2003 Media Follies!
- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
2003 Media Follies!
Geov Parrish - WorkingForChange.com
12.31.03 - This is the eighth year that I've looked at the most
overhyped and under- reported stories of the year. I began compiling
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 and official spin.
Every year since, it's gotten worse, and the gulf between what people
in this country and those elsewhere in the world are told about the
same events has continued to widen. But the year 2004 will be a
particularly critical one in our nation's, and world's, modern
history. The chain of events set in motion by the U.S. invasion of
Iraq is likely to take a definitive turn; beyond that, the American
public will be asked to pass judgment on four years' performance of
one of the most radical regimes in our country's history.
Understanding what's actually happening has never been more
important -- and spinmeisters' efforts to obscure what's actually
happening will be stronger and more technologically savvy than ever.
It's time to get smart.
To that end, enter 2004 with our annual list of the past year's most
overhyped and underreported -- and misreported -- stories. Remember,
they told us they'd lie to us. They were telling the truth.
Most Overrated Stories of the Year
Saving Jessica Lynch On the basis of its subsequent media saturation -
- books and TV instamovie included -- the bogus story of Jessica
Lynch's "rescue" narrowly outpolls the toppling of Saddam's statue as
the most sickening episode of government lying for political gain in
recent memory. (The "official" story of Saddam's capture may yet
prove to join this elite company.)
Both the statue and Lynch stories were easily and quickly discredited
in foreign media -- and, eventually, in U.S. media as well -- but
remain iconic markers of the "heroic" Iraq invasion in the minds of
many Americans. In the case of the statue, what was presented as the
joyous, spontaneous post-victory celebration of a huge Baghdad crowd
was quickly revealed by non-network witnesses and wide-angle lenses
to be a group of at most 150 Iraqis -- probably paid by the
Americans -- who with the help of U.S. troops on site pulled down a
statue of Saddam for waiting TV cameras in an otherwise nearly empty
The Lynch episode was even more cynical, particularly for its crass
exploitation of a young soldier who had gone through the undeniably
harrowing ordeal of being a POW. But she was captured after being
injured in a vehicular accident -- not, as the first Pentagon
claimed, after a heroic firefight. And the videotape of her "rescue"
from an unguarded hospital that she could freely walk away from
involved the filming of an elaborate Hollywood-style commando raid
against an off-camera foe that turned out to be completely
fictitious. Both episodes were important reminders that sometimes the
camera does lie -- depending on who's holding it.
Other lowlights of the year:
Arnold Schwarzenegger runs for governor. Never before has a political
neophyte gained high political office by waging a campaign through
appearances on E! and Jay Leno. Let's hope it never happens again.
(But it probably will.)
Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Which is worse -- a sports
superstar, on trial for felony rape, who gets huge ovations in arenas
across the country because of the charges against him, or the dare-
you-not-to-look spectacle of a trial examining the alleged
perversions of an over-the-hill music superstar who is now longer
barely recognizably human, let alone black or male?
The economic recovery. Also on the 2002 list. This year, it moved
from the realm of projecting a fictitious recovery from a highly
selective (and dubious) reading of economic tea leaves, to projecting
a fictitious permanent recovery from a highly selective (and dubious)
reading of the tea leaves of what is at best a temporary respite from
misery. And what the hell is the point of a "jobless recovery,"
And, of course, there are the perennials: bleeding that leads,
overhyped weather, and our secular religions: sports and shopping.
Bread and circuses, sans bread.
The Year's Most Important Underreported Stories
The Bush tax cuts have flopped. The flip side of the "recovery"
stories. This has also been on the list the last two years. But it's
worth a return engagement because most of the administration's
economic claims -- and assumptions for future planning -- are grossly
fictional. Never has an administration been so greedy for its own
economic interests, or lied so much about it. We'll be stuck with the
bill for decades.
Corporate corruption continues to run amok. Bush's 2002 "reforms"
were a farce. The problem isn't just the lack of regulatory
enforcement -- it's the entire system.
Health care in America is in crisis. Bush's Medicare bill largely
served to make wealthy drug companies richer still; the so-
called "Patient's Bill of Rights" was a meaningless farce. Meanwhile,
even a relatively minor health problem can destroy the life savings
of the nearly 50 million uninsured, and the far larger numbers whose
insurance works great so long as we don't get sick. The real story
here is the countless parasites unnecessarily making money in our
health care system, and how politicians would rather cater to them
than help solve a crisis that, sooner or later, affects each of us.
Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. Neither man has a chance for the
Democratic nomination. Yet both Kucinich and Sharpton have generated
fiercely loyal followings as the only two candidates in a crowded
field with the clarity and guts to challenge fundamental assumptions
of the Bush domestic and foreign policy agendas. Howard Dean's
successful candidacy wouldn't be possible without this pair on his
flank, making him look "more reasonable" even as corporate media
ignores or ridicules their campaigns.
The Taliban is making a comeback. Bush's pledges to not abandon
Afghanistan turned out to be a cruel joke. Sure, our troops are still
there -- they're the only thing keeping CIA man Hamid Karzai
in "power," albeit only in the capital city of Kabul and only during
daylight hours. Elsewhere, the same old brutal warlords are running
the show, stealing, murdering, and getting rich from record poppy
harvests. The Americans have so little influence they've resorted to
quietly working with "moderate" elements of the Taliban -- who, with
the patience of any society that has a history of several thousand
years, are quietly getting stronger again in the mountains.
The peace movement was right -- and still is -- about Iraq. The fact
that the Bush Administration was lying about virtually every
justification for invading Iraq was something any inquiring reporter
could have exposed months before, not after, the invasion began. No
ties to Al-Qaeda. No weapons of mass destruction. No danger to U.S.
security. Dated, wildly exaggerated, or simply forged "intelligence."
An invasion that was illegal under any and every conceivable legal
authority. And peaceniks have continued to be right: the anonymous
(and, in the U.S., almost entirely unreported) death of thousands of
Iraqi civilians. Many thousands more, including U.S. soldiers, will
die from the radioactive munitions. And now the country's being
looted by the same bullies who overran it. Saddam isn't the only
government leader who deserves to stand trial.
The catastrophe that has been the U.S. administration of Iraq. Iraq's
guerrilla resistance is not the work of Saddam Hussein, or foreign
fighters recruited by Al-Qaeda and the like. It's the work of the
Americans -- specifically, it wouldn't exist except for the
widespread and steadily rising popular anger over the Americans'
ongoing, utter failure to provide any of the services normally
associated with government. Eight months into U.S. rule, looting is
still so bad most Iraqis won't leave home after dark. Usually there's
no electricity to see by, anyway, especially outside Baghdad. The
U.S. occupiers have been censoring Arab media, repressing the
political parties they don't like -- especially Shi'a
fundamentalists -- making widespread mass arrests with no semblance
of a judicial system or due process (and widespread torture
allegations), and murdering civilians seemingly at will and with no
fear of consequence. Far from instilling democratic values,
Washington has done everything possible to avoid them -- from
canceling promised free elections to blocking the use of U.N. and
other technocrats with experience in building and nurturing civil
society to not doing that work itself. Hiding in their heavily
fortified compounds and armored convoys, the Americans remind many
Iraqis of nothing so much as the thugs they replaced.
Privatization and corporate looting of Iraq. Meanwhile, the serious
looting isn't on the street -- not that Americans tried to stop that,
either, even at the invasion's height. It's in a privatization scheme
more sweeping than has ever been adopted in any poor country anywhere
else in the world. Iraq is literally being auctioned off, mostly to
well-connected American companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. Few
Iraqis have any of the new currency, let alone jobs -- those are all
going to Americans or to Kuwaitis, Saudis, or Southeast Asian
nationals. By the time Iraq is given the chance (albeit heavily
rigged in D.C.'s favor) to "rule itself," the country will look a lot
like those houses the Grinch visited before Christmas -- except that
these Grinches will never, ever get bigger hearts and give the stuff
Israel's apartheid wall. Longer and taller than Berlin's, it's a
flagrantly illegal gambit to reduce Palestine to Bantustans;
meanwhile, the routine brutalization and humiliation of ordinary
Palestinians continues to grow. This, not Iraq, is the conflict upon
which future world peace depends, and Washington's role in worsening
it has been critical. Why so little attention?
Africa, Africa, Africa. So much is flying under U.S. media radar,
it's hard to know where to start -- from Mugabe's terrorizing of
Zimbabwe to AIDS to the renewed national and regional depredations of
Nigeria, a country effectively run by the likes of Shell and Chevron,
and whichever local generals have the franchise this week. But as
always the place to start is Central Africa -- where a brutal, decade-
long war has now killed a staggering four million or more people,
replete with atrocities, civilian massacres, torture, sexual slavery,
and lots and lots of U.S.-made weaponry. The war's raison d'etre? The
mineral wealth of the eastern Congo, which includes several rare
minerals used in the production of computer screens, keyboards, and
chips. Prominent among the numerous American companies getting rich
by paying "rebel" armies to take over mining regions are -- surprise -
- Halliburton and Bechtel. This should be a scandal rocking the
globe -- but it's sub-Saharan Africa, where they don't value life the
way we do [sic].
The collapse of the "Washington consensus." U.S. media has given a
bit of attention to the hypocrisy of the Bush Administration pushing
a free trade agenda while blithely continuing its price supports for
domestic steel and agribusiness. (Somehow, the arms trade never makes
this list.) But the bigger story is that despite Washington's
enormous fiscal and military clout, and the sobering example of Iraq
for any who dare step out of line, fewer and fewer countries are
buying that "free trade" bullshit. Since 2000, popular movements in
nearly every country in South America have determined who governs the
country; this year, protesters forced Bolivia's president into exile
over a natural gas export scheme. Lula, Brazil's newly elected, left-
leaning president, has formed (along with India and, increasingly,
China) a caucus that is standing up to Bush demands for the right to
loot the global South. Both the WTO talks in Cancun and FTAA talks in
Miami broke down this fall. Popular outrage over decades of destroyed
economies isn't letting the elites who run these countries acquiesce
to Washington. Now that's democracy in action.
Bush v. Constitution There have been no, repeat, no publicly revealed
terror attacks foiled on U.S. soil since 9/11 -- only the trumped-up
cases of a few homegrown Muslim fantasy warriors. But state power and
erosion of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights continues to
expand, in the name of 9/11 and "terrorism". A leaked draft of a
proposed "PATRIOT II" bill caused a public uproar early in the year.
A major provision was then snuck through Congress anyway -- the right
to seize and examine any business's records, no warrant, judge, or
jury needed. Guantanamo's prisons continue to expand, allegations of
torture and border brutalizations keep cropping up in foreign media,
and John Ashcroft still has a job. The good news: increasingly,
courts are telling Bush to back off. The bad news: if reelected, Bush
will likely get to pick two or three new Supreme Court judges.
The U.S. remains the biggest terrorist nation in the world. We're the
largest arms exporter. We're funding the next generation of Saddams
in places like Pakistan and Uzbekistan, we give Israel money and
diplomatic cover, we ignore international treaties and laws whenever
we like. For years, it was all done with an implied threat: our
military will crush any regime that strays too far out of line. With
Iraq, the threat is no longer implied; it's right out there for all
No combination of world powers has been able or willing to hold this
rogue state accountable for its transgressions. The only force that
can is the American public itself. In 2004, we'll have the chance.
The essential first steps: Educating ourselves, seeking out multiple
alternative news sources, and making up our own minds. The essential
next steps: use that knowledge, spread that knowledge, and get
busy!! --Geov Parrish