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Guest commentary

The least newsworthy stories of the year

By Peter Phillips, Joni Wallent and Ambrosia Pardue
Posted May 25, 2004

"We are the best entertained least informed society in the world." -- Neil Postman

Overexposed. (ESPN photo.)

Project Censored at Sonoma State University in California holds an annual competition to select the top 10 most frivolous, over-reported news stories of the year. We call this list Junk Food News because it fills up the American airways and newsstands with celebrity gossip and meaningless coverage of the unimportant.

Famous lives provide us with an entertainment rush and a false reality that radiates in comparison to the darkness of war, business fraud, and government repression. This year's selections were voted on by the 200 students, faculty and media researchers who work with Project Censored and hundreds of other people worldwide who are members of our weekly independent news listserv at www.projectcensored.org.

The dubious honor of this year's No. 1 Junk Food News story goes to Janet Jackson and her Super Bowl exposure. It shocked our nation -- so the corporate media claimed -- and set off a Federal Communications Commission tizzy over a nipple. The vulgarity and sleaziness of the rest of the half-time show seemed to slither back into the dark without a stir. It seems that a nipple being exposed is more important than the real, life-shattering issues of our nation and world.

Prof. Peter Phillips

Coming in at No. 2 is Ben and J. Lo's breakup. They were making news even before they called their relationship off. They graced the covers of magazines and tabloids, and had people waiting anxiously and holding their breaths over what the couple would do next. The "rock" that "Jenny from the block" had sat pretty on her finger for only so long. Even though Ben and J. Lo are over, they have not faded from memory or from corporate news celebrity gossip.

At No. 3 are the Hilton sisters. Few people had heard of them before this past year, but now it seems they are everywhere in mainstream media. Paris get the most attention from her sex video to "The Simple Life." It seems that many actually do care about a rich girl who doesn't shop in Wal Mart.

Britney Spears makes this year's list again, coming in at No. 4 with her marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander. The two were married on a Saturday in Las Vegas, and had their marriage annulled the next Monday. It seems that every move of Britney's is made done to create attention. The corporate media loves using her to build titillated viewership.

Amazingly, Martha Stewart made the top five spot with her ever-present face in our court system. Whether or not Martha was innocent or guilty, this high-profile case was dragged out by the media and her products can still be found on the shelves at Kmart.

Rounding out the top ten for 2003-4 Junk Food News list are: Britney and Madonna's kiss, Trista and Ryan's Wedding, American Idol, the last episode of "Friends," and Ashton and Demi.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainment, there is always an opportunity cost that affects public access to important news stories about the critical issues in our lives. Junk Food News consumes the limited time and space for news stories in the corporate media. Entertainment becomes news. Reality TV is news at 6 p.m.

Project Censored believes that it is crucial to democracy to have a healthy media, a media that is able to inform on critical events and not just serve as a means of diversion.

Peter Phillips is a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored. Joni Wallent and Ambrosia Pardue are research interns for Project Censored.

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A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

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Bay Area media advocates:

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