Albion Monitor /Features
 Project Censored: Interview with the Project's next director

The Next Twenty Years

by Jeff Elliott

The conflict is really between entertainment and news

Albion Monitor: Mark Lowenthal has written about larger and larger corporations controlling media sources. Why do you think this is happening?

Phillips: There's a concentration of capital looking at information systems worldwide. Why? Because there's money to be made at it. Capital flows to the center, and is gravitating to the control and accumulation and the ability to manipulate those systems.

I think it has more to do with capital flow than ideology . It's not a bad thing for a rich person to own a press, so to speak, but it's certainly better if you can make money at it. When we see Disney or Westinghouse buying out major media, it's not ideological -- although it's partly for them to have access to information and ideas around the world -- they're really there to make money.

And they're in the entertainment business; buying a network just makes them more in the entertainment business. But entertainment and news are almost contradictory. Accurate, analytical journalistic news [and] investigative reporting are not as appealing, nor does it draw as much, entertainment-wise, as O.J.'s trial, or whatever else the media's pushing that day. The conflict is really between entertainment and real news.

No coverage of Telecom Bill as it was being developed

Albion Monitor: Can you compare the enormous resources that went into coverage of the Simpson trial with any of the 1995 Project Censored stories?

Phillips: Well, the number one story is the Telecom Bill, a Ralph Nader story about the monopoly impacts of the Bill that appeared last July, as the bill was still being developed. It was not covered anywhere in the country in terms of monopoly impact, and it should have been. Certainly a lot is being written about it now, but these stories should have been out a year ago. It was passed with the idea that it was going to increase competition, but what it will do is increase capital concentration and eliminate competition. It's a major story; whether or not O.J. was guilty carries some emotional impact, and certainly some entertainment value, but in terms of the consequences for America, the Telecom Bill is much more important.

More sharing in the alternative press needed

Albion Monitor: Do you feel that the alternative press and magazines like The Nation have failed their readers by not making more of the Telecom Bill?

Phillips: I think a lot more could have been done about it. Absolutely. But I'm not sure the readership is there; I don't know the readership of Mother Jones, but it's nothing compared to Time magazine, or NBC. So if we reach one out of 200 people in the country or one out of 1,000, that doesn't have the same impact.

I think that the left press could coordinate a lot better, sharing stories and like that. There could be a real focused, bandwagon effect. If one of the left presses breaks a story, I don't see the others jumping on it because they're each trying to sensationalize their own stories. I really don't see them backing each other up. They're competitive, they're struggling to survive.

Somehow, we've got to democratize media

Albion Monitor: Is that why there's been a trend in the alternative press in the last few years towards lighter content appealing to younger audiences?

Phillips: There's still a lot of good journalism, a lot of good writers in the National Writer's Union. I read stories every week in a variety of different magazines that I think are good, well-developed, interesting stories. But a newspaper has got to survive and to do that, it's got to sell copies. They're caught in the same bind as the mega-media sources.

Somehow, we've got to democratize media; whether it's public supported radio and newspapers or it's a national collective, where everything is fed in and distributed, someway we've got to balance the contradictions of private enterprise and survival for these small companies. There's plenty of people who want to write, do investigative reporting, but they're just not getting heard. That's a structural problem -- it's not devious people deciding to sensationalize their local independent newspaper; they're doing it just to survive.

Our objective will be to get those important stories out monthly

Albion Monitor: We ran a story last November predicting Pat Buchanan and others would form a third party if the Republican candidates didn't pass the far-right's litmus tests. That prediction appears even more likely today. But that article originally appeared in The Freedom Writer, a small journal that monitors the right, and no other newspaper picked up that article. How could Project Censored help The Freedom Writer get a story like this out to a wider audience?

Phillips: If we're looking at The Freedom Writer, somebody [in Project Censored] is assessing that, saying this story is nationally important, it's credible, and it should receive more attention. Maybe universities all over the county should be doing this; one thing that universities do well is analyze, criticize, and evaluate. There should be some systematic way of doing that.

Project Censored can [help them coordinate] that because we see stories that we think should be really covered. Our objective will be to get those out sooner, to try to get them out monthly to all the press. If major media doesn't pick it up, we're still going to have our top ten every year. But we're going to see our role as more involved on a monthly basis.

We get stories from all over the county, and we're reviewing about 400 progressive and right-wing journals for important news stories. If you can look past the ideology in any journal, there's some content there. If it's the American Spectator writing about a FBI conspiracy, there can be factual components of that which may be important.

Lots of times the left and right are seeing similar things; they look at the Trilateral Commission in a similar manner and see it a dominant power in this country, capital dominating control. The right is concerned about minority groups getting advantages, and there's a close affiliation with religious fundamentalists -- but on the other hand, there's some pieces of what they're saying that have some real validity.

We'll look anywhere for a story, as long as it has a good news component. If our faculty evaluates that story and thinks it's important, then it will make our top list for that month and we'll share it with everybody, saying "This is important -- you ought to be looking at this."

Corporations don't fund us -- we're critical

Albion Monitor: Do you expect more efforts like Project Censored and Project Censored Canada to spring up?

Phillips: I've had long talks with Bob [Hackett, director of Project Censored Canada]. Finding ways to maintain these things, even Project Censored, is a challenge. We get money from the CS Fund, the Body Shop, and from selling books -- that sort of thing. We need to have some sort of institutionalized support. I think it should be public tax money, because it's a real academic function and it's vital to society.

Corporations don't fund us -- we're critical. Look at the three-strikes bill; now that the crime rate's declined, everybody's saying it's because we're sticking more people in prison. That's absolutely not true; the crime rate is declining because the percentage of young people has declined. We say that, but a lot of times the powers-that-be don't want to hear that, so they don't fund us. They fund [academics] to study poor people, criminal control, but they don't fund us to study power, or mega-media control.

Project Censored Canada and Project Censored U.S. have a critical role looking at things and asking, "why?" Or, "How come?" Or, "Is this right?" And not just assuming that the way things are means they're okay. What are the consequences of decisions like NAFTA and GATT for people generally, not just for capital? If we say that it means the working class is losing, the poor are losing, the people of Mexico are losing, capital doesn't want to hear that. They don't want to give us money to keep saying that. Attempts to take away tenure, minimize academic freedom, to privatize libraries, is part of an ongoing process. I think we have to resist it in every way we possibly can if we're going to keep democracy alive in America.

Attack on socially-responsible companies

Albion Monitor: Would you accept corporate sponsorship?

Phillips: If it came with absolutely no strings attached. If there were something about the Body Shop that I thought was a legitimate story, I would feel obligated to run it, morally. And there has been stuff said about the Body Shop. I've looked at that material, and I think it's more an attack on socially-responsible companies in general, sponsored by major media. I think that [corporations] see social responsibility in business as a threat. And they have been encouraging and promoting an attack on that in the press. That's more of a story than saying Ben and Jerry's uses gas-guzzling trucks to sell their ice cream.

Don't rock the boat if you're dependent upon advertising

Albion Monitor: Corporations also don't like to pay for criticism in the media. Several years ago, PBS pulled a Nova program that was critical of environmental damage by one of their corporate sponsors. And the San Jose Mercury News was boycotted by car dealerships after running a simple consumer's guide to used car buying, supposedly losing about a million dollars in advertising.

Phillips: If you're dependent upon advertising and private money, they don't want to rock the boat. That's one of the major contradictions in the process. For example, most people never heard that there was a G.E. boycott. But hundreds of thousands of people across the country were boycotting G.E., whole supermarket chains were pushing G.E. light bulbs out, hospitals weren't buying G.E. products, and you never heard about it in the major press. It just wasn't covered.

Who knows that there's a Detroit strike?

Albion Monitor: And why don't you think we're not hearing anything about the Detroit newspaper strike, now in its eighth month?

Phillips: Unions don't exist. Or if they exist, they're corrupt, or in some way unrepresentative of working people. They're counter to individual- free- enterprise- spirit- of- America. Which, of course, just diminishes working people completely. Who knows that there's a Detroit strike? No one reading a paper here, or anywhere else in the country. But you've got a union there that's strong, putting out its own newspaper, standing together, and they're getting no coverage. But most people coming into college today think of a union, they think of the Mafia. They think of Hoffa. And they think it's all corrupt. Well, that's been the image in movies and other media.

Dim future for free press

Albion Monitor: What do you see for twenty years from now, on Project Censored's 40th anniversary?

Phillips: I think we'll still have an alternative press, but it may be repressed. Alternate press that covered anything counter-establishment -- or the new terminology, terrorist -- could be repressed.

Social movements arise and contradictions continue in our society with working class collapsing, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer and that seems to be the direction. If that continues, we may see social movements of various forms. Those movements invariably will have some element of confrontation that will be deemed illegal. Coverage of that could be deemed illegal. Supporting that in writing could be deemed illegal. That seems to be the direction that we're going.

It's kind of scary, and the real terminology for it is fascism, which, by definition, is simply the corporations and government running the country using an iron fist. Historically, when workers rose up and said we want a better share -- as in the union movement in the '30's or civil rights movement in the '60's -- the government and elites in this country generally offered concessions: increased social spending, better social programs, that sort of thing.

But after each there was a pulling away, a retrenchment. We're seeing that now; a retrenchment of the right, a pulling away from social programs as a reaction to the '60's and the social spending that occurred. Only social movements of large numbers of people, be they unionized or not, can address this power as it needs to be addressed.

The difference now is that we've militarized our police, and we're now capable of repressing social movements in an organized police state -- far more capable than we were in the '60's. We're capable of not only containing but ignoring protest, whether it's a demonstration in Washington D.C. that nobody hears about, or 500,000 people marching in San Francisco during the Iraq war and the press calls it 40,000. It's ignored. Twenty years down the road, it could get worse. We could see a reaction from capital both extremely strong and oppressive.

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Albion Monitor March 30, 1996 (

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