A “Subtle Form of Censorship”

Originally posted: September 7, 2008

Greencastle, Ind. – Ohio Congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich delivered one of the more rousing and impassioned speeches at last month’s Democratic National Convention.

Unfortunately, convention planners didn’t grant Kucinich a prime-time slot, effectively denying millions of television viewers the opportunity to hear his urgent plea to “wake up America.”

And despite clear enthusiasm for Kucinich’s remarks among the assembled delegates (a C-SPAN recording of the speech is available on YouTube) and the subsequent buzz his wakeup call generated in the blogosphere and the alternative press, mainstream media outlets took little notice of Kucinich’s speech.

Of course, there’s nothing new in all of this. Neither the corporate media nor so-called public service broadcasters give Kucinich much play. Typically, establishment media either ignore Kucinich altogether or portray him as a left-wing extremist whose views cannot be taken seriously.

Case in point: on July 8, Kucinich introduced a single article of impeachment against George W. Bush, whittled down from the staggering 35 articles he introduced earlier this year. Notwithstanding the gravity of the charges detailed in the impeachment resolutions, substantive press coverage of Kucinich’s call for Congress to hold the Bush administration accountable for war crimes and abuses of power is extremely hard to come by.

Instead, the U.S. news media dutifully repeats House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s injunction before the 2006 mid-term elections that impeachment is “off the table.” Rarely are the justifications for impeachment proceedings reported in the mainstream press. Rarer still are the merits for such actions the subject of informed discussion, let alone rigorous debate.

The virtual silence on Kucinich’s efforts stands in sharp contrast to the considerable, and overwhelmingly favorable, coverage U.S. media lavished upon those calling for the impeachment of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It’s worth noting that the prospect of impeachment forced Musharraf from office a few weeks ago.

While such disparities are not the result of direct government interference or suppression, press performance of this sort represents a more subtle form of censorship.

According to Project Censored, a media research program based at Sonoma State University that has been analyzing the U.S. news media since 1976, modern censorship refers to news stories “that are underreported, ignored or misrepresented” by news organizations. Judged by these standards, coverage of the impeachment “debate,” such as it is, is a clear case of censorship.

What’s more, the underreporting of impeachment flies in the face of U.S. public opinion. As Bill Moyers reported well over a year ago, a poll conducted by the American Research Group found that “more than four in 10 Americans — 45 percent — favored impeachment hearings for President Bush and more than half — 54 percent — favored impeachment for Vice President Cheney.”

A lot can change in a year, of course, but recent public opinion polls indicate that the Bush administration’s approval ratings have completely tanked — with the Democratic-led Congress not far behind.

And yet, despite the dangerous precedent the administration has set for secrecy, deception and outright contempt for the rule of law, establishment media continue to ignore or trivialize calls to impeach George W. Bush.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the U.S. news media is keeping the lid on Kucinich’s latest gambit. By September 10, Kucinich hopes to collect one million signatures on an online petition urging Congress to uphold its constitutional duties and launch impeachment proceedings.

In the absence of substantive press coverage of Kucinich’s efforts, it is likely that the Bush administration — aided and abetted by a cowardly Democratic leadership — will get away with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Censorship has its privileges.

Post Script

As I prepared this week’s column, online dispatches from Minneapolis-St. Paul, the site of the 2008 Republican National Convention, told of the arrest of several journalists, including award-winning reporter Amy Goodman, the host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

Two Democracy Now! producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were also arrested — along with AP photographer Matt Rourke and several independent video producers — all of whom were covering protests outside of the RNC. With few exceptions, however, this disturbing news received little mention in either corporate or public media.

The arrest and intimidation of working journalists is an affront to constitutional protections of free speech and a free press. As such, you’d think the U.S. press would be all over this story.

Instead, the establishment media has remained remarkably quiet on this and other tales of police harassment and intimidation in the Twin Cities. Their silence is an insidious form of self-censorship: the sort that works to sanction and legitimate the erosion of American civil liberties.

Kevin Howley is an associate professor of communication (media studies) at DePauw University.

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