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Book Review: Project Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News

Washington on $10 Million a Day: How Lobbyists Plunder the Nation by Ken Silverstein. Common Courage Press

Project Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News, by Peter Phillips and Project Censored. Seven Stories Press.

Prison activists and others who seek reforms within the current political-economic structure have to come to terms with two overriding facts about the American political system: that money has a commanding influence on politics and the range of acceptable political discourse is kept very narrow by the corporate media. Two recent books do an excellent job at describing and outlining how these processes take place. While not "prison books," anyone engaged in political activism should read them.

In Washington on $10 Million a Day investigative reporter Ken Silverstein gives detailed example after example on how corporate lobbying gives birth to, shapes and even kills legislation. With 40,000 to 80,000 lobbyists working in Washington D.C. alone, Silverstein shows how the rich buy access and influence to advance their interests at every step of the legislative and regulatory process. He also provides useful comparisons between lobbying and political campaign contributions to politicians. In 1996 Phillip Morris, the tobacco company, spent $19.6 million on lobbying and only $4.2 million on campaign contributions. The money invested in lobbying pays off handsomely in terms of tax write offs, legislation, government contracts, policy changes and foreign policy.

One congressional staffer summed up the influence of lobbyists and their money by stating that in his decades on Capitol Hill he'd never seen an issue decided on the merits, it was always by pay offs and lobbying. Many prison reform groups tout organizing and voting as a means by which to change current criminal justice policies. So far that has garnered little in the way of results. The poor people impacted by current criminal justice policies rarely vote and as Silverstein documents, even if they did it wouldn't make much of a difference. Unlike corporations and the wealthy, poor people can't afford to hire lobbyists or make a lot of campaign contributions to politicians and even rarely have the access to the political process that money buys. Washington provides a real world look at how laws and policies are made in the United States, like sausage making, it's not a pretty sight. The book names names and tells it like it is.

The main shortcoming with Washington is that for a book about lobbying it doesn't mention AIPAC, the American Israeli Political Action Campaign, which is one of the most feared lobbying groups in Washington D.C. By focusing on corporate and foreign government lobbyists the book ignores the role of powerful governmental and quasi governmental groups that exert an extremely strong influence on government policy, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, the FBI, National Association of Attorney Generals, etc. Maybe that will be the subject of another book.

If the perception of reality is more important than reality itself then the role the media plays in shaping those perceptions are crucial. Since 1976 Project Censored had devoted itself to examining the role of the media in the U.S. Each year they publish The News That Didn't Make the News, The Year's Top 25 Censored Stories . Typically these are important public interest stories that received little or no coverage in the corporate media. Instead of Monica Lewinsky's penchant for presidential fellatio, the corporate media could have, but didn't, report stories like Death Behind Bars , which details inadequate medical care for women prisoners in California; that American companies lead the world in the internal use and export of torture devices; that the FBI is "sloppy, out of touch and very powerful." Project Censored details these and other stories that didn't get much coverage in the U.S. media.

In addition to censored stories, the book details the ongoing concentration of the mass media into the hands of a few corporate conglomerates, resulting in an even narrower range of political discourse, news coverage and self censorship and homogeneity in the media. The book also documents the "myth of the liberal media," junk food news, the government releasing less information than ever before on its activities and a review of current books on media analysis, censorship and the First Amendment.

The book also contains extensive resources on independent publications, media and journalism groups as well as listings for national media outlets. This alone makes it an invaluable resource for activists, independent journalists, as well as readers who simply want to expand their informational horizons. The publications directory also notes which ones accept freelance submissions and which ones pay. Each year I get the latest copy of Project Censored and use it as PLN 's media directory. I find it extremely practical and useful.

Washington on $10 Million a Day and Project Censored are flip sides of the same policy coin. Both are highly recommended to people trying to understand how the system works to maintain the status quo. Washington normally retails for $22.95. However, as a special offer for PLN readers Ken Silverstein is offering it for only $14 per copy to prisoners and $20 to non prisoners, shipping included. Order from: CounterPunch, P.O. Box 18675, Washington D.C. 20036. CounterPunch is the bi weekly investigative newsletter co-edited by Silverstein. A free sample copy and subscription information is sent with each book order.

Project Censored can be ordered for $16.95, plus $2.00 shipping from: Project Censored, 1801 East Cotati Ave. Rohnert Park, CA 94928.

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