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John Pilger - Censorship That Dares Not Speak Its Name: The Strange Silencing of Liberal America

John Pilger - Censorship That Dares Not Speak Its Name: The Strange Silencing of Liberal America

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Censorship That Dares NotSpeak its Name
The Strange Silencing of Liberal America1
John PilgerNote: The chapter that follows, John Pilger’s “Censorship That Dares Not Speak Its Name: The Strange Silencing of Liberal America,” is an honest and heartfeltaccount of the frustration on the part of a distinguished journalist when facedwith censorship from within our community. We include it here because to dootherwise would be to join in the silencing of a necessary voice. As thepublishers of Gary Webb, Noam Chomsky, Kurt Vonnegut, the Boston Women’sHealth Book Collective and, indeed, Project Censored, we could not dootherwise. At the same time it pains us to do so, since in it John writes criticallyof friends of ours, and because we do not want to be part of the long-standinghabit of the Left of disparaging its own. Nonetheless, in the end, our clearchoice, our responsibility, is to include it here. We hope that readers willunderstand that in doing so we are placing our vote squarely on the side of openness and of free speech. —Dan Simon and Veronica Liu, for Seven Stories Press; and Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth, for Project CensoredHow does censorship work in liberal societies? When my film, Year Zero: The Silent Deathof Cambodia, was banned in the United States in 1980, the broadcaster PBS cut allcontact. Negotiations were ended abruptly; phone calls were not returned. Somethinghad happened, but what? Year Zero had already alerted much of the world to the horrorsof Pol Pot, but it also investigated the critical role of the Nixon administration in thetyrant’s rise to power and the devastation of Cambodia.Six months later, a PBS official denied this was censorship. “We’re into difficult politicaldays in Washington,” he said. “Your film would have given us problems with the Reaganadministration. Sorry.” 
In Britain, the long war in Northern Ireland spawned a similar, deniable censorship.he investigative journalist Liz Curtis compiled a list of forty-eight television films inBritain that were never shown or indefinitely delayed. The word “ban” was rarely used,and those responsible would invariably insist they believed in free speech.
The Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, believes in free speech. TheFoundation’s website (Lannan.org) says it is “dedicated to cultural freedom, diversity andcreativity.” Authors, filmmakers, and poets make their way to a sanctum of liberalismbankrolled by the billionaire Patrick Lannan in the tradition of Carnegie, Rockefeller, andFord. Lannan also awards “grants” to America’s liberal media, such as Free Speech TV,
the Foundation for National Progress (which publishes Mother Jones magazine), theNation Institute, and the TV and radio program Democracy Now! In Britain, until 2011,Lannan was a supporter of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.The Lannan Foundation was set up in 1960 by J. Patrick Lannan, who amassed afortune, much of it in art, while he was majority shareholder of the Internationalelephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT). Founded in the 1920s, ITT had extensiveinterests in Europe. In the 1930s, ITT’s companies in Germany expanded; an ITTsubsidiary owned 25 percent of the aircraft company Focke-Wulf, which supplied theLuftwaffe; at the height of the Second World War, this was a majority holding.During the American invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s, ITT produced navigationsystems for laser-guided bombs and developed surveillance systems for what thePentagon calls the “automated battlefield.” In 1971, President Salvador Allendenationalized ITT’s 70 percent interest in the Chilean Telephone Company. As declassifiedCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA) files show, ITT’s response was an eighteen-point covertaction plan” to overthrow Allende. According to The CIAs Greatest Hits by Mark Zepezauer, the CIA “sponsored demonstrations and strikes, funded by ITT and other UScorporations with Chilean holdings,” prior to General Augusto Pinochet’s September 1973military coup. ITT funded El Mercurio, the Chilean daily that opposed Allende and backedPinochet.
J. Patrick Lannan died in 1983. On the Lannan Foundation’s website, he is described asa “liberal thinker.” His son, Patrick, runs the Foundation today.On June 15, 2011, I was due in Santa Fe, having been invited to share a platform withDavid Barsamian, whose interviews for his Alternative Radio program have brought himacclaim, notably those with Noam Chomsky. The subject of my talk was the role of American liberalism in a permanent state of war and in the demise of freedoms, such asthe right to call government to account. I intended to make the case that Barack Obama,a liberal, was as much a warmonger as George W. Bush and had prosecuted morewhistle-blowers than any US president, and that his singular achievement had been toseduce, co-opt, and silence much of liberal opinion in the United States.The Lannan Foundation was also to host the US premiere of my new film, The WarYou Don’t See, which investigates the role of the media in war-making, especially liberalmedia such as the New York Times and the BBC. It is a film about censorship that doesnot speak its name.The organizer of my visit was Barbara Ventrello, Lannan’s director of Cultural FreedomPublic Events, with whom I had been in frequent contact. “We’re all looking forward toseeing you here,” she said. “Your events are proving very popular.” On June 9, as I wasabout to leave for Santa Fe, I received this email:Dear John,I have just received a call from Patrick Lannan. . . . Something has come upand he has asked me to cancel all your events next week. He did not go intodetails so I have no idea what this is about, and I apologize. . . . We thank youfor your understanding.
With best regards,BarbaraDavid Barsamian was driving down from Boulder, Colorado, when he was reached andadvised to turn back. He, too, was given no explanation. A frequent guest at Lannanevents, he said he had never known anything like it. “I was there a couple of weeks ago,” he told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “and Patrick said, ‘Wow, looking forward to this. It’sgoing to be great.’ I didn’t have a hint of any unease.” 
I replied to Barbara Ventrello that Lannan was committed to staging the US premiereof my film at The Screen cinema in Santa Fe, and such an abrupt cancellation left me withno alternatives; the film’s national promotion was linked to the Santa Fe premiere. Iasked that the screening go ahead. I received this reply:Dear John,I am very sorry, but as stated in my email to you yesterday, all events relatedto your visit to Santa Fe are cancelled. This includes the screening of your film.Regards,Barbara “All” was in italics and underlined. Again, no reason was given. Patrick Lannan hadphoned her from California, she said, without explanation.I emailed Lannan himself several times and got no reply. I phoned him and leftmessages. A strange, unsettling silence followed. I phoned the manager of The Screencinema in Santa Fe. “I’m baffled,” he said. “I was expecting a sellout, then late on thenight before the online advertising was due to go up, I had a call from a Lannan persontelling me to stop everything. She gave no explanation.” I suggested to the cinema manager that I come to Santa Fe anyway, but when I triedto buy the plane ticket Lannan had arranged for me, I was told by the travel agent: “I’vecontacted the Foundation, and they won’t allow you to buy it, even though this ticket,when cancelled, will be worthless. I don’t understand it.” On the Lannan website, “Cancelled” appeared across a picture of me. There was noexplanation. Not one of my phone calls and emails was returned. A Kafkaesque world of not-knowing descended. Of the 195 events staged by the Lannan Foundation, only onehas been banned.Like the cinema manager, the Santa Fe New Mexican had been called late on thenight that a full-page interview with me by its arts reporter was about to go to press. “Wehad less than an hour to pull it,” said the arts editor. “They wouldn’t say why.” The NewMexican’s weekly arts supplement, Pasatiempo, in which the interview would appear, is aprimary source of local interest and ticket sales for all Lannan events.The silence from Lannan lasted a week until, under pressure from local media, theFoundation put out a brief statement that too few tickets had been sold to make my visitviable” and that “the Foundation regrets that the reason for the cancellation was notexplained to Mr. Pilger or to the public at the time the decision was made.” 

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