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“Project Censored is one of the organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and our broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism.” —Walter Cronkite
“One of the most significant media research projects in the country.” —I. F. Stone
“In another home run for Project Censored, Censored 2013 shows how the American public has been bamboozled, snookered, and dumbed down by the corporate media. It is chock-full of ‘ah-ha’ moments where we understand just how we’ve been fleeced by banksters, stripped of our civil liberties, and blindly led down a path of never-ending war.” –Medea Benjamin, author of Drone Warfare, cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK.
“[Censored] should be affixed to the bulletin boards in every newsroom in America. And, perhaps read aloud to a few publishers and television executives.” —Ralph Nader
“Those who read and support Project Censored are in the know.” —Cynthia McKinney
“Project Censored continues to be an invaluable resource in exposing and highlighting shocking stories that are routinely minimized or ignored by the corporate media. The vital nature of this work is underscored by this year’s NSA leaks. The world needs more brave whistle blowers and independent journalists in the service of reclaiming democracy and challenging the abuse of power. Project Censored stands out for its commitment to such work.” —Deepa Kumar, author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire and associate professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University
“For ages, I’ve dreamed of a United States where Project Censored isn’t necessary, where these crucial stories and defining issues are on the front page of the New York Times, the cover of Time, and in heavy rotation on CNN. That world still doesn’t exist, but we always have Project Censored’s yearly book to pull together the most important things the corporate media ignored, missed, or botched.” –Russ Kick, author of You Are Being Lied To, Everything You Know Is Wrong, and the New York Times bestselling series The Graphic Canon.
“The staff of Project Censored presents their annual compilation of the previous year’s 25 stories most overlooked by the mainstream media along with essays about censorship and its consequences. The stories include an 813% rise in hate and anti-government groups since 2008, human rights violations by the US Border Patrol, and Israeli doctors injecting Ethiopian immigrants with birth control without their consent. Other stories focus on the environment, like the effects of fracking and Monsantos GMO seeds. The writers point out misinformation and outright deception in the media, including CNN relegating factual accounts to the “opinion” section and the whitewashing of Margaret Thatcher’s career following her death in 2013, unlike Hugo Chavez, who was routinely disparaged in the coverage following his death. One essay deals with the proliferation of “Junk Food News,” in which “CNN and Fox News devoted more time to ‘Gangnam Style’ than the renewal of Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ law.” Another explains common media manipulation tactics and outlines practices to becoming a more engaged, free-thinking news consumer or even citizen journalist. Rob Williams remarks on Hollywood’s “deep and abiding role as a popular propaganda provider” via Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. An expose on working conditions in Chinese Apple factories is brutal yet essential reading. This book is evident of Project Censored’s profoundly important work in educating readers on current events and the skills needed to be a critical thinker.” -Publisher’s Weekly said about Censored 2014 (Oct.)
“Hot news, cold truths, utterly uncensored.” —Greg Palast
“At a time when the need for independent journalism and for media outlets unaffiliated with and untainted by the government and corporate sponsors is greater than ever, Project Censored has created a context for reporting the complete truths in all matters that matter. . . . It is therefore left to us to find sources for information we can trust. . . . It is in this task that we are fortunate to have an ally like Project Cen-sored.” —Dahr Jamail
“[Censored] offers devastating evidence of the dumbing-down of main-stream news in America. . . . Required reading for broadcasters, journalists, and well-informed citizens.” —Los Angeles Times
“Activist groups like Project Censored . . . are helping to build the media democracy movement. We have to challenge the powers that be and rebuild media from the bottom up.” —Amy Goodman
“Project Censored interrogates the present in the same way that Oliver Stone and I tried to interrogate the past in our Untold History of the United States. It not only shines a penetrating light on the American Empire and all its deadly, destructive, and deceitful actions, it does so at a time when the Obama administration is mounting a fierce effort to silence truth-tellers and whistleblowers. Project Censored provides the kind of fearless and honest journalism we so desperately need in these dangerous times.” —Peter Kuznick, professor of history, American University, and coauthor, with Oliver Stone, of The Untold History of the United States
Buy it, read it, act on it. Our future depends on the knowledge this col-lection of suppressed stories allows us.” —San Diego Review
“Censored 2014 is a clarion call for truth telling. Not only does this volume highlight fearless speech in fateful times, it connect the dots between the key issues we face, lauds our whistleblowers and amplifies their voices, and shines light in the dark places of our government that most need exposure.” –Daniel Ellsberg, The Pentagon Papers
“Most journalists in the United States believe the press here is free. That grand illusion only helps obscure the fact that, by and large, the US corporate press does not report what’s really going on, while tuning out, or laughing off, all those who try to do just that. Americans–now more than ever–need those outlets that do labor to report some truth. Project Censored is not just among the bravest, smartest, and most rigorous of those outlets, but the only one that’s wholly focused on those stories that the corporate press ignores, downplays, and/or distorts. This latest book is therefore a must read for anyone who cares about this country, its tottering economy, and–most important– what’s now left of its democracy.” –Mark Crispin Miller, author, professor of media ecology, New York University.
“Project Censored brings to light some of the most important stories of the year that you never saw or heard about. This is your chance to find out what got buried.” –Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
“Project Censored shines a spotlight on news that an informed public must have . . . a vital contribution to our democratic process.” —Rhoda H. Karpatkin, president, Consumer’s Union

#5 Big Data and Dark Money behind the 2016 Election

Right-wing computer scientist and hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer was the top donor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, contributing $13.5 million and helping lay the groundwork for what is now called the Trump Revolution. Mercer also funded Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company that specializes in “election management strategies” and using microtargeting. As Carole Cadwalladr reported for the Guardian in February 2017, Cambridge Analytica’s website boasts that it has psychological profiles based on thousands of pieces of data for some 220 million American voters. As Jane Mayer and other independent journalists reported, Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, and others used these capacities to exploit a populist insurgency among voters and tip the election toward Trump.

Right-wing websites are now dominating Google’s search results on certain subjects. Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina, mapped the “news ecosystem” and found millions of links to right-wing sites “strangling” the mainstream media. As the Guardian and the New Yorker reported, Albright has described Cambridge Analytica as a “propaganda machine,” using trackers from sites like Breitbart to document people’s web histories and target them with messages and advertisements via their Facebook accounts.

Mercer’s money also enabled Steve Bannon to fund Breitbart, a right-wing news site established with the express intent of serving as a Huffington Post for the Right. Since 2010, Mercer has donated $95 million to right-wing political campaigns and nonprofits. As Cadwalladr reported in the Guardian, Mercer funds the Heartland Institute, a climate change denial think tank, and the Media Research Center, which refers to itself as “America’s Media Watchdog” and aims to correct “liberal bias.” (On the Heartland Institute, see also Suzanne Goldenberg, “Leak Exposes How Heartland Institute Works to Undermine Climate Science,” Guardian, February 14, 2012.)

In an article for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer described Mercer as a “brilliant computer scientist” who has “never given an interview explaining his political views,” and yet is “emblematic” of a major shift of power in American politics, from the two main political parties toward “a tiny group of rich mega-donors.” (Mayer researched the Mercer family for her book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right.) Mayer quoted Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, on the effects of the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: “Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”

As Mayer reported, Mercer has argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a major mistake, and sources who know Mercer told Mayer that he has stated that the Clintons have had opponents of theirs murdered, and that, during the Gulf War, the US should have simply taken Iraq’s oil. As Mayer wrote, “despite his oddities, he has had surprising success in aligning the Republican Party, and consequently America, with his personal beliefs, and is now uniquely positioned to exert influence over the Trump Administration.”

Cambridge Analytica is an affiliate of a larger British company known as Strategic Communication Laboratories. As Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus reported, Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, was quoted in a company press release the day after Trump’s victory, saying, “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win.” Cambridge Analytica began working for the Trump campaign in June 2016, after initially providing analysis for Ted Cruz. (Cambridge Analytica is also believed to have worked for the organization Leave.EU in its Brexit campaign.) According to Nix, Grassegger and Krogerus reported, Cambridge Analytica combined behavioral science based on the measurement of psychological traits, Big Data analysis—premised on the fact that everything we do leaves digital traces—and ad targeting that is aligned “to the personality of an individual.”

As Nix told the audience at the Concordia Summit in New York in September 2016, once Cambridge Analytica became involved with the Trump campaign, “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven.” For example, Grassegger and Krogerus reported, on the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Trump team “tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, in order to find the right versions above all via Facebook.” The results were examples of “dark posts”—sponsored newsfeed-style advertisements that will only be seen by users with specific profiles. These specifically tailored and targeted messages ignored demographics, data Nix dismissed as “a really ridiculous idea.” What Nix meant, Grassegger and Krogerus explained, is that “while other campaigners so far have relied on demographics, Cambridge Analytica was using psychometrics.” Prior psychometric research has shown that a sample of just sixty-eight Facebook “likes” is sufficient to predict a user’s skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent accuracy).

As Grassegger and Krogerus reported, this new approach informed not only direct messaging to potential Trump voters, but also Trump’s canvassers. From July 2016, they used an app, known as Ground Game, to identify the political views and personality types of the inhabitants of a house. As Grassegger and Krogerus wrote, “Trump’s people only rang at the doors of houses that the app rated as receptive to his messages. The canvassers came prepared with guidelines for conversations tailored to the personality type of the resident. In turn, the canvassers fed the reactions into the app, and the new data flowed back to the dashboards of the Trump campaign.” (Advocates in the Brexit campaign used the same app.) While Clinton and the Democrats relied on traditional demographic data to inform their campaign, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign divided the US population into thirty-two personality types and focused on seventeen specific states. According to Grassegger and Krogerus, data analysis using psychometrics led to the campaign’s focus on Michigan and Wisconsin in the final weeks. “The candidate,” they wrote, “became the instrument for implementing a big data model.” Cambridge Analytica, they reported in January 2017, earned an estimated $15 million overall during the 2016 campaign, and Nix, the company’s CEO, is “currently touring European conferences showcasing their success in the United States.”

Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down,” Motherboard (VICE), January 28, 2017, https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win.

Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: The Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media,” Guardian, February 26, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage.

Jane Mayer, interviewed by Nermeen Shaikh and Amy Goodman, “Jane Mayer on Robert Mercer and the Dark Money Behind Trump and Bannon,” Democracy Now!, March 23, 2017, https://www.democracynow.org/2017/3/23/jane_mayer_on_robert_mercer_the.

Travis Gettys, “Before Helping Trump Win with Data Mining, Cambridge Analytica Tipped Elections with Old-Fashioned Tricks,” Raw Story, March 24, 2017, http://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/before-helping-trump-win-with-data-mining-cambridge-analytica-tipped-elections-with-old-fashioned-tricks/.

Jane Mayer, “The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency,” New Yorker, March 27, 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/27/the-reclusive-hedge-fund-tycoon-behind-the-trump-presidency.

Student Researchers: Maura Rocio Tellez (San Francisco State University) and Olivia Jones (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluators: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University) and Rob Williams (University of Vermont)

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