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Eat the State: 2002 Media Follies
by Maria Tomchick & Geov Parrish
Monday Dec 30th, 2002 11:01 AM
This is the seventh year ETS! has compiled the most overhyped and underreported stories of the year. We started the list in 1996 with the perception that the U.S, public, instead of getting the information it needed to make informed decisions in a democracy, was being distracted with an endless barrage of feel-good trivia.
Ah, the good old days. Now, that same trivia is mixed in with active disinformation being cynically fed by politicians from the White House down, self-interested corporations, and media that could know better if it only dared rock a boat now and then. As a result, two-thirds of Americans in a recent poll were reported to believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. That's a combination of a cynical and extraordinarily effective propaganda campaign, and corporate reporters not doing their job -- or at least, not the job they're supposed to be doing. Instead, network news gives us 45 second standups in front of the State Department followed by ten minutes promoting some new movie or TV series put out by the same corporate octopus. Then you'll see the same entertainment footage on local news, right after the car wreck and the sports, and before Super-Double-Doppler (TM) 14-day weather.

In such a climate, it's more important than ever to seek out -- and create! -- alternative media; to take in more than one source; to decide for yourself; and to not believe everything you read. We've already been told this administration will lie to us; at least give them points for honesty on that score. Pity that's the only time corporate media didn't believe them.

The Most Overrated Stories of the Year

Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: Nobody -- except the Bush Administration and Tony Blair -- believes they exist. Seldom have so many words been wasted on weapons that, if they did exist, would be few in number, poorly made, and impossible to deliver more than a couple hundred miles. Instead, Bush's obsession becomes our obsession. Worse, constant repetition of "Iraq = Saddam = Terrorist" has successfully shifted post 9/11 focus -- and blame -- away from the very real threat posed by Islamic terrorists, most of whom seem to come from countries we consider allies.

Axis of Evil: News Flash!! Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are three different countries. Iraq and Iran's governments loathe each other, and neither has any connection with North Korea. They are radically different in politics, history, religion, and culture, linked only by the rhetorical flourishes of George Bush's marketers -- er, speechwriters. Apparently that's enough.

The Economic Recovery: It's coming, remember? And coming, and coming, it's just around the corner. Who'd have guessed this funhouse had so damned many corners?

John Walker Lindh: Amazing how a dirty filthy traitor can become a confused kid with a heart of gold when Dad can afford good lawyers.

Catholic Sex Scandals: Yes, they were horrific crimes. But media coverage routinely failed to distinguish between the recent priestly crimes and coverups and the ones that happened two or three decades ago. How come we can care so much about someone who committed sex crimes in the '70s, but a documented war criminal in the '70s or '80s can completely avoid criticism for engineering mass murder, even when nominated to a high-profile national position? That would be Mr. Kissinger. Come to think of it, it could also be a dozen other people in the Bush Administration.

Code Yellow: Or amber, or chartreuse, or whatever other attempt to transform routine risk into public fear is being trotted out this week. As warnings, they're pointless; nobody pays attention. But as attempts to make the White House look good and prop up its other policies, it works like a charm.

9/11 Conspiracies: Internet is media, and this is a media phenomenon -- an embarrassing one in which Someone, usually Bush or the CIA or Israel. either Knew And Did Nothing or Planned It All Themselves. It's an alternate universe in which circumstance is proof, every connection has meaning, every action is intentional and perfectly executed, and the thousands of people in on it are either too craven or scared to Tell What They Know. It's an impulse for order. Life isn't random: it must have some higher cause. This is religion, not news. And it's horseshit.

The Smallpox Threat: The chances of a terrorist group getting its hands on smallpox and being able to effectively store, transport, and disperse it in a biological attack are vanishingly small. Even the suicidal smallpox terrorist who coughs on folks at the shopping mall would infect maybe one or two people before he died (and their chances of surviving are pretty good). We have better drugs and better sanitation nowadays. But media loves a scare tactic and they've seized on this one.

Dirty Bombs: As if smallpox wasn't a big enough scare, the Bush administration and US media want you to forget about arsenic in your water and nuclear waste being trucked through your town on its way to Yucca Mountain. Instead, we're supposed to worry about dirty bombs that don't exist.

Kidnapped Children: So often the story started with "little Suzy disappeared yesterday..." and ends with "Suzy was found early this morning. She had wandered away from her backyard to visit the neighbors..." It was pointless, horrible, and pandered to parents' worst fears. And the "epidemic" of high-profile cases masked that abduction rates were normal this year, and most involve custody disputes, not strangers.

Royal Butler Bitchiness: Who cares what they stole, saw, heard, said, did, or whatever: the royals are rich weirdos, and their butlers are ass-kissing jerks. So what?

My Big Fat Greek Wedding--The Highlight of My Pathetic Life: If only women were encouraged to spend as much time on their intellectual lives as they spend on catching "Mr. Right," we'd probably have a cure for AIDS by now. Screw Maid in America. Repeat after me: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, the Cinderella myth has got to go!"

The Most Important Underreported Stories of 2002

White House Propaganda: Particularly while justifying its Iraq obsession, the Bush Administration told one whopper after another this year -- exaggerations or outright lies not even consistent with each other, let alone reality. The individual statements are rarely challenged, and the Bush Administration's overall pro-war propaganda campaign -- one of the most effective in a half-century -- is itself rarely acknowledged by media that instead willingly participate.

America's Weapons of Mass Destruction: While Iraq's weapons got the attention, it's America's that still could wipe out life on earth. Yet abolition of the ABM treaty and the world's arms control structure got very little attention, the obscene cost and (after abolition of ABM) global first-strike potential of Star Wars remained invisible, and the potential for terrorist attacks against our own vulnerable facilities was simply verboten.

Say, Who Sent Those Anthrax Spores, Anyway?

Majority of Americans Are Not Fooled: Surveys have showed, time and again, that U.S. citizens think that war with Iraq will increase our chances of being attacked by terrorists, yet the U.S. media continues to call it The War on Terrorism. Go figure. And the "broad public support" consistently reported in polls is only under the conditions of international support for war and few American casualties -- both highly unlikely.

Revitalized U.S. and World Peace Movement: Half a million people marched in Florence, Italy. Hundreds of thousands participated in various marches and rallies in U.S. But where was the U.S. media? Missing the key story: a peace movement organized to prevent a war. That's not just news, it's historic.

Afghanistan: And if we're to instigate "regime change" and democracy in Iraq, how about looking at the country where we promised exactly the same thing only a year ago? Afghan democracy American-style has been a disaster, with a puppet regime in Kabul and new U.N. offices sucking up the foreign aide, while the rest of Afghanistan remains impoverished and terrorized by many of the same warlords, committing many of the same crimes, that turned the wretched country into the killing fields during the Northern Alliance's first reign of terror. And those warlords are being funded with U.S. dollars via the Pentagon, who's been paying them to hunt the Taliban. Oh, and it was a record harvest for poppies this year...

Palestine: Meanwhile, the one country in the Middle East with confirmed nukes, a track record of defying international law and UN resolutions, and a consistent refusal to allow outside inspection remains our closest ally and biggest aid recipient. Moreover, Israel has committed systematic, horrific abuses against civilians within its militarily-occupied lands all year. Excepting a brief flurry during the Easter Offensive, it's mostly been media background noise, second fiddle to suicide bombings. And this, remember, is the one issue above all others motivating the people who did and would attack America.

Colombia: Then there's our other war -- well, the biggest of them, since the U.S. military is now in 60 countries. Colombia's new far-right government and its paramilitary thug friends are getting not just Pentagon help, but a whole crew of private armies, mercenaries, arms dealers, and other American corporations making good money from dead Colombian peasants. That Saddam sure is a menace.

Indonesia: While rigged tribunals pardoned Indonesian officers for their role in the East Timor election massacres, the Bush administration quietly sought to reestablish ties and provide training, money, and weapons to the worst and bloodiest military in the world. The Indonesian military is responsible for massacres in Irian Jaya and Aceh provinces, plus the arming and training of Islamic fundamentalists that have been responsible for massive sectarian killings. In short, they're perfect candidates for a White House dinner.

Military Corporate Welfare: It all adds up to the post-9/11 conversion, without media attention or public debate, of the United States into a country built on permanent war. It's most evident in the budget, which gives blank checks to the Pentagon and to a dozen other agencies -- and that's just the overt ones -- with war as part of their mission. Most of the money is going into hardware, not personnel, meaning juicy new contracts for triply redundant hi-tech kill toys. Along with tax cuts, it means all war, all the time, and tremendous fortunes for the people least likely to get caught in the crossfire.

The Rest of the Corporate Scandals ... and What Happened to Corporate Reform?: Enron was a star. WorldCom got some ink (although not much discussion of why its debt tripled from $3 billion to $9 billion), and Harken and Halliburton even put in (too) brief appearances. But the long, long list of other corporate scandals this year almost never made past the business section. And the systemic reasons why such "scandals" are the norm, or slight variations on the norm, were almost never discussed. Neither, after 20 years of deregulation and privatizing, was the complicity of most major figures in both political parties, or the total cost to consumers and taxpayers. Reform? With one SEC Chairman down and one head of the new Accounting Oversight Board resigning before his term even began, you can bet "reform" is a lost cause.

White House Power Grab: Occasional flurries, like Dick Cheney's noisy refusal to release information on who wrote his energy policy, made the news. But on endless fronts, this White House and its Congressional allies have reserved for themselves an unthinkable array of powers -- everything from keeping details of legislation secret until the last moment to imprisoning Americans without charges or counsel on nothing more than the President's say. A full list of the ways in which our unelected president is becoming emperor would be useful. We're still waiting.

Incumbents Forever: Why aren't Democrats rocking the boat? Because they've got their own yachts. At every level from Congress to dogcatcher, 2002 saw a record low in the number of close elections. For Congress, fewer than 10% of the races were ever in doubt, and only one -- sort of -- in Washington state. Why? Money, of course, but factor in toothless campaign finance reform and 2000 Census redistricting, which, in state after state, saw the two parties agree on plans that maximized the number of incumbents with permanent sinecures.

Bush's Foxes, Our Henhouses: Turns out our emperor put a stop to the revolving door between corporate America and the White House -- by appointing people who never stopped working for the industries they came from. Particularly at the Undersecretary level, almost every conceivable segment of America's corporate economy now has a friend on the inside looking for ways to maximize its profits. Food safety, media ownership, land use, bankruptcy law, tort reform, pollution, tax law, anti-trust protection, and on, and on. Any one of these is a scandal. Three are a trend. Several dozen and you've got a looting spree of historic proportions.

Bush Flunks the Economy Test: His tax cut was supposed to bear fruit by stimulating the economy this year. It didn't, and next year's cut won't, either. He's a "supply-sider"--and the Reagan administration should have proved long ago that supply-side economics is a joke.

High Consumer Debt Drags Down the Economy: All those years of taking out second mortgages, home improvement loans, and racking up credit card debt are starting to tell on the US public and the economy. Bankruptcies are up, way up. Consumer spending, the engine that really drives the economy, is way, way down. A tax cut for a few rich guys isn't gonna help.

Environmental Catastrophe: The Bush Administration's abolition-by-decree of numerous major protections could have been the story of the year, and served as the basis for other important stories: global warming (and the increasing isolation of America as Atmospheric Enemy No. 1), the Spanish oil tanker disaster, the impending final plunder of remaining Northwest old growth forests, the Klamath River fish kill, massive (and needless) forest fires, and the potentially enormous disaster if the Gulf War's Kuwaiti oil fires are replicated in Iraq.

The Rest of The World Goes Ahead with Kyoto: The Europeans are trading carbon credits, the Japanese are cutting emissions, and Canada has ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In January, when Russia ratifies it, it'll go into effect as international law--for everyone except us. Oink.

Privatizing Water: The natural resource in greatest demand this century won't be oil -- it'll be potable water, already in desperately short supply in much of the world. And throughout it, access is being privatized. Anyone who thinks Bechtel will make that water affordable just because millions of people need it to survive hasn't been paying attention to the pharmaceutical industry, AIDS, and Africa. But how could they? That's underreported, too -- as is the health care crisis in this country, which makes this list for the 7th consecutive year.

The Collapse of the Neoliberal Consensus: While most governments still salute the IMF flag -- caught between the debt squeeze and loyalty to their own countries' elites -- all over the world, the public isn't buying it. In South America's two biggest countries, Brazil and Argentina, popular outrage threw such governments out. In Venezuela, a coup attempt backed by the business elite and the U.S. (another underreported story) was undone by popular demonstrations. Salvadorans just defied free trade (see article, this issue). Mexico's much-vaunted maquiladoras are shutting their doors, as companies flee for China and other still cheaper labor markets. The rich get richer, the poor get more desperate, and around the world, the free market model now presented as inevitable in this country is anything but. And lots of people hate our genetically engineered food, too.

Fast track: Meanwhile, back in DC, far-reaching legislation giving the president virtually total authority to commit the US to neoliberal trade agreements was whisked through Congress -- in the dead of night, with no congressional, let alone public, debate.

The Smallpox Vaccine Scandal: It's a tale of contractors sucking up taxpayer money to make an unnecessary product that will do more harm than good. The vaccine program was stopped 30 years ago for a reason: more people were killed and permanently injured by the shots than would ever get the disease. Nothing has changed, except the Bush PR/Terrorism campaign. And with a large population of HIV-positive people and immuno-suppressed people with organ transplants, it's sheer murder to set a live vaccine loose. Meanwhile, flu vaccine shortages are an annual ritual, while 20,000 people per year die of it.

The Whole World Doesn't Hate Us: Sure, much of the world does (for good reason), but a substantial number simply think our government is run by certifiable lunatics. That perspective almost never shows up in US media.

Shredded Safety Nets: Beyond all the false cheerleading and Greenspan-worship, the one piece of the rotten economy that did, in fact, make news -- beyond tanking 401(k)s -- was budget crises. But these were inevitably painted as local stories. Washington is only one of 46 states -- almost all of them -- with severe budget shortfalls this year. The feds send less money to the states, the states send less to the counties and cities, and at every level revenues suffer as politicians (or Eyman figures) rail against taxes. The first thing to get cut, at every level, is the safety net. And thanks to the aforementioned global warming, the winters will get colder on the street, too.

Paul Allen's Real Estate: I don't care about his yachts or sports teams. I want to know why Paul Allen's drive to buy SoDo, buy Lake Union, and link the two is being greased at every turn by local politicos and ignored by local media, even when his company illegally tears down affordable housing.

Transportation Scams: The region's favorite topic inspires endless coverage, while still somehow managing to avoid discussion of the vast waste and featherbedding (Referendum 51, Alaskan Way viaduct, I-405 and SR 520), the inefficiency (Sound Transit), the lack of any coordinated strategy, and the really hopeless prospects of being able to fund it all.

Our Prisons: The INS facility is a horror story. King County's jail is notoriously cold, drafty, overcrowded, and uninhabitable. Cruelty is rampant among inmates and staff alike. Why doesn't anyone care?

Boeing's Gone: Last year, the departure of a few hundred Boeing executives was overhyped. But this year, as the region's largest employer continued to shift jobs overseas and the vote for a new machinists' contract had only 60% of the eligible voters four years ago, nobody could bring themselves to report it. Or acknowledge that those jobs aren't coming back.

Local unionbusting: Boeing wasn't the only prominent local labor dispute this year. From the waterfront to UW to Harborview to suburban school districts, employers sought not just rollbacks, but to break the union. A trend? Who knows?

Port of Seattle: The least accountable piece of local government had a particularly nasty year in the shadows: Fisherman's Terminal, SeaTac's third runway, a massive property tax hike, sweetheart deals for the cruise line industry, and nary an enquiring mind. Here's to an army of flashlights in 2003!

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