The 10th annual list of the year's most overhyped and underreported
As one would expect in a year when one of the underreported stories was our
government's covert propaganda campaigns, there's plenty to unravel: stories
that should never have been stories, stories whose reporting largely missed
the point, and stories barely told at all in mainstream US media.
The good news is that, more than ever, mainstream media is no longer the last
word in journalism. Foreign media, now universally available in English on the
Internet, often tells a completely different (and usually more accurate) story
than what we see, read, and hear here. So-called alternative media--which has
been way ahead of the mainstream media on any number of issues--has repeatedly
shown its relevance, to the point where the Internet is rapidly becoming the
preferred news source for many Americans.
But it's the mainstream that still has the largest audiences, and so it is
the stories that do and don't appear there that require our attention. Here's
our list, which is surely incomplete.
The Year's Most Overhyped Stories:
The fate of Terri Schiavo. Somehow, the fate of a woman
who hadn't done much more than twitch in nearly two decades, and who had clearly
stated that she never wanted to be kept alive in such conditions, became a
crude political football for pandering Presidents and members of Congress.
They should be ashamed--as should the media outlets that milked this non-story
Intelligent Design [sic].
The "War on Christmas." What do all three of these
items have in common? They were all introduced and hammered into self-serving
"controversies" by the right-wing echo chamber at times when they
really wanted to make sure the public wasn't paying attention to congressional
or White House scandals, a disastrous war, or the death of a major American
Everything's Going Splendidly in Iraq. From the myth early
in the year that Bush's vision for democracy was spreading like wildfire throughout
the Middle East, to the notion that Iraqi troops were trained en masse and
ready to fight, to entirely mythical "progress" in Iraq's economy
and reconstruction, to the prediction, dutifully trotted out during three
separate elections, that each such election marked a major turning point and
a crippling blow for the insurgency, to an insurgency in its "death throes,"
it was hard to take seriously anything the White House said about Iraq. Yet,
remarkably, large segments of US media did just that.
Michael Jackson's Trial.
Martha Stewart's Comeback.
Julia Roberts' Baby. OK, OK, any of the beautiful people.
Howard Dean. Now the Democratic National Committee head,
Howard still shoots off his mouth (often accurately), and Republicans still
get themselves all in a knot whenever he does. Get over it. He's a glorified
party fundraiser now, not a public official. What he says about public policy
does not matter.
Pat Robertson. He wants Hugo Chavez dead. He threatens Dover,
Pennsylvania on behalf of a God who apparently can't speak for Himself. He
thinks New Orleans' suffering is punishment for not meeting his warped idea
of morality. WHO. CARES. The publicity just encourages him.
The Minutemen. A few hundred yahoos on the Mexican border,
and a few dozen on the Canadian border, proves only that there are still unemployed
racist idiots living in Orange County and its spiritual equivalents.
Plus sports, 14-Day-Accu--Pinpoint-Doppler-Radar-Insta-Weather, the
The Underreported Stories:
George Bush is already a lame-duck president. There's usually
a year or two grace period after the president is elected for the second time,
when he can point to his second election victory as vindication for his policies
and use it to get some important legislation passed. Bush has squandered his
election victory. All the major initiatives he wanted to pass in Congress
this year, from the privatization of Social Security to the permanent renewal
of the USA Patriot Act provisions, have gone down in flames, even with a solid
Republican majority in both houses. The most basic budget bills have failed
to pass because Bush couldn't get a consensus within his own party. Meanwhile,
members of his administration are leaking stories of Bush administration misdeeds
every week. Three more years of this and the Republican Party may never recover.
The United States is becoming a torture regime. It is no
longer a secret that the US tortures prisoners. But numerous aspects of this
abomination remain undercovered. The year was full of shocking revelations
about how far the Bush administration has taken us into totalitarian atrocities:
the NSA listening to and reading US citizens' foreign telephone calls and
email without warrants; the Pentagon spying on peace groups; the rendition
of prisoners to secret CIA detention centers in Eastern Europe; the testimony
of former prisoners at Guantanamo and victims of rendition that they were
brutally abused while in prison; more evidence that the US maintains secret
detention centers around the world; the Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers; dozens
of deaths of "war on terror" prisoners in US custody; the Graham
Amendment, which voids habeas corpus for suspects in the "war on terror"and
renders moot a Supreme Court challenge to Bush's military tribunal system;
the Army's newly expanded list of permissible interrogation techniques; the
evidence that the decision to employ torture began at the highest levels of
the White House--the list goes on and on.
Iraq is spinning out of control. Ethnic and sectarian hostilities
have turned into open street battles between Shiite religious factions, battles
between factions of the Sunni insurgency, mass killings of Sunnis by Shiite
death squads, secret arrests, government-sanctioned torture of prisoners,
and mass migrations of people between neighborhoods, cities, and provinces--an
outright Balkanization of Iraq. Iraq's oil fields are rapidly deteriorating
from a combination of sabotage and neglect. Oil exports are down drastically,
leaving the Iraqi government without the money to pay salaries to teachers,
doctors, police, and other civil servants. Meanwhile, corruption is rampant
at high levels in the Iraqi government, while smaller, local governments run
on extortion and bribery (a matter of basic survival when they're not getting
paid a regular salary). And security analysts note that the insurgency is
as healthy as ever and becoming more efficient, and more deadly, in its attacks.
Say, where is Osama bin Laden, anyway?
The Downing Street Memos. Ignored for weeks by US media
until the blogosphere buzz became simply too loud, these early revelations
of "fixing the intelligence around the policy" have now gone down
the memory hole again. But their content has been completely corroborated
by subsequent revelations.
Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera headquarters in Qatar. This
British report was squelched by the Official Secrets Act, but not before it
caused a sensation around the world due to its detailed plausibility--except
in the US, where corporate media dismissed the allegation out of hand.
The economy is balanced on a knife-edge. The Bush administration
would like you to forget that the US has a record trade deficit, a record
budget deficit, and that the housing market--the one thing that's kept the
US economy afloat for the past three years--is beginning to cool a little
too quickly for comfort. Republican attempts to balance the budget on the
backs of poor people while trying to make Bush's tax cuts permanent have garnered
little attention from the press. And so has the fact that China and Japan
own most of our public debt. While Bush's approval ratings rise and fall with
the price of oil, a very cold winter is hitting Americans in the pocketbooks,
and the press can only talk about the economy "steaming full-speed ahead."
The Bush administration's continued attacks on the environment.
From criminal attempts to stop the implementation of the Kyoto global warming
treaty and a possible successor to the privatization of public lands to drilling
for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the US press hasn't cared
much about Bush's shocking attempts to pillage the environment the same way
his administration has pillaged the public treasury.
Republican corruption scandals. Some four dozen Congressmen,
mostly Republican, have been confirmed as taking money from Jack Abramoff
or his clients at about the same time they took legislative action favorable
to Abramoff or his clients. Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff are just the tip of
the iceberg, but our compliant press has trouble seeing even that much. Now
the Supreme Court is reviewing the Texas redistricting scheme that helped
the Republicans win a bigger majority in the House--a scheme that was undertaken
by the Republicans after their own Justice Department had ruled it unconstitutional.
This should be a much bigger scandal than it currently is.
Failures of Homeland Security: Hurricane Katrina, racism,
and the gutting of FEMA. This was a huge story that, while briefly covered
extensively by the US press, disappeared from the mix far too quickly and
without enough analysis. And both the corruption of rebuilding contacts and
the complete subsequent abandonment of New Orleans by the feds have received
virtually no attention.
Likewise, the devastating earthquake in Kashmir received
very little coverage. Kashmiris, of course, are used to the West not caring
much about them. But we shouldn't prove them right.
Our government's global covert propaganda campaign. Armstrong
Williams and the Lincoln Group in Iraq were just the start. All over the world,
among countries friend and foe, the Pentagon is running an unprecedented,
massive propaganda and disinformation campaign, including the planting of
stories designed to find their way back into US media. The planted stories
are never identified as being written by the US government. Rumsfeld said
after 9/11 that he would continue to lie, and he was telling the truth.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and its fallout on Israeli and Palestinian
politics is more important to Middle Eastern peace than anything
happening in the War on Terror, yet the US press has difficulty covering Israeli
and Palestinian politics beyond the latest suicide bombing. Likewise, the
Palestinian elections, with the split in the Fatah Party and electoral gains
by Hamas, have received almost no coverage here, nor has Ariel Sharon's split
from Likud (the party he co-founded). Major shifts are happening in a very
important part of the world, and Americans are oblivious. And the passive
White House enabling of whatever Sharon wants to do has also received no attention.
The right-wing radicalism of Samuel Alito is no secret;
it's just been deeply ignored by a too cautious press. Likewise, John Roberts'
portrayal as a moderate was simply mind-boggling.
The biggest labor news in decades, the AFL-CIO split and
the formation of the new Change To Win Coalition, passed with hardly a whimper
in the US press. It's time to start unionizing a few more media outlets.
A sweet victory for small communities--POCLAD passing legislation
in Pennsylvania to stop the construction of megachain stores in local communities--was
so far off the radar that you almost had to know someone working on the campaign
to have heard about it. That's shocking. Fortunately, with the Internet, it's
easier than ever to find out what inspired activists across the country, and
the world, are doing.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter
for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the Straight
Shot column for WorkingForChange.
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