Project Censored founder passes at 85

Project Censored founder and former Sonoma State University professor Carl Jensen passed away on April 23 in his Cotati home at the age of 85 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. 

Founded in 1976, Project Censored has gained recognition worldwide for its yearly publication, which highlights the top 25 underreported stories in the national media. In addition, Project Censored has developed radio, education and research programs and released two documentaries.

“Carl Jensen was really a pioneer,” said current Project Censored director Mickey Huff. “Not only in terms of his dedication to a free press system and helping people understand censorship, but his commitment to education and students was unrivaled. Nearly 40 years after he began, we pride ourselves in reaching out to the next generation of citizen journalists and people wanting to pursue and support free press, or free press interests.” 

Project Censored now incorporated more than two dozen campuses, with hundreds of faculty and students. The collective effort of sifting through the independent news sources culminates with their flagship publication. 

Though the publication is unaffiliated with Sonoma State University, Project Censored remains connected with the campus.   

“All over the world if you say Sonoma State University, people say that is where Project Censored is,” said president of Media Freedom Foundation and former director of Project Censored Peter Phillips. “Millions of people have been informed by our stories. Four million onsite reviews annually. Our books have been published and translated all over the world. It’s brought Sonoma State a great deal of publicity.”

Phillips said the origin of Project Censored started when Jensen’s media censorship class asked him why Richard Nixon got re-elected in 1972. By 1976, Nixon had been resigned for roughly two years following the Watergate scandal. 

According to Phillips, Jensen found many independent news agencies which wrote of the Watergate scandal before the election of 1972. Phillips said Jensen wondered just what else corporate media chose not to cover.

Coupled with Jensen’s experience as a weekly newspaper publisher, daily newspaper reporter, advertising executive and public relations practitioner, Project Censored was formed. 

In 1976, Jensen and his Sonoma State classroom meticulously chose what they deemed the most censored stories. 

The inaugural Project Censored received notoriety instantly with their no. 1 story about then-President Jimmy Carter’s connection with David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, an economic and political policy-making organization. Chief of their concerns was national media’s focus on Carter as a peanut farmer and little else.  

Project Censored for many years was a pamphlet and press release, until Jensen wrote “Censored: The News That Didn’t Make the News and Why in 1996.”

In addition to writing five volumes of Project Censored’s yearly publication, Jensen wrote “20 years of Censored News, Stories That Changed America” and a three-volume encyclopedia titled “Censorship.” 

In Jensen’s lifetime, he received among many other awards the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award, the Society of Professional Journalist’s Freedom of Information Award, California Newspaper Publisher’s Association’s Outstanding Professor of Journalism Award. 

Jensen stepped down as director of Project Censored in 1996 and recruited Phillips, who had been a recent hire by the Sonoma State sociology department. 

“Carl was always very supportive of me,” said Phillips. “In my 10 years as director there were controversial issues and he backed the project 100 percent. He was always a historical presence through the project and a psychological support for me and my efforts.”

Jensen remained active on Project Censored’s board of directors until his health deteriorated. Huff, hired as the third director in Project Censored’s history, reflected on Jensen. 

“Carl was an incredible human being,” said Huff. “He was incredibly compassionate, and despite a lot of the things going on in the world that seemed to be going wrong, he remained the consummate optimist. I am very humbled to be able to try to carry on the mission of Project Censored, which Carl started nearly 40 years ago.”