Mickey’s first guest is Alan MacLeod, senior writer for MintPress News, speaks about PayPal’s sudden cutoff of service to MintPress, Consortium News, and other journalism sites that publish antiwar opinions and analysis; Mickey and Alan also discuss the recent trend of individuals from the US/NATO security establishment being given influential posts at Facebook, Tik Tok, and other social media platforms as well as the Biden Administration’s new Disinformation Governance Board, a virtual Orwellian Ministry of Truth. In the second half of the show, Steve Macek and Shealeigh Voitl of Project Censored discuss their recent Ms. Magazine article on corporate media’s failures in coverage of women’s’ issues, especially gender violence and inequity. They also comment on the recently-leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court, which would reverse the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, thereby giving states wide latitude to criminalize abortion.
Alan MacLeod is a media critic, a senior staff writer at MintPress News, and has also contributed to many other publications. Steve Macek is chair of Communications and Media Studies at North Central College in Illinois, and is co-coordinator of Project Censored’s Campus Affiliates Program. Shealeigh Voitl is a Journalism graduate of North Central College, and a research associate at Project Censored. The Macek/Voitl article can be found here.
Transcript of This Conversation
Mickey Huff: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Eleanor Goldfield will return later in May. For the first segment of the program. Today, we look at more online censorship. This time, not from YouTube or Facebook or Twitter, but from the digital financial services side of the internet, as PayPal has begun seizing and or freezing the assets or funds of progressive left and anti-war news sites. These include MintPress News and Consortium News. We talk with Alan MacLeod, the senior writer from MintPress News about these matters. Later in the program, Steve Macek and Shealeigh Voitl join us, both of Project Censored. They talk about the news that didn’t make the news in a [00:01:00] recent Ms. Magazine article they had published. They talk about how the media ignores important stories about gender violence and inequity. Tune in to The Project Censored Show today for an hour about censorship and under-reporting of key and important issues. Stay tuned.
Welcome to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host Mickey Huff. Today in this segment, we welcome back to the program Alan MacLeod. He is senior staff writer for MintPress News and after completing his PhD in 2017, he published two books: Bad News from Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent [00:02:00] as well as a number of academic articles. Alan MacLeod also contributes to FAIR, fair.org, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Gray Zone, and many other outlets. Alan MacLeod, of course has also been a repeat guest on this program, The Project Censored Show. Alan MacLeod, it is always a delight to catch up with you and talk with you about all things media, censorship, and propaganda. However, the occasion of our conversation, this time is certainly not a favorable or positive one, but I definitely want to hear it from you, given that you have been at the receiving end of the latest online targets for demonetization and online censorship, this time not from a cable provider or not from Alphabet, Google, YouTube, and of course you and I have talked about this several times before, but now it’s the digital financial services realm of the internet that is clamping down on dissent. [00:03:00] Clamping down on online news websites that don’t conform to official narratives or particularly NATO narratives in the wake of the Russian attack against Ukraine. Recently, PayPal had suspended accounts for Consortium News. Goes back to 1995. Of course, you know Robert Perry, the late great Robert Perry, that was his site. Now, Joe Lauria the chief editor there, and also MintPress News. Your home, where you write, editor in chief Mnar Adley. MintPress had their PayPal account frozen and could you give us this story of what’s happened? And I know that this is an ongoing story. We’re recording May 5th.
Alan MacLeod: Thanks for having me on, I guess it all started when I received an email from PayPal telling me that they were turning my account off, completely zapping it. They didn’t really go into much detail about why, but it basically said that I had broken the rules. Now, I’m not a big PayPal user, so actually assumed that [00:04:00] it was because I wasn’t using my PayPal account. I hadn’t used it in months, and yet, for some reason, they decided that I had broken the rules somehow. So I thought maybe that was the reason, but very quickly, within a couple of hours, the CEO of MintPress, Mnar Adley, said that her account had been blocked. So the company account had also had their assets frozen, and so this clearly began to look like more of a coordinated thing, and as you said, with Consortium News and with a couple of other journalists have been blocked as well, all within around a 24 hour span, this really started to look like a targeted assault on independent media. I really consider this to be kind of a shot across the bow at anybody who has an anti-war journalist or who is in any real way, antiestablishment, whether left or right. It doesn’t really matter here. Whether you live in the U.S. or you live abroad, this is really an attempt to fire a warning shot at everyone, because of course, PayPal is this enormous corporation who has pretty much got a kind of monopoly [00:05:00] on wire transfer services. So many people have to actually use PayPal that we kind of can’t really get around it. It’s one of the main ways, especially in alternative media, that journalists are paid. It’s a very easy way to send funds in any currency, really, you want to, anywhere you want without too much of a price or too much hassle. I tried to contact PayPal, but the link they sent me to say, if you want to dispute this, you can go here, it was a dead link. So clearly they had absolutely no interest in me disputing this or getting in touch with them. Fortunately for us, there has been enough of an online hooha, a big brouhaha going on, whereby people were really freaked out by this, and I think justifiably, as I said, anybody who is vaguely antiestablishment really understands that this isn’t just about MintPress, this could be about a much wider swath of censorship, whether it’s algorithmic, as we’ve talked about in previous episodes, or whether it’s financial in this [00:06:00] case. So a lot of people have been getting involved, sending us messages of support, trying to get PayPal on the phone, or get their representatives to respond to them in email. And so, as it stands right now, we’ve just received a note saying that actually PayPal, while not unfreezing our accounts, is allowing us at least to take the money out of the accounts. And that’s really one of the extraordinary things about this. We at MintPress received a note saying that PayPal was essentially freezing all the money in our accounts and after 180 days, they would do a review and decide whether they would give us that money back or whether they would keep it. And so that’s really something for listeners to understand. That, if you’re using PayPal, or if you’re sending money through PayPal, that bank balance, unless it’s in your bank, it doesn’t belong to you. Essentially, in PayPal’s view, it belongs to them until it’s in your bank. So if anything, if I would, you know, advise listeners to do anything, it would be to at least take the money out of your [00:07:00] PayPal account and transfer it into your bank. Consortium News has faced similar problems. But again, this is something that I think will probably not be the only example of this going forward. We’re seeing a sort of increased air of censorship online, especially with the tensions in Ukraine spilling over. I think, for want of a better word, the establishment is using this time as a convenient excuse to crack down on dissenting voices. And so I think that’s why this story isn’t just about me or MintPress, it’s really about everybody who might challenge the government or the national security state or corporate America in anything they do, this really should be a warning shot a warning sign to everybody there.
Mickey Huff: Well, Alan MacLeod. I agree about the shot across the bow, but how many warning signs will we need in order to understand that big tech is a global force? The digital realm is basically controlled by totally unaccountable corporations. They have extraordinary influence on governments in many cases, their [00:08:00] power transcends many global governments. And what you’re saying here is very curious too, about PayPal, is that basically they’re saying that if it’s in their account, it’s their money until you take it out. And this is related to a couple of other warning signs. We saw a number of years ago when Twitter deplatformed people like Alex Jones, to much applause from the liberal class, only to then turn around and deplatform hundreds of progressive left and anti-war and pro-peace sites. We saw Twitter do it again with Trump. Again, applause from the liberal class, and we’re now seeing in the Biden administration the creation in the Department of Homeland Security, their own ministry of truth, their Disinformation Governance Board. You can’t even make this up, it’s so Orwellian. It seems that now government is working hand in hand with big tech for the last several years, government in the United States has been asking big tech to censor these voices and to weed out what they call fake news purveyors online and the real problem there is that while there certainly is disinformation online, Alan MacLeod, and you know that well, that we really paint [00:09:00] broadly with the brush here. That if they’re just going to start throwing around labels like conspiracy or labels like “that’s disinformation” or misinformation without actually having to provide evidence and having the power to just silence these voices without any means to challenge it. Haven’t we had a bunch of warnings over the last several years, if I’m not mistaken, and maybe you agree, I’d like to hear, do you think that this has ramped up significantly? And do you think that this is even a more egregious and more in your face example of the types of censorship that we’re going to be seeing in, in months?
Alan MacLeod: Yeah. In the 1990s and 2000s, a lot of people really saw the internet as a liberatory force, where we could find alternative views or find or create homes where we could build audiences and really challenge what people read in newspapers or saw on the television and to a certain extent, that was true. It was certainly wasn’t some sort of golden age where, everybody was sitting around a campfire singing kumbaya and reading Chomsky or something like that. [00:10:00] But certainly in the last few years we have seen, as you said, a number of warning signs hitting us that perhaps the internet is not quite as free as we think. PayPal, of course suspended the account of WikiLeaks many years ago, stopped anybody being able to donate money to them. And in the wake of Trump’s incredible 2016 election victory, I think we saw these algorithmic censorship campaign really dialed up to 11. There was a Washington post article which detailed how this new website, proper or not, which purported to be a group of independent internet experts who had identified and published a list of over 200 websites that routinely pedaled Russian disinformation. And they basically insinuated that that was the reason that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election. Not her own unpopularity, not the fact that she stuck the knife into Bernie Sanders, not the fact that she didn’t campaign in Wisconsin or Michigan or any of these key [00:11:00] battleground states. The fact of the matter was for them that it was that Russian disinformation that did it. And this list of 200 websites included a lot of libertarian ventures like the Ron Paul Institute and antiwar.com. It also had Trump supporting websites like the Drudge Report on there. And there was also a lot of left-wing, anti-war, pro-peace websites like MintPress News, Consortium News was also on there, the Black Agenda Report, Truthout, Truthdig. It was so many of us on there and basically what they said, in no uncertain terms, was that if you criticize Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the United States, the war machine, or NATO, or even express fear of a nuclear war with Russia then that is a key sign that what you’re reading is Russian disinformation.
Mickey Huff: Craig Timberg is the guy that wrote that article and he came out of the national security state complex as well. And Marty Baron, who was editor at the WaPo at that time before this was even factually vetted, the editor at the Washington [00:12:00] Post was crowing about how great this piece from Timberg was and what an important piece of information it was and it turned out to be completely bogus.
Alan MacLeod: Months later, once the horse had bolted from the stable, they put this very long disclaimer saying, we don’t actually know very much about this, this is their idea, it’s not us, we’re not doing this. But the fact of the matter is this went super viral, it got more than a million shares, it was picked up by dozens of other outlets and it formed the basis of what Google called Project Owl, which was a widespread change of their algorithms to support what they called, I can’t remember their exact words, but “credible sources,” and derank, delist, demote, and in some cases even delete what they called fringe opinions. And the effect of this was enormous and also overnight. So we saw a complete collapse in traffic for alternative media across the board. MintPress News lost around 90% of its Google traffic, even very well-known sites like Democracy Now lost 36%. [00:13:00] The Intercept lost 19%. Even slightly left of center publications like The Nation and Mother Jones were also hit really bad by this algorithmic suppression. And what we find out now, a little while later, is that this PropOrNot organization was almost certainly a creation of the Atlantic Council, which is a NATO think tank. So we have a situation where this NATO think tank is saying, oh, there’s a lot of state disinformation online, and we have to save you from it. This is state propaganda about state propaganda, in effect. And over the last few years, not just Google, but big social media apps like Twitter, TikTok, like Reddit. Have all changed their algorithms in order to promote establishment sources and delist alternative media websites, which has meant that the internet is very much turned much more into a mainstream corporate friendly realm than it was even six years ago. People used to go to [00:14:00] the web to try and get an alternative to what they saw on television. But now its increasingly hard to get any sort of alternative whatsoever. And what’s even more worrying is how groups like NATO are embedding themselves within big tech platforms like Facebook and TikTok, with their agents getting key positions in these organizations.
Mickey Huff: The Atlantic Council was functioning as a fact checker for Facebook. So this is very problematic, so we would definitely want to talk a little bit more about that. But before we do so, just want to remind our listeners: you’re tuned to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio, I’m your host Mickey Huff. We are speaking with Alan MacLeod from MintPress News, and we will return to this conversation after this brief musical break, stay with us.[00:15:00]
Welcome back to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host Mickey Huff. Today in this segment, we are talking with Alan MacLeod. Alan MacLeod has been a guest on this program several times before. He is a senior staff writer for MintPress News. He’s published with numerous other outlets, including Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Gray Zone, The Guardian, Salon, and others. And before the break, we were talking about the many nefarious, insidious, big tech ways that we have seen a clamp down on the internet, a clamp down on free expression. This is definitely something that we refer to as censorship at Project Censored, and Alan MacLeod, before the break, you were going to start getting a little more specific about how [00:16:00] some of these groups do this online, and again, I also want to remind our listeners that if you want to read some of Alan MacLeod’s recent work, you can go to mintpressnews.com. He has a piece on “An Intellectual No-Fly Zone: Online Censorship of Ukraine Dissent is Becoming the New Norm.” That’s one of the pieces that he’s written there more recently. And of course there’s another piece from not long ago called “The NATO to TikTok Pipeline: Why is TikTok Employing So Many National Security Agents?” So, much to unpack here, Alan, but go ahead and pick up where we left off.
Alan MacLeod: Well, I guess we can start with TikTok then. You might remember around 2020, there was this real panic in the national security state and then corporate media that TikTok was this Chinese app that was propagandizing our teens and, turning them into communists or whatever. And there was this big push from the Trump administration to actually simply ban and delete TikTok altogether, but then very suddenly that narrative just got dropped like a hot stone and it [00:17:00] really had a lot of people scratching their heads as to why. The more and more I looked at who was being employed by TikTok and who was being appointed to keep positions in TikTok right after this ban was rescinded, it started to get a little clearer. So for the last three years, or two years or so, TikTok has been employing a worrying number of national security state agents in key positions, especially in content moderation. So for example, the content policy lead for TikTok Canada, Alexander Corbeil, is also the vice president of the NATO Association of Canada, which is a NATO-funded organization that’s headed up by a former Canadian Minister of Defense. There’s also global policy manager at TikTok, Ayse Koçak. Before joining TikTok, she went through three years at NATO. She actually spent an entire year in Iraq as some sort of lead for NATO. It’s news to me that NATO was even in Iraq. Perhaps the most worrying NATO alumnus from a public perspective is Greg Andersen, who’s a [00:18:00] feature policy manager there. According to his own LinkedIn profile, Andersen worked on, quote, “psychological operations for NATO,” and then seamlessly went into a job with TikTok. And it really leaves me scratching my head as to why somebody who is working on, PSYOPs and, you know, public manipulation at a national security state organization like NATO, would just be parachuted into TikTok. Unfortunately, this is not just a problem with TikTok. As you alluded to before Facebook, now called Meta, has a very close relationship with NATO. In 2018 it announced a partnership with the Atlantic Council, which is NATO’s think tank. The Atlantic Council had helped curate everybody’s newsfeeds, which means nearly 3 billion people around the world have their newsfeeds designed, more or less, by this NATO organization, which means that they decide what you see, what you don’t see, what news is promoted, what news is demoted. Not only that, Facebook’s head of [00:19:00] intelligence is Ben Nimmo, who was a former NATO press officer, and also works at the Atlantic Council as well. Reddit’s director of policy is Jessica Ashooh, who spent many years at the Atlantic Council and also worked for the government of the United Arab Emirates. It seems that she was, coordinating the dirty war against Syria in the middle east for a number of years and went straight from this extremely hawkish, mandarin position and dropped into a sort of antiestablishment tech company where she designs policy. It seems very head-scratching indeed. And I think once you put these pieces together, we can start thinking about these big media outlets as increasingly appendages of the state. And that’s precisely what people like [Jared] Cohen and an Eric Schmidt wrote about in their book nearly 10 years ago. They’re Google executives and they talked about how, in the 20th century, Lockheed Martin was the tip of the spear for the American empire, but in the [00:20:00] 21st century, big tech companies like Google, they wrote, will be that weapon. And so they really see online operations and psychological warfare as the new battleground, and I think this is the sort of early salvoes of what’s going on here. The first shots are being fired.
Mickey Huff: We say early, but for those of us, you obviously included, who’ve been paying attention. If this is an early stage, we’re in for a long dark ride and you, by the way, in your MintPress piece, it’s not just NATO. You talk about Chris Roberts, you talk about you want to talk a little bit about a couple of the other folks or the couple of other people. And this is, again it sounds really banal in some ways, when people look over this and they see, oh, somebody is a senior director of technology policy at the Albright Stonebridge Group. What does that actually mean? Who is, who are we talking about? Of course you then say that’s the late secretary of state Madeline Albright. Who is Chris Roberts? Before that they’re working at the national democratic Institute. That sounds nice until you unpack for us, what do these kinds of organizations do? [00:21:00] The adjective shadowy was oft used to describe what was happening at PropOrNot, which you referenced earlier. One might say that these organizations, they kind of operate in the shadows. It’s quote, “in the open” if you’re looking, but you have to be attuned to know where to look, how to look, and follow who these people are to understand what the significance is, which is, I think one of the high points of the work that you do is the dot connecting that you do, Alan MacLeod. So can you maybe talk a little bit more about some of these folks?
Alan MacLeod: Yeah, sure. You mentioned Roberts and his connections to the Albright Stonebridge Group, who basically are the think tank, which provided the bulk of Joe Biden’s cabinet, frankly, they’re all members of the Albright Stonebridge Group. Before that he worked at the National Democratic Institute, which was set up by the Reagan administration as a front group for the CIA to do what they call democracy promotion, but maybe people in Latin America or Eastern Europe or Asia might call overthrowing our government. I don’t know. You can look into that if you want. There’s also ex-CIA men being put [00:22:00] into important positions in TikTok. For instance, from that piece, Beau Patteson is working as a threat analyst for a TikTok, but between 2017 and 2020, he was a targeting analyst for the CIA, after which he joined the state department, and he’s currently an active duty military intelligence officer for the U.S. Army while simultaneously serving as a senior role in content moderation and trust and safety in TikTok. So the idea that TikTok is some sort of Chinese-controlled app, maybe if you’re being very generous, that might’ve been true a few years ago, but right now, I think that’s just not the case. It was actually somebody who worked for the Department of Homeland Security, Victoria McCullough, who then went on to work in the White House for Obama, literally in the White House, and she is now a senior person at TikTok as well, again, in this area of trust and security, which is basically the department which decides what people who are [00:23:00] using TikTok and there are more than 1.2 billion users now, actually see and don’t see. And you might think TikTok is some sort of like fun place where people just go to, watch crazy dance memes or something, but in fact, an enormous amount of people actually use TikTok for news. So for instance, I believe 9% of all people worldwide aged between 18 and 24 said they used TikTok in the last week to get news. And 31% of the same age group actually used it. So they’re probably imbibing news anyway. So this is an enormously important platform, far more important than New York Times, or CNN, or the Wall Street Journal or anything like that. This thing reaches more than a billion people every week. And so that is obviously a reason why the national security state would want to do business with it.
Mickey Huff: And these aren’t secrets. You have to look to find it, but it’s not a secret that Facebook partnered with the Atlantic Council to quote, “protect democracy,” as you put in your article and in [00:24:00] fact, you use the term “Surveillance Valley” rather than Silicon Valley. We started this with the PayPal flap, the controlling of funds to shut down antiestablishment organizations or anti-war organizations, the kind of journalism you’re doing at places like MintPress. Peter Thiel is one of the people that has been floating behind the scenes for long time. Anything you want to say about Thiel and his politics?
Alan MacLeod: I don’t know too much about Peter Thiel, I better look into him, but I know he’s got some very weird politics, both internationally and personally. I believe he was paying people to inject him with the blood of teenagers because he thought that would make him live perhaps forever or at least prolong his life, so he’s got some very odd opinions, that’s for sure.
Mickey Huff: On the more libertarian side of the spectrum, for sure, but has definitely had a lot of very authoritarian kind of ideas about the control of technology. And you also, in this same piece, you talk about Mockingbird 2.0. Listeners to this program though, we’ve long talked about CIA media manipulation programs the mighty wurlitzer. We saw this in the Church Committee hearings in the [00:25:00] 1970s. Carl Bernstein, Watergate fame, wrote an article for Rolling Stone in 1977, talking about some 400 individuals considered assets, including the owner of the New York Times. We’re hearing a lot of these people in the corporate media, establishment media talk about the dangers of disinformation, right along with government, the Biden administration, echoing “we’ve got to lasso people back in.” CNN+ was just this epic failure. This epic failure that CNN launched that they were trying to capture more streaming audiences and so on. And the problem we discover as Nolan Higdon recently wrote is not really the medium, it’s the message. People are tuning out of corporate media because it’s less and less relevant to what’s going on in their lives. And more and more people begin, even though they’re effected by the propaganda, more and more people are turning to other platforms. And as part of this attacking of these other platforms, and using big tech to shut down alternative platforms, is a way to corral audiences. And so that’s been one of the new challenges, but in many ways, that is an extension of the kind of information control programs we saw [00:26:00] coming out of the Cold War. Alan MacLeod:
Alan MacLeod: I agree with the Biden administration and with all the CNN analysts who say that fake news and disinformation is a real problem, but I think we have to go beyond the idea of fake news just being the purview of some Macedonian teenager, writing on Facebook, or your crazy aunt in Ohio who talks about the lizard people or whatever. The most damaging fake news and disinformation of the last, let’s say 20 years, I think was clearly the sort of disinformation that led to the Iraq War, whereby outlets like the New York Times and CNN spread the dangerous hoax that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that really lied the public into supporting these heinous wars that have destroyed an entire region of the world and killed millions of people. That is the real damaging fake news. And it was damaging because outlets like the New York Times and CNN have this enormous platform and this enormous credibility. Not only that, because they partnered with the national security state in putting out this [00:27:00] nonsense. And it wasn’t so long ago that the New York Times actually admitted that they often send articles to the government for vetting before they publish them, articles on national security matters, just in case there’s something in there that might embarrass the government. And even if you turn on cable news, you will see so many people who are former CIA agents, former DIA agents, people who worked for the FBI, DNI, et cetera. Now they’re well-paid pundits or military generals who are brought on to wax lyrical about what Russia is doing. These people should be being seriously scrutinized, not being given platforms to spread what might be disinformation or false news, or at least wild speculation, to an audience of millions. So, this is really the problem. In the 1970s, the CIA was really doing this undercover. The Church Committee totally blew this apart and the CIA’s credibility was destroyed for decades, but now what’s going on is it’s almost much more outrageous in a way that they’re doing it [00:28:00] completely out in the open, and they’re just showing you what’s going on. And very few people are really connecting the dots or even raising any sort of alarm that some of the people who have spent decades in organizations where they are paid to lie and manipulate the public are now being treated as these unquestionable sages when it comes to international affairs, it really is opposite world, it’s like we’re living in some sort of upside down dystopia, frankly.
Mickey Huff: Alan MacLeod, anywhere you want to tell people where they can follow you, contact or see the other work that you do.
Alan MacLeod: Follow me on mintpressnews.com or if you’re on Twitter or Instagram, I’m on there @AlanRMacLeod on Twitter, or @alan.r.macleod at Instagram.
Mickey Huff: Alan MacLeod, thank you very much for joining us today.
That was my conversation with Alan MacLeod of MintPress News. Up next on The Project Censored Show, Shealeigh Voitl and Steve Macek talk about how the media ignores important stories about gender violence and inequity. Stay tuned.[00:29:00]
Welcome to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host Mickey Huff today in the program in this segment, we’re going to talk about “The News That Didn’t Make the News: How the Media Ignores Important Stories About Gender Violence [00:30:00] and Inequity.” This is actually the title of a piece that was written by Steve Macek and Shealeigh Voitl, both of whom work with us at Project Censored, both of whom have been contributors to our annual books. Many chapters. This article was published by Ms. Magazine. And we give great thanks too, to our publicist Lorna Gaurano for getting this very important work out there and at Project Censored, we were really honored that Steve and Shealeigh were able to not only do this piece, but get it really widely distributed, and of course, right now this is more timely and topical maybe ever, at least certainly in contemporary American politics, we’re going to get into that, of course. But first Shealeigh Voitl is a recent graduate North Central College outside of Chicago, Illinois. Shealeigh studied journalism there, and she is a research associate with Project Censored and a contributor to State of the Free Press 2022, which is the project’s most [00:31:00] recent yearbook. We are also joined by Steve Macek, professor of communication and chair of the department of communication and media studies at North Central College. He is coordinator, along with Andy Lee Roth, of Project Censored’s campus affiliate program, and he contributed to State of the Free Press 2022, the project’s most recent yearbook, but many others. And Steve of course has been on with us before, but we are delighted to welcome both Shealeigh Voitl and Steve Macek to The Project Censored Show today, so, welcome to the two of you.
Shealeigh Voitl: Hi.
Steve Macek: Thanks so much.
Mickey Huff: It’s an honor to have both of you here, and Steve and Shealeigh, I know you’re both working on the next Project Censored book as we here are speaking, but earlier in April, and I’m going to cite again, msmagazine.com, April 4th, 2022, Shealeigh and Steve have an article: “The News That Didn’t Make the News.” that’s the tagline riffing on Project Censored and underreported stories. So guess what Shealeigh and Steve talk about? They talk about how the media, the corporate media legacy establishment press ignore [00:32:00] important stories about gender violence and inequity. And so each year, of course, at the project, we list the news stories that went underreported in the for-profit news media. Many of these stories involve violence against women, trans- and homophobia and related topics. So what they wrote this article in hopes of doing is what can we do to promote gender equity in the news media? So Steve Macek, let’s start with you. What went into the beginnings of this and what helped you focus on this very significant, important and timely subject?
Steve Macek: That’s a great question, Mickey, and thanks again for having me and Shealeigh on the show to talk about this important issue. As you referenced, I’ve been working with the project for a while. I have students in my classes routinely research, validate independent news stories, and some of their stories have gotten selected for the Project Censored top 25. I’ve been reading the Project Censored yearbooks [00:33:00] probably going back to the 1990s. I know going back to the 1990s, because I used to work at an independent bookstore and we would get the projects yearbook in every year and I would read it and then I started assigning it to my students and my media criticism class. And one of the things that you notice, if you follow the project’s work every year and you look at the top 25 list every year is that there are certain patterns that emerge in stories that the corporate media does a pretty horrible job of covering one of them, that I know I’ve written about with Andy Lee Roth, is coverage of labor issues. They do a horrific job of that, and they do a horrible job of covering stories related to the environment and environmental degradation and global climate change. But I think they also do a pretty horrible job of covering stories that have to do with systematic gender inequality, with gender violence and [00:34:00] gender inequity. If you ask most casual consumers of corporate news media, they would probably say lately the corporate media have been paying a lot of attention to these issues. The corporate media over the last four or five years have been full of stories related to the #MeToo movement, there have been stories about violence and abuse and harassment by powerful men in all sorts of industries, including the broadcasting media and film industry. So most people I think would believe that the corporate media has done a very good job of covering these stories. But as somebody who’s looked at the top 25 lists year in and year out, but I can tell you that there are a lot of important stories related to violence against women, harassment of women, gender inequity, gender inequality that simply aren’t showing up in the New York Times and the big broadcast news outlets, ABC, CBS, NBC CNN. And so Shealeigh when she was hired on as the research associate for this. And I talked about maybe [00:35:00] doing an op-ed or an article that looked back at some of the stories that have been on the list that have been overlooked by the corporate media that dealt with this crucial problem. So that was the genesis of this article is that I have been noticing this pattern for a long time, just looking at all the different top 25 lists. And we felt that it was worth investigating, using the top 25 lists to investigate what stories were being ignored and marginalized, and then ask the question, why is this happening? What are the structural, economic and other organizational institutional forces inside the corporate media that are leading them to marginalize or ignore or overlook these stories? And then what, if anything, can we do to change this?
Mickey Huff: Absolutely Steve and thanks so much. That was a fabulous outline of a pretty lengthy article that really goes into a lot of detail. Shealeigh Voitl, let’s bring you in here now and talk about this. What kind of stories are we talking [00:36:00] about here? Maybe you have some examples?
Shealeigh Voitl: The mainstream media often overlook stories that center poor women of color, as well as other intersecting marginalized identities and the corporate media loves stories about women’s issues that can be summarized with a striking photo, like the Handmaid’s tale costumes on the steps of the Senate office building during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. It’s not that these stories aren’t important or newsworthy, because they are, but it’s that even the attention, the establishment press pays to those kinds of stories, ones that are sensationalized and frankly, dystopian are still fleeting. And so you have to wonder what was still left in the dark and what are we not hearing and what are we not seeing and who needs our help. And one of the stories that we highlighted in our article, for instance, which was included in the project’s 2019/2020 list of top 25 stories [00:37:00] was a report by ThinkProgress about the wave of violence against Indigenous women and girls. And there are, despite all of the missing cases and violence, there is still no federal database to record cases of missing Native women and girls, including Two Spirit or non-binary identities. And so the lack of coverage and reporting on this crisis sends a very clear message to native people that their pain and trauma and abuse is just not considered newsworthy, and that just perpetuates violence against Indigenous people.
Mickey Huff: There’s also an intersectional component here. You’ve already delved into it. In this case you’re talking about that particular story, which was the top story from the censored ’21, State of the Free Press 2021, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. So we’re now talking about age diversity as well, very young people, women of color, and in many cases, these people are [00:38:00] also from poor marginalized communities as well. And so you kind of have that trifecta of what do the corporate media not cover well, unless they’re covering it sensationally or to buttress another one of their Trojan horse agendas. If the corporate press covers the poor it’s because it’s the problem of the poor and the burden on the capitalist system like Steve would talk about with labor, why do they attack labor? They don’t really write about labor in a positive way, the corporate media. But what we saw in the past year, and with the flip over to the Biden administration, we did see a Native American woman elevated to the Department of the Interior. We did see a little bit more attention initially paid to it, but the big problem, and Steve, I know you can talk about this, the big problem is the corporate media love to do that because they like to then hang their hat on it and say: “well, we covered it January 21st and we’re good to go.” So Steve chime in about that issue.
Steve Macek: I think you’re absolutely right. I think that the corporate media, to the degree that they cover stories about [00:39:00] impoverished or racially minoritized women, for example, they practice tokenism and it’s really crass tokenism. There’s not a systematic investigation of the inequities, the oppression facing, especially, as Shealeigh and I write about in the piece, especially impoverished and racially minoritized women. So one of the stories that Shealeigh and I also talk about in the piece that I absolutely want to mention, because I think it’s such a striking story and it was virtually invisible in corporate media, was a story from Project Censored’s 2020/2021 list about the work that was done by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and this academic organization, Sterilization and Social Justice Lab to draw attention to the huge number of disabled [00:40:00] women and women of color and incarcerated women who were sterilized without their consent in the 20th century. According to reports that appeared in Ms. Magazine and in Yes Magazine and some other independent publications, upwards of 30,000 women in the 20th century were sterilized against their consent and this practice actually continued and continues to this day inside of some of America’s prisons and immigration detention centers, and a number of groups have been trying to draw attention to this, and really only the independent media covered it. The corporate media, there were a couple of scattered reports, so there was an isolated report in CNN, an isolated report in the Washington Post. A few local network-affiliated television stations covered it, but really this effort to [00:41:00] publicize the scale of the mass sterilizations that have taken place, forced sterilizations that have taken place, really did not register with the corporate media nor did the effort in California to try to compensate some of the victims of forced sterilization, because in the state of California, there’s been a legislative initiative to try to compensate people who were victims of forced sterilization. So this is something that is horrific to think about. We associate forced sterilizations with Nazi Germany and other barbaric, authoritarian regimes and this took place in the United States and it affected upwards of 30,000 people. The fact that the corporate media is not talking about this is just stunning.
Mickey Huff: 10 years ago, and you wrote this in the piece, you both wrote about the electronic Intifada piece on Palestinian women, this happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shealeigh, did you want to come in and talk about some of these other examples?
Shealeigh Voitl: There was that [00:42:00] story, the mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons, it was pretty shocking. Because of the occupation in the West Bank, because of that, women were not able to see their families, they were mistreated during childbirth. It was brutal to read these stories and obviously that was an older story for the project, but is more relevant today, obviously with recent news. For me, writing this article, especially, and going over some of these stories with Steve during the process of writing it. It’s still, as a woman, knowing how our stories are overlooked in the corporate media, still shocking and disheartening and frightening, frankly, not knowing how much out there we’re not hearing about. So that was definitely one that was startling.
Mickey Huff: I’d like to take this opportunity to remind our listeners you’re tuned to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio, I’m your host Mickey [00:43:00] Huff. Eleanor Goldfield will return as a co-host later on in May. Right now we’re speaking with Shealeigh Voitl and Steve Macek co-authors of a piece published April 4th, earlier this year, for Ms. Magazine. The title of the article is “The News That Didn’t Make the News: How the Media Ignores Important Stories About Gender Violence and Inequity,” and we will continue our conversation about this issue and many others related after this brief musical break. Stay with us.
Mickey Huff: [00:44:00] Welcome back to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio, I’m your host Mickey Huff. Today on the program, in this segment, we are speaking with media scholars Steve Macek, and Shealeigh Voitl. Quick reintroduction here: Steve Macek is a long-time contributor of Project Censored. Steve Macek is Professor of Communication and Chair of Department of Communications and Media Studies at North Central College, outside of Chicago. He’s also Project Censored’s campus affiliate program coordinator with Andy Lee Roth, And again, a long time contributor. Shealeigh Voitl, recent graduate of North Central College is also an intern with us at Project Censored, contributed to our last book, is contributing to the one that we’re actually writing right now. Censorship is everywhere, and today we’re focusing on this article for Ms. Magazine that these two focused on the way the corporate media cover or don’t cover women’s issues, issues around gender violence and the like. Shealeigh Voitl, something else here in the article, and then of course we want to weigh in on some current events.
Shealeigh Voitl: We did mention in the article and [00:45:00] the story about how black children, despite accounting for 33% of total missing children cases in the United States, only make up 20% of news stories. It is interesting because we were just introduced to this phenomenon of missing white woman syndrome and how Gabby Petito received so much coverage for such a long time. And obviously it was important to have that coverage, but it makes you think.
Mickey Huff: So Shealeigh Voitl, since we did introduce the latest news of the leak from the Supreme court.
Shealeigh Voitl: It’s terrifying. It’s very scary and obviously would not stop abortions, it would stop safe abortions. I think that’s very clear, that if this decision happens, it will kill people and the Supreme court and politicians in the United States, knowing that, being fully aware of that fact, that people will die as a result of this decision and making it anyway, is horrifying. It’s [00:46:00] scary when you see people in the news saying I have a daughter and I have a sister and I have a mother and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Cause it’s, you should care regardless of your proximity to women. It affects all of us and women dying as a result of this decision should scare you.
Mickey Huff: So well put. Steve Macek.
Steve Macek: It’s very important and I’ll just say nobody wanted to believe that the court would actually do this, but it was clear that when Donald Trump was reviewing his nominees for the Supreme Court, that he was using a litmus test, he asked them whether they’d be willing to overturn Roe v. Wade, and he packed the court with people who are willing to make this decision, which as Shealeigh correctly points out, is going to kill people. People are going to die as a result of this decision and many thousands more, tens of thousands more, maybe even hundreds of thousands more lives are going to be ruined because [00:47:00] of this decision. And yet we sort of knew that this was coming in some ways, and actually I want to make reference to some Project Censored stories that we covered, that Project Censored highlighted in past years. So if you go back to Censored 2020, which was the censored stories from 2019/2020 The number eight story, I believe in Censored 2020 was U.S. women faced prison sentences for miscarriages, about how states like Alabama were passing laws that will essentially endow fetuses with personhood rights for the first time and potentially result in hundreds of women facing prosecution for the outcomes of their pregnancies. So if they have miscarriages and they can’t prove that these were natural miscarriages, they could be sent to jail for having an illegal abortion. So that was our number eight story that year, and then the following [00:48:00] year the number 23 story on Project Censored’s top 25 list was “The Global Gag Rule Continues to Compromise women’s Health Around the World,” about how the Trump administration reimposed a gag rule, which basically said that any nonprofit NGO around the world that gets aid from the United States cannot discuss abortion with any of their clients. And this is something that Ronald Reagan initially put in, and then it was repealed when Clinton came in and it kept going back and forth. But Donald Trump put in the most stringent restriction on the ability of public health officials who get any kind of funding from the U.S. around the world to talk about abortion with their clients, and that should have been a sign. These two stories. It should have been a sign that this is what was coming down the road. So I think if you were paying attention to the independent media and to the alternative press and their reporting on women’s [00:49:00] reproductive health, you would know that the Trump administration and the current Republican party planned to end Roe, and they do not want women to have control over their own bodies, bottom line. You would have known that if you had been reading those stories and so I think the corporate media is in part to blame. I’m not suggesting they didn’t dig into Amy Coney Barrett’s past when she was appointed or Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on these issues. But I think if they had been reporting on some of the stories that Project Censored highlighted, people would be more aware that Roe was so tenuous.
Mickey Huff: You both write in this article at Ms. Magazine from April 4th, we’ll link it to the program when it goes up, you both write about, what’s behind this kind of coverage. You rightly say, The New York Times, there’s a woman there, there’s a woman at The Washington Post and the leadership positions of USA Today and so on, but far outnumbered are women in these key roles in the upper echelons of management at commercial news outlets, also tilts [00:50:00] male. You both included these amazing statistics in here to really paint a picture, and Shealeigh Voitl, we’re going to talk about more things we can do about these kinds of situations to improve media coverage and improve conditions for women just in general, across the board as a human rights issue. And you rightly pointed that out earlier. You all say here, even when you’re looking at the boards of directors of the eight major media companies, a few years ago it was between 8% and 33% of the board members were women, that was it. So far out numbered in the boards, far out numbered in the management. 2020, only 19% of TV general managers were women, on and on. And again, I want people to go read the article because it’s got so much great information in it, and it’s a fantastic teaching tool by the way, to bring this kind of thing into multiple disciplines and give people the opportunity to really discuss and debate real issues in real time. But Shealeigh Voitl, how do we promote gender equity in news?
Shealeigh Voitl: We go over a lot of different things we can do. I’m sure Steve can talk about this as well, but inclusivity just has to be a [00:51:00] priority. There were recent initiatives, like the 50:50 Project, which was developed by the BBC and that sort of set out to guarantee that at least 50% of BBC contributors were women. And then by April 2019, which was like a year after, it was set up 74% of BBC contributors were women. So it is imperative in newsrooms. Simply put, in many cases women and journalists of color are just better equipped to address certain interests and needs of the communities that their news organization serves. I mean, this benefits, obviously the readers greatly, but it also benefits the news outlets as well as they’re expanding their readership and that puts money in their pockets too. So why wouldn’t they want that?
Mickey Huff: Incentive.
Shealeigh Voitl: There is incentive, and I guess you have to look at it that way because nothing is waking them up I guess. But it’s true. It’s important for people to be seen and heard in the news and that’s [00:52:00] just one way, but yeah, I’m sure Steve has some thoughts on that as well.
Steve Macek: As we say in the article, as Shealeigh and I write in the article, one of the things, one of the basic things people can do is to support independent feminist journalism, where it exists. That’s publications like Women’s eNews, Ms. Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Rewire News Group. Rewire News Group I think is especially relevant right now. It’s a new site that specializes in reporting about women’s health issues and women’s reproductive rights. Incredibly important outlet. Those four outlets are all kind of non-profit. They don’t take advertising they’re supported by foundations and donations for the most part. So people should not only read the reporting read their content, which is excellent, but they should also contribute money because they will only survive if people contribute money because they are not getting subsidies from [00:53:00] advertisers. And I think that’s one of the most important things we can do because one of the things we point out, Shealeigh and I point out in this article, is that even when women’s voices are included in the corporate media, oftentimes they’re not talking about issues from a feminist perspective. So one of the studies that we cite in the article discusses the fact that like 1 out of 10 women who are writing on the editorial or opinions pages about issues or approaching issues from an explicitly feminist point of view. So I think there’s a real value in providing financial support for explicitly feminist journalism and media outlets. The other thing, and this may sound self interested since I’m involved in Project Censored, people should give their support to media monitoring organizations that do the work of pointing out the kinds of stories that corporate media are overlooking, and that includes organizations like Project Censored, but also Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, [00:54:00] GLAAD, the Women’s Media Center. There are many worthy media monitoring organizations that do the work of trying to hold the corporate media accountable for the kinds of representations they put out in the world.
Mickey Huff: That’s why it’s important people support community media and community radio. We go out to 50 some stations across the country, we’re back on WBAI in New York. This is just such a vital resource where you hear all these voices. And again, people listening to this program are like, what do you mean we hear about women’s issues we hear about these shows. That’s because you’re tuned into this station or these kinds of media. And Steve, you just rattled off a list of others. And I think that’s really a fantastic takeaway from the Ms. Magazine article that you both did. Congratulations again, it’s a fabulously important article. Again, I’ve been speaking with Steve Macek and Shealeigh Voitl. The article is titled “The News that Didn’t Make the News: How the Media Ignores Important Stories About Gender Violence and Inequity.” Reminder, Steve Macek is a Professor of Communication, a Chair of the Department of Communications at North Central College. Shealeigh Voitl is a recent graduate from there, where she studied [00:55:00] journalism. She is a research associate with us at Project Censored and last, but certainly not least I wanted to point out that Shealeigh is also an artist and a musician and has recently released some more music, and the music that you heard earlier on the break, Shealeigh gave us permission to play. So it’s not enough just to support women in journalism, women in the arts we need to do, we need to be doing this everywhere we can, and especially supporting our young people. So, thank you so much, Shealeigh, thank you, Steve, not just for your work but for taking the time to come on here today. So it’s been a pleasure and I’m sure you’ll be back on. Thanks so much for being here with us.
Shealeigh Voitl: Thank you.
Mickey Huff: You’ve been listening to The Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio, established in 2010 by myself and Peter Phillips. I’m Mickey Huff, [00:56:00] the executive producer and host of the program. Anthony Fest is our long time senior producer, The Project Censored Show airs on roughly 50 stations around the United States, from Maui to New York. To learn more about our work or find any of our previous archived programs go to projectcensored.org. Please follow and like us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and be sure to subscribe to the official Project Censored Show on your cell phone’s podcast application. Please feel free to share your feedback about our work at projectcensored.org. And last but not least thanks to you, our listeners, for tuning in. Stay well, we’ll see you next time.[00:57:00]