About that “2007 Project Censored Award to Al Giordano”: Thanks… but No Thanks!
The Impositions Placed Upon a Recipient of an “Alternative Media” Award Are Also a Form of Censorship
By Al Giordano
Publisher, Narco News
June 14, 2007
I got this letter on Tuesday night. My response, in which I decline the award it bestows, appears below it:
From: Project Censored
Date: Jun 12, 2007 6:40 PM
Subject: Project Censored Award to Al Giordano
Dear Al Giordano,
Your series of articles on the stolen Presidential election in Mexico, published on the Narco News website in August of 2006, has been selected as a finalist for the Project Censored “Most Censored” News Stories of 2006-07 Awards. Hundreds of news stories were nominated this year and your story has been ranked in the top twenty-five most important under-covered of the year.
All of the top twenty-five stories have been forwarded to our national judges for final ranking. We will be in touch soon to let you know the results of that ranking and to invite you to our Media Conference and Award Ceremony in Northern California this October 26—27.
Over 250 faculty and students at Sonoma State University reviewed your story and voted on it on April 17. A synopsis of your story will appear in Chapter 1 of the book Censored 2008: Media Democracy in Action, scheduled for release in August from Seven Stories Press. Please be sure to include your mailing address and contact information below so we can send you a copy upon release.
We would like to include an update on your story as part of Chapter 1. This is intended to give readers additional information and suggest possible ways to become proactive on the issues presented in your story. Following each synopsis we give space for you to write a short (under 500 words) summary updating your story. Please address the following in your update summary:
- the importance of this story,
- any relevant information that has developed since publication of
- mainstream press response to your story,
- how might a person get more information on the subject of your
story.— Please include contact information for relevant proactive
organizations, sources and web sites.
Your update is an important part of keeping your story alive. The Project Censored stories go on to receive national attention from the mainstream and alternative/independent press in the United States and abroad. Millions of additional people will hear about your work. Please help us keep on schedule by e-mailing (email@example.com) your update by June 15. Please also complete and return the enclosed information form at your earliest convenience.
On behalf of the Project Censored staff, faculty and students, we thank you for your courage and professionalism in investigative reporting. Congratulations and welcome to the Year 2007 Project Censored program.
Al’s Response to Project Censored
Dear Ms. Boreta,
Please don’t take this personally – I think that all of you at Project Censored are sincere people that believe you are helping me and other independent journalists – but I must decline your 2007 award.
I must also insist that you not publish my words or reporting, not even in “synopsis” form, in any book by Seven Stories Press and its UDBCP (“Unethical Douche Bag of a Capitalist Publisher”), Dan Simon. I do not wish to be associated with that editorial house or its owner in any way.
In your email dated June 12, 2007, titled “Project Censored Award to Al Giordano,” two months after those hundreds of students voted to bestow upon me the award, you give me a three-day deadline to send “500 words” for “Chapter 1” of a book you will publish via a commercial editorial house, that will then sell it via Amazon.com among others, purportedly including a “synopsis” of my work that documented the electoral fraud that stole 1.5 million votes from the victor in Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.
The same indignant passions provoked in me when an unelected group of bean counters stole the votes from the Mexican people – that led me to investigate and publish that series of reports – are recurrent today when I read the heavy-handed manner in which your project seeks to sell or give my work to a commercial publisher of dubious ethics and motives without my permission.
I respectfully decline your award. But in solidarity with the “over 250 faculty and students at Sonoma State University” that you tell me “reviewed your story and voted on it on April 17” I publish today my reasons for doing so.
First, I am not a victim of “censorship,” and I frown upon the culture of victimhood that is popular and is considered “activism” in some sectors of the United States. Nobody has ever succeeded in shutting me up, so please don’t imply otherwise. My series of reports on Narco News that demonstrated the breadth of the electoral fraud in Mexico was not “censored,” because it was not published or “edited” (or offered in “synopsis”) by commercial media. Other Internet publications, bloggers, and the print magazine New Left Review, for which I wrote my own 22-page “synopsis,” made sure of that, as well as other commercial publications that outright plagiarized my work, particularly widely throughout Mexico and Latin America. They did so in English, in Spanish, and in other languages. The whole world knows that Mexico now counts with an illegitimate president. Please give my award to someone that really does feel censored.
Within an hour of those works being published on Narco News they were read by more people than would have occurred if they had been published by an UDBCP. The same goes for these words that I sincerely share with you – and with our readers – today.
The suggestion that my work has been “censored” ignores the labor that I – and others – have dedicated over the past seven years to construct this online newspaper and bypass the control mechanisms that keep other journalists’ work marginalized. We don’t need awards or inclusion in commercial book compilations to break the information blockades. We’re doing it every day, better than the UDBCPs and without them.
It is true that I am not against the concept of awards, per se. I have accepted them on occasion, when they either brought resources to continue this work or have otherwise forwarded our mission of authentic journalism in ways consistent with it. In each of those cases, the awarder respected the awarded enough to consult with him as to whether and how he wished to receive the award.
Nor am I against books. We just published Nancy Davies’ The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly all by ourselves, bypassing the UDBCPs, and showing them to be irrelevant once again.
But if, for example, next year, the students and faculty of Project Censored choose this open letter for your 2008 award (one never knows when rebellious spirit will bless the hotbeds of rest that are campuses today, and this letter does, after all, open a certain curtain on the sausage factory of alternative journalism and book publishing in the United States), you might consider involving the journalists in how to best promote our work rather than dictating, from above, what you feel is best for us. You might ask: “Dear journalist: Would this award be helpful to you? And, if so, may we synopsize it in a book?”
Given that everyone except the workers that did the brunt of the labor to report these stories are being compensated to create a market product (a book), you might consider doing the same for those of us that did the heavy lifting: At least, maybe, a pack of cigarettes to get us through our next few paragraphs, and a pint of ale to nurse our war wounds. After all, your faculty members and staff got paid, your students got credit (and in many cases that means that their parents will continue supporting them through their excellent adventure in “higher education,” so that they will be able to continue enjoying the fruits of your university’s $22 million dollar endowment), the publishing house gets its cut, and the secondary contractors – like Amazon – get theirs. And once again, the reporter or writer is left abused and unpaid as a worker. It is primarily those that did less work, if any, and that assumed none of the risks, that now profit off our toil.
I have fought for more than a decade, since leaving what others considered a respectable “career” in the US media, for the rights of my sector of workers: journalists, writers, media workers. (As part of that fight, back in 2001, I defended Project Censored and others from such greedy abuse by the professional simulator and UDBCP Don Hazen of Alternet, and won back, for other journalists, the wages that he had secretly stolen from them. Obviously, I have no previous beef with Project Censored, and my own critique here is different than others that have been made toward you. This is not an endorsement of anyone else’s critique of your fine but imperfect project. It says only what it overtly says.)
That 2001 story demonstrated how “alternative” institutions are so often the worst abusers of labor. They seem to think that because they are “doing good” (in their own eyes) that writers and other workers don’t deserve fair payment for our work, even that it is some kind of privilege to be abused in this way. Of course, I still choose to work for little to no wages, and thus remain below the poverty line (my net income for 2006 added up to less than a single out-of-state student’s $11,784 tuition at Sonoma State; even less than the $9,130 “room and board” expense there), but I do so on my own terms, and that is a vast fortune that I wouldn’t trade for mere money. And I’m hardly alone, here in the hemispheric “Narco Newsroom,” among those that prioritize being treated with respect on our own terms over economic considerations.
The “censored” problem is the one we have already solved, by circumventing the commercial media and building a direct relationship between writer and reader, without middlemen screwing up that communication or charging tolls for it. Your award seems to suggest that if the corrupt and dying mass media had picked up the story and distorted it more, than it would not have been “censored.” I’m not sure you “get” it: We don’t care what they report or don’t report. We’ve already sopped up whatever public credibility they used to have.
The worst kind of censorship today comes not from governments, but from the private sector, in the form of what it calls “editing.” I would therefore also suggest that in the future, before decreeing to a journalist that you will “synopsize” his or her work for a book to be published by a commercial business, that you send him and her the “synopsis” text for review and approval or rejection. Asking for permission is just so much more polite than saying “congratulations, we’re stealing your work, repackaging it, and selling it to an UDBCP!” That way, we can have more certainty that our investigations and writings will not be distorted, whether by commission and bias or by omission and errors from editors unfamiliar with the lands and the topics that we write about.
Finally, if, as you say, there is a Star Chamber of unidentified “judges” that will “rank” our stories, presumably one through twenty-five, I strongly suggest more transparency on your part: that the judges be named and accountable. In fairness, I note that your website’s fine print has a partial list of “current or previous national judges,” most of them comfortable academics, very far from my world and that of most people, but that hardly counts as full disclosure. After all, “alternative” journalism is so filled with internecine rivalries, economic and ego competition that such Star Chamber machinations usually result in serving hidden agendas.
Besides, if your students and faculty have chosen 25 stories (a process I find attractive, particularly because, unlike with other awards, you don’t require the authors to “apply” for the prize), why not let real people, like them, rank the stories, too? Why not expand your judicial pool to include the majority of people outside of academia? What qualifications does your secret panel of judges have that average citizens do not have? Is it that they have enough access to the commercial media to not be censored, and therefore can paternalistically throw a bone to those of us that do not dance with the same set of elites? Is it not academia that has supplied the commercial media with an endless supply of obedient eunuchs? No, I do not consent to dragging my work and my name into such a Byzantine and elitist process.
It just seems to me, once again, that in the name of “alternative” journalism we, the workers, are getting the short end of the stick. How cruel is it to give a writer an “award” that provides no resources to continue his work and then invite him to your annual conference, far from his home, in an expensive land, without offering travel and lodging, much less compensation for the labor and time required to be an alterna-fashion model on your catwalk?
But even if that had been offered, I still would not consent to an UDBCP making money off of my conscripted labor.
Thus, although I generally support the mission of Project Censored, and consider its participants to be of good will, your “award” offers little to me that is positive, and includes the negative imposition of my association with an UDBCP that I choose to shun, and even seeks to allow him to make money off of my labor, and to later list me on his website as one of the authors in his stable.
My deepest apologies, but that I simply will not allow. It will happen over my dead body. That kind of imposition is also a form of censorship.
From somewhere in a country called América,
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