drug policies embraced by both major parties went virtually unmentioned.

Meanwhile, the push for equal rights for same-sex couples gained huge ground worldwide last year. The European Union parliament voted overwhelmingly to urge member nations to extend marriage rights to gays. Israel granted gay and lesbian citizens' foreign lovers the same immigration rights given heterosexual common-law spouses. The Dutch parliament approved gay marriage--not a half-baked "domestic partners" scheme but full, legal marriage. This was an absolute first, a dramatic, culture-changing upheaval, but the U.S. media (aside from the gay press) ignored it. Nor did the mainstream press notice when Saudi Arabia beheaded six men for the "crime" of being homosexual. Can you imagine the outcry if they executed people for the "crime" of being black or Jewish or Christian?

To say that the modern world's first-ever law giving gays the right to marry is less significant than Silicon Valley firms using immigrant engineers to minimize labor costs (No. 10 on Project Censored's list) is preposterous. Just as galling is the refusal of most of the alternative press to act as anything but a cheerleader for Phillips and company. How many journalistic blow jobs must our "alternative" media give these guys before working up the nerve to ask some hard questions?

Bruce Mirken
San Francisco, Calif.

Editor's note: Bruce Mirken is a freelance journalist whose reporting on AIDS-drug development was included in Project Censored's 1997 list.

Come On-a My House
I was happy to see your article on house concerts (No Cover, April 11) just one day after I started a Baltimore Area House Concerts listserv. I've got some terrific house concerts coming up, including one in May featuring the full-spectrum a cappella group the Chromatics and one this summer with singer/songwriter Cosy Sheridan. Such great talent! I look forward to hosting these evenings, which fill my dining room with music, people, and conversation.

Margie Roswell
Baltimore

Don't Ask Isadora
While I may have shed a tear or two four years ago, the news that Isadora Alman (Ask Isadora) has left City Paper now brings a smile to my face. Her columns had been growing increasingly tiresome, and it seemed the same problems turned up again and again. How many times can we read about someone with a nonvanilla interest wondering if they're "normal"? And how many times can Isadora respond with a nonanswer? Give some advice--that's why they're writing to you! Dan Savage (Savage Love) writes circles around this woman, covering the deviant topics we want with no-bullshit responses. Don't let the door hit your tired ass on the way out, Isadora!

Jeremy Paquette
Baltimore

Workhouse
Fitehouse salutes you! With the March 21 article "240-Minute Man" by Michael Anft, City Paper has touched upon what will undoubtedly prove to be the most important economic and sociological question to face us in our time: How will our relationship to production and consumption evolve during the new century? Despite unprecedented levels of prosperity, are we doomed toward greater heights of materialism and work, or will we be able to break the cycle and move toward more personal freedom and self-realization, as Gabe Sinclair envisions in his four-hour workday?

While I commend Mr. Sinclair's admirable goals, I don't fully agree with his diagnosis of the problem (though in all fairness to him, I am basing my analysis on a City Paper interpretation of his ideas). Shifting more workers from the service economy into manufacturing is not a viable answer. While manufactured goods are invitingly tangible, all the Soviet people saw from Stalin's unyielding emphasis on heavy industry were bigger tractors and a lower standard of living. People covet services; there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Sinclair hints at the true cause of our inability to realize societal gains in productivity: Creature comforts have become monkeys on our backs. It's not that capital is holding us back; we are holding ourselves back.

Despite increasing material wealth, dominant consumerist ideologies work to convince us that we need possessions to achieve true prosperity. As a result, we are kept in a state of perpetual "slavery" to work, toiling in order to achieve an ever-elusive sense of happiness. Individuals must reject the cult of consumerism and search for another set of values to inform their economic decisions. The key to achieving prosperity is recognizing its origins: the satisfaction of needs, values, and desires. In as much as those desires can be manipulated, so can your sense of prosperity (even without an increase in income).

On a final note, I can commiserate with Mr. Sinclair's frustrating search for balance between the publication of his ideas and the modern marketing that their acceptance requires. My band, Fitehouse, has clearly outlined its own ideological framework (quite similar to Mr. Sinclair's) in a document titled "The New Economic Reality of the 21st Century: The Benefits of Early Retirement, Hoarding, and the Public Library System" (www.fitehouse.com). Still, our first foray into the cultural marketplace, an effort to have our song "Baltimore" declared the city's Official Rock Anthem, suffered from an overly slick marketing style. As a result, City Paper slammed our efforts a priori as a "bland exercise in commerce" (of all things!) (No Cover, Nov. 22, 2000). Perhaps what we needed to do was ooze a little more "proletarian vérité." Mr. Sinclair, it certainly takes a lot of work to get people past image to understand substance. I for one will be reading your book, though I may be turned off by old sweatshirts and blue Dockers.

Joshua Cohen
Baltimore

Epistemological note: Actually, CP did not slam Fitehouse's efforts a priori. We slammed them a posteriori--after listening to "Baltimore."

Tit for Tat
I raised three kids born less than a year apart. I breast-fed all of them for the first several months of their lives. There is a general consensus that breast-feeding benefits both mother and babe. It establishes an emotional rapport and provides natural immunities. I never doubted that I would breast-feed my children, and it worked to the satisfaction of all concerned. Even my husband got to share in the joy of breast-feeding by occasionally delivering a squalling infant to my arms in the middle of the night.

Still, most nursing mothers are never compelled to "whip it out" in public to meet their infants' nourishment requirements. Breast-feeding is a naturally regulated function, although timing does vary with individual infants. I never felt compelled to take my little tribe toy shopping at a time I knew one of them would have to be fed.

That it is a "natural function" gives no license for public display. Excretion and sexual intercourse are also natural functions that egregiously lack a lobby for display in the public forum. Screening certain "natural functions" from public view is considered a measure of civilization. In Third World countries, one often sees people squatting on sidewalks defecating or breast-feeding. In Cairo, I watched the dead removed from public parks along with the trash. Egyptians at least half-believed in recycling, i.e. reincarnation, and could distinguish between the two. Those who are so virulently pushing for a public-breast-feeding bill (Mobtown Beat, March 21) apparently cannot.

Ingrid Holt Krause
Baltimore

Del. Robert Baldwin of the Maryland General Assembly has my number. I "whip it out" every chance I get! In fact, the primary reason I've chosen to breast-feed my newborn daughter is so that I have an excuse to show off my fabulous, milk-enhanced 36Ds. Shame on you and your repressed colleagues.

Paula Gallagher
Baltimore

Correction: The photo of Mayor Martin O'Malley's head in last week's Mobtown Beat should have been credited to John Ellsberry.

Editor's note: Astute fans of The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green might have noticed that last week's edition was actually an old strip. They might also have noticed that it was virtually unreadable. Here's what happened: Due to various mail-related snafus (none of them the fault of cartoonist Eric Orner), we didn't have a new strip by last week's press time. In desperation, we pulled an oldie from the Ethan Green Web site, which didn't reproduce terribly well. So: The new Ethan that should have run last week appears this week, on page 99. Another new Ethan will be along in its regularly scheduled spot next week. If you're dying to read the archive edition that did run last week, check it out at www.stonewallinn.com . Got that?

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