With “Disinfo Wars” Project Censored Abandons Principles

With “Disinfo Wars” Project Censored Abandons Principles | alex-jones-460x296 | Propaganda Sleuth Journal

Project Censored (PC), the news criticism organization made up of scholars, journalists, and activists that annually researches and selects stories overlooked or ignored by mainstream news media, has recently published a lengthy article on its website, titled, “Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones’ War on Your Mind,” by Nolan Higdon.[1]

The piece argues that Jones is comparable to a nineteenth century false prophet touting the imminent return of Christ; a figure prone to perennial error whose “reporting is vast in focus and lacking in evidence.” The bombastic Jones, the argument goes, besmirches more sober inquiry into the power elite, even suggesting that the talk show host, activist and news impresario may be part of a larger counterintelligence program that works in tandem with corporate media to delegitimize other independent inquiry and activism centering on deep events like 9/11.

Jones is a skilled interviewer who covers very important topics with an array of knowledgeable guests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has allowed him to cultivate a sizable audience. He is also, no doubt, an often irksome on-air presence who is prone to Howard Beale-like outbursts and far-reaching streams of thought that sharply contrast with accepted modes of reportorial technique. Further, he is a steadfast advocate of just about everything haunting the psyches of those who identify themselves as Progressives—gun ownership, skepticism of “climate science,” a critical stance on US immigration policy, and, yes, a preoccupation with revealing a shadowy transnational elite.

If one is to accept the lofty assessment of certain thinkers who speak from their positions in academe and policy-forging bodies, Jones also epitomizes the chest-thumping libertarian survivalist, who thus invariably possesses a “crippled epistemology”—evident in the alleged hodge-podge of conspiracy theories he espouses and promotes.[2] Yet it is questionable whether these disingenuous taxonomies are at all helpful in assessing an individual’s capacity to produce worthwhile journalism.

Even if Higdon’s appraisal of Jones as a journalistic charlatan can bear scrutiny, the broader concern is that PC has chosen to abandon its own essential impartiality to assail one of its own honorees.[3] After all, the organization’s unambiguous stance in evaluating and designating important news produced by alternative media involves the avoidance of what essentially amounts to political prejudice that could itself lead to … well, censorship.

I have been an admirer of Project Censored for almost twenty years. Their style of media criticism served as an inspiration for my pursuing a career academe, and I have been more than thrilled to contribute to PC’s most recent yearbooks. Thus the notion that the entity would lash out at any public figure in such a fashion is troubling. Further, the article underscores what may be a less apparent problem, specifically how the organization’s criteria for evaluating the news can be compromised by subtle biases that may elude its own field of vision.

“Disinfo Wars” fails to distinguish between Jones’ on-air antics and Infowars’ journalism. It thereby proceeds to indict an alternative news outfit that often produces timely and well-researched stories on a host of topics regularly ignored or misrepresented by mainstream outlets—indeed, material that falls squarely within PC’s own criteria for “censored news.”[4]

This is because the faculty and students partaking in Project Censored’s nomination process exercise a bit of their own censorship that is not entirely intentional. This is either done subconsciously by researchers who recognize the “dangerous” survivalist or otherwise “alarming” features and themes of outlets perceived as similar to Infowars. Or, they partially acknowledge the merit of the issues addressed in these journalistic venues but under the perceived threat of informal censure dismiss such entries out-of-hand as “conspiracy theorizing” or otherwise politically incorrect. Efforts such as Higdon’s can  only further ensconce the cloistered worldview that facilitates such practices.[5]

Regardless of a news outlet’s political foundations, if the material it produces is fundamentally sound and fits PC’s criteria for censored news, these methods are censorial in nature and fundamentally undermine the institution’s stated mission, credibility, and broader vitality going forward.

With this in mind, “Disinfo Wars” suggests that in a growing field of alternative news media producing important work from a variety of political perspectives, PC’s leadership has taken the low road in dealing with a difficult and unacknowledged discrepancy in its own political predilections and evaluative processes. Failing to concede this and seeking to maintain an air of impartiality, it now derogates a media personage and outlet producing undeniably important work that is at least as concerned and focused on corruption in high places, threats to civil liberties, and an extremely dangerous American foreign policy as the journalism generated by the array of Progressive news media PC increasingly tends to celebrate.

Most disturbingly, Higdon’s contention that Jones is a fanatical and deceptive soothsayer is based largely on the work of writers such as Alex Seitz-Wald, Jeremy Stahl, Mark Potok, Alexander Zaitchik, and Jonathan Kay, media personalities like Rachel Maddow, and dubious if not defamatory websites including “RationalWiki” and “AlexJonesDebunked.”

The stock-and-trade of these figures and entities is mobilizing the “conspiracy theory” smear to delegitimize specific individuals and ideas–a technique that Higdon contradictorily suggests is essentially a pincher movement vis-à-vis Jones’ wild exploits. Yet here Seitz-Wald, Stahl, Potok and their cohorts constitute the foundation for the stream of invective directed at Jones.[6]

While “Disinfo Wars” singles out Jones as a principal cause of the truth movement’s narrowed legitimacy, we would be well-served to look a bit closer to home. A foremost reason that Jones’ research and activism on 9/11 have come to occupy center stage is the vacuum created by the overall timidity or disinterest of Progressive-Left scholars and public intellectuals toward 9/11 and similar phenomena. Such indifference long-preceded the popularity of Infowars, inadvertently served the Bush-Cheney cabal, and has only been perpetuated by Obama’s illusory leadership. It also remains a strong (albeit indirect) contributor to the continued mayhem throughout the Middle East.

For close to four decades Project Censored has been a significant and largely impartial signal of hope that highlights the fundamental importance of news and information to democracy and a more just world. It cannot fulfill that noble purpose by adapting the malicious and unfair methods routinely used by corporate media to assail public figures and their viewpoints. Rather, it should more forthrightly address potentially suppressive practices in its own undertakings that serve to limit a fair and accurate evaluation of contributions from all alternative news media regardless of their political bearings.

Notes

[1] Nolan Higdon, “Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones War on Your Mind,” Projectcensored.org, September 2013.

[2] Cass Sunstein, “How Voters Can Escape From Information Cocoons,” Bloomberg.com, September 3, 2012.

[3] “Censored Story #2: Homeland Security Threatens Civil Liberty,” “Secret Patriot II Destroys Remaining U.S. Liberty,” Alex Jones/Infowars.com, in Peter Phillips and Project Censored, Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories, New York: Seven Stories Press, 38-41.

[4] The same may be said of the journalism from more beyond-the-pale news vehicles like Activist Post.com and Intellihub.com. Yet increasingly pieces that are seen as falling outside of the Left alternative media circuit appear at best infrequently among PC story nominations.

[5] PC’s tendency toward a more explicit politicization is evident, for example, in its nomination of reportage on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2013 Report, “Hate Groups and Antigovernment Groups on the Rise in US,” as a Top Censored Story. “Censored Story #5: Hate Groups and Antigovernment Groups on Rise in US,” ProjectCensored.org, September 2013. I have questioned the soundness of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s methods and overall trustworthiness elsewhere. See, for example, “Extremist Publicity and Historical Reality,” MemoryHoleBlog.com, March 14, 2013.

[6] Such figures also sit uneasily alongside the names of respected scholars like Peter Phillips, Lance deHaven-Smith, and Kathryn Olmsted.

Professor James F. Tracy is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. James Tracy’s work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. James is editor of Union for Democratic Communication’s Journal Democratic Communiqué and a contributor to Project Censored’s forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.

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About The Author

James F. Tracy's work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. James is editor of Union for Democratic Communication’s Journal Democratic Communiqué and a contributor to Project Censored’s forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.

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