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What last question would you ask?

You’re a journalist. Jesus is on the cross and there is time to put one question to him before he dies. What would that question be?

“Was it worth it?”

“When did you know you were the Messiah?”

“Explain the Holocaust.”

This was the type of discussion engendered in the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., during Holy Week when NCR editor-at-large Arthur Jones organized a brief daily reflection led by a Catholic priest under the general heading, “Easter Week and the Media.”

The dozen people around the table by the second day included Spiritan Fr. Jeff Duaime, retired broadcast journalist John Cosgrove, who coordinated the reflections with Jones, and staffers from media and legal offices.

The Wednesday reflection was led by ex-journalist Msgr. William F. O’Donnell, a former editor of the Washington archdiocese’s Catholic Standard. Spiritan Fr. Edward Kelly led the Monday and Friday sessions; Franciscan Fr. Joseph Nangle the Holy Thursday reflection.

NCR would like to take this idea one step further. If readers could put one short question to Jesus, (a) what would it be, and (b) in two short sentences or less, what do you think he would reply?

We are proud to announce that an NCR story was named one of the top 10 underreported stories by Project Censored, a media watch group based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif. Project Censored, now in its 21st year, involving more than 125 faculty, student and community experts, locates stories that deserved wider coverage but were smothered by mainstream media timidity or lethargy.

The No. 1 censored story was “Risking the World: Nuclear Proliferation in Space” (CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1996). According to the project judges, “virtually no attention has been paid to the 1997 launch of NASA’s Cassini probe, which will be carrying 72 pounds of plutonium-238.”

The plutonium will be launched by a Titan IV rocket of a kind that has had a series of mishaps in the recent past. A complicated “slingshot” maneuver is planned that would cause the probe to whip around the earth at great speed. If the flyby should enter the earth’s atmosphere, it could burn up “and disperse deadly plutonium across the planet.”

NCR’s story, listed at No. 9, was Kathryn Casa’s “Depleted uranium, first used in Iraq, deployed in Bosnia,” published in the Jan. 19, 1996, issue. The Pentagon failed to warn troops about the dangers of handling depleted uranium munitions, which may be responsible for Gulf War illnesses, according to the article.

The No. 2 story also deserves closer inspection: “Shell’s oil, Africa’s blood.” According to this story, evidence has surfaced that Shell encouraged Nigerian military action against Ogoni activists who were protesting Royal Dutch/Shell’s environmental devastation of their homeland. In the most notorious reaction on the part of dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, nine members of the Ogoni tribe were executed, most notably Nobel Prize winner Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Evidence continues to surface with disturbing regularity that wherever repressive regimes trample human rights and reap a rich harvest, Shell is likely to be on the scene.

When I visited Durban in 1986, at the height of South Africa’s apartheid, Shell’s glass headquarters dominated the skyline.

Project Censored notes that Shell has mounted an international media campaign to combat negative publicity. Amnesty International said the Houston Chronicle refused to run an ad that questioned Shell’s stance in Nigeria.

This is how stories get censored. Congratulations to Project Censored. The 1997 yearbook, Censored: The News that Didn’t Make the News, is available from Seven Stories Press, New York, by calling 1-800-596-7437. Also, a free pamphlet listing the top 25 unreported stories is available: Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Project Censored, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928-3609.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 1997