January 6, 2003
Picking the biggest news stories of the year has become as traditional a
part of New Year's as the dropping of the ball in Times Square -- and a lot
less significant. Each year the media names the stories they claim were
most portentous and pat themselves on the back for their superb coverage.
For the most part, they choose the stories they gave the most ink or air time, and ignore the stories they gave little play to. A lovely little circle. 'If we covered it heavily, it was important, if we didn't, it obviously wasn't.'
And, of course, they are nearly always wrong.
The Palm Beach Post, for example, decreed that the top national and international stories in 2002 were: U.S. threats of war against Iraq, Washington sniper, U.S. economy, corporate scandals, Catholic Church sex scandals, Republican election gains, suicide bombings in Mideast, "War on Terror" in Afghanistan and elsewhere, airline bankruptcies, 1st anniversary of 9/11.
What's wrong with that?, you ask. There are a lot of important stories in that list. Yes, but....We'll get back to that.
First let's consider the stories that were basically ignored.
Many of them were mentioned in a cartoon by the Palm Beach Post's own Don Wright. One panel shows a little boy telling his grandfather, "So back in 2002, the Constitution was shredded, we lost our right to privacy, people were spying on one another, greedy corporations owned Congress, the economy collapsed, thousands lost jobs, the environment got dirtier and global warming ruined our way of life. What the heck were you doing while this was going on, Grandpa?"
If Wright had substituted 'the media' for 'Grandpa,' his cartoon would be even more telling and compelling, for the grandpas and grandmas and dads and moms and nearly everyone else knows only what the media prints or airs. Not everyone can spend several hours a day scouring the Internet for alternative sources of news.
What kind of stories did the media ignore or grossly downplay?
Assaults on U.S. liberties
The continuing assault on the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, started right after 9/11 and continued through last year with little attention from the media. In the past few months, the Bush administration -- mostly unilaterally but sometimes with help from a supine Congress and judiciary -- has weakened, warped or eliminated nearly all the freedoms Americans once cherished.
The government now monitors religious and political institutions at will or whim. It has closed once-public immigration hearings and has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges. It demands that libraries and bookstores reveal the books taken out by users and customers. The government now monitors once-private conversations between lawyers and clients, imprisons without trial, and denies some 'suspects' the right even to an attorney. Bushcroft and Co. now allow and encourage civilian agencies like the FBI to share data with the CIA and other spooks.
If you didn't hear or read much about this Top Story, don't be surprised. The media gave it little thought or coverage.
The Peace Movement and the President
Millions of people rallied and marched for peace around the world last year. But you probably didn't hear much about it. Most anti-war rallies and marches were either ignored entirely by both the print and electronic media, covered only in a single photo with a misleading caption, or buried deep in the paper. When anti-war events were covered at all, the numbers of participants were almost invariably downplayed.
At the same time, however, the media enthusiastically reported each of Bush's ever-changing excuses for war against Iraq as if they were engraved on stone tablets by God Almighty. Although most claims were refuted by easily available facts, the media could never seem to find them. Nor did the media appear to notice that the charges and excuses kept changing and were sometimes contradictory. Most reporters and commentators acted as cheerleaders for war and actively disparaged dissent. Connie Chung upbraided Rep. Mike Thompson for daring to doubt George Bush's claim that he had evidence that Iraq posed a danger to the U.S. "You mean you don't believe what President Bush has just said." In another broadcast, Chung told a guest "Well, you know the old line, love it or leave it."
Nor was there any significant media awareness that worrying about Iraq's possible possession of a few "weapons of mass destruction" is downright silly in a world where dozens of countries have WMDs, with the U.S. leading the pack. Nor any apparent media awareness that while it is barely possible that Iraq might possibly have one or two nuclear devices with no delivery system, and North Korea is seeking them, Israel has a few hundred.
Perhaps most disturbing, is that while the media enthusiastically beats the drum for war in Iraq, it remains largely unconcerned about Bush's abolition of the ABM treaty, and its horrifying declaration that it has the right to attack any country at any time for any reason.
The failed war on Afghanistan
While we are off on a crusade to bring 'regime change' and democracy to Iraq, the media is remarkably uninterested in evaluating the clear failure of the war on Afghanistan. War lords, funded by the U.S., run the country with as much brutality of the Taliban and women remain subjugated. But poppy production is up.
The Israeli Occupation
Israel is proving to be at least as brutal an occupier as any other in history. Yet the U.S. media still treats the Palestinian victims of the occupation as 'terrorists' and the Israelis as supermen in white hats. There is no atrocity committed by the Israelis that brings any condemnation in the media stronger than a 'tut, tut.' Any story on any Israeli atrocity invariably begins with .... "In response to a Palestinian ...." while any Palestinian act of violence stands alone and is never put in context. The fact that Israel has hundreds of nuclear bombs is ignored, as is the fact that Israel ignores international law and UN resolutions -- the same kind of defiance that is deemed reason enough to destroy Iraq.
Colombia and Venezuela
The U.S. is encouraging and financing a war on the Colombian people by a brutal right wing government, at the same time is up to its armpits in an attempt to overthrow President Chavez in Venezuela. The Colombia story, to the extent that it is covered at all, reflects official lies that it is a war against drug lords. In Venezuela, only one side of the story is covered and U.S. intervention is routinely ignored.
The environment and global warming
Global warming is a catastrophe for the entire planet, although you wouldn't know this if you are dependent on the corporate media for your news. The media still maintains the fiction that there is no scientific consensus on global warming, although the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. The dangers of warming -- from the submergence of small islands and millions of acres of shoreline (within the next century all of South Florida could be under water), to the possibility of a new ice age that would devastate New England and much of Europe -- are rarely examined.
Meanwhile, Bush's assaults on the environment, from cutting old growth forests to drilling in Alaska to trying to destroy the Kyoto treaty on cutting the greenhouse gases that help fuel global warming are treated only as one-edition minor stories.
The media now covers elections in news bites, usually in the context of a horse race, who's ahead, who's falling behind. Meanwhile, the ad departments are raking in money for campaign ads. The Lear Center Local News Archive reports that four campaign ads were aired during local TV news broadcasts for every election-related story. The report noted that only 37 percent of 122 stations aired any campaign coverage at all during a five-week period in September and October. TV stations and networks use public airways for private gain, but don't feel any responsibility to the public. If you can't pay for news, it ain't news.
Etc. and etc. and etc.
Numerous other stories of far more importance to Americans and other inhabitants of earth go routinely unreported by the corporate media. The privatization of water will hurt millions, perhaps billions, of people, yet most consumers of the media know nothing about it. The shredding of the welfare safety net by President Clinton is beginning to bite in the current recession, but you'd never know it from mainstream media coverage. A prison/industrial complex is encouraging the imprisonment of scores of thousands of people, mostly blacks and other minorities and for mostly minor offenses.
About those Top Stories
Most of the stories on the Top Ten list noted above are not unimportant, but the coverage trivializes them.
Take Number One, U.S. threats of war against Iraq. The coverage consists of passing on the latest White House or State Department statements. No attempt is made to put those statements in context, or note that they often contradict something said before. There is little to no coverage of the opposition to U.S. war threats in other countries and other governments.
The sniper killings received the saturation coverage previously reserved for dead princesses, fallen sports heroes, and a Cuban boy in Miami. During one week in October, TV network newscasts spent 132 minutes on the sniper story, while devoting only four minutes to the House elections, a total perversion of priorities.
And so it goes. Story number three in the Palm Beach Post list is the economy, a worthy topic indeed. But media coverage in general was fixated on the stock market and the fate of billionaires reduced to mere multimillionaire status. The plight of the scores of thousands of laid off workers was invisible in corporate media coverage. The corporate scandals made fourth place on the list, but each scandal was treated in isolation and there was no discussion or suggestion that the corruption was systematic and might require changes.
The mainstream media has become a mouthpiece for government and corporate propaganda. Worse, it doesn't even see any shame in its status.
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Related Internal Links
The Fourth Estate - Deck Deckert (November 2002)
If The Media Were Liberal... - Deck Deckert (June 2002)
Controlled News; Dying Democracy - Deck Deckert (June 2002)
Propaganda: Then and Now - Gilles d'Aymery (November 2001)
The Media Marches off to War - Deck Deckert (October 2001)
The Media - Deck Deckert (April 2001)
Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic.
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This Week's Internal Links
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Essays published in 2002 | 2001