While I agree with most of Geov’s selections for the most overhyped and underrated stories of the year, I have my own additions.
In the overhyped category:
Y2K and JFK Jr. both summed up the stupidity of the U.S. media this year. The Y2K fervor even had its own movie of the week. Next up: an ABC adaptation of “rich guy crashes his plane.”
In the most underrated category:
The media gave us no big picture on the failure of welfare reform. A few years have passed since states enacted welfare reform laws and this year, under public pressure, they began conducting surveys to gauge the success of these changes. Each study, however, has shown a failure to adequately care for and boost the living standards of the poor–and the media has generally ignored the results. What’s emerging is a picture of the poor getting poorer and working families having to decide between eating or paying the utility bills, or between paying for day care or having a roof over their heads. In addition, there’s a growing scandal over state social workers illegally refusing Medicaid to former welfare recipients. It is all happening in silence, because the media is looking the other way. All in all, this is the year’s biggest story.
The U.S. is in a recession, but the media myth is the exact opposite. The media has narrowly focused on the three most manipulated economic indicators in the U.S.: the stock market indices, the figure for official unemployment, and the figure for inflation. You would think that no other economic signs matter. In the real world, inflation is up, corporate profits are way down, underemployment is high, wage erosion continues, healthcare coverage is shrinking, debt levels are rising, there’s a housing crisis nearly everywhere (not just in the Puget Sound region), and the lines at food banks have grown beyond all capacity to deal with them. In addition, even some of the most brainwashed economists and stock brokers admit that the NASDAQ (the media’s market index of the moment) is being grossly inflated by a couple dozen high tech and dotcom companies, whose weighting in the index increases when their stock price soars. In other words, these 20 or so companies (many of whom operate at a loss) account for 99% of the gain in the NASDAQ this year. In the meantime, the stock prices of hundreds of other companies that make up the NASDAQ market are in free-fall (and so are their actual profits). The same is true for companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The economy is not booming, it is bottoming out, but a few shareholders and stockbrokers have found a way to make it look good forever.
The most underrated international stories are:
Large areas of Africa have become the testing grounds for weapons manufacturers from China to the U.S. It’s also where old weapons are dumped on the blackmarket. In the past two decades, millions of African people have died from war, landmines, disease, famine, and displacement. The various African conflicts have also provided a training ground for white mercenaries and privatized armies, and have also provided plenty of fodder for military strategists who study warfare in various terrain: jungle, mountain, river delta, steppe, and desert. In short, the mostly First World military machine is thriving from the destruction of a continent. Meanwhile, Africa almost never makes the headlines, except for the occasional mention of a military coup or a bleeding-heart famine story–both reported without any broad analysis of cause and effect or the responsibility of the West. This is the shame of the U.S. media.
A close second would be how NATO and the U.S. used Kosovo to legalize war against civilian populations. The bombing of schools, hospitals, power plants, sewage and water facilities, government buildings, power lines, the media, and targets that would create gross environmental catastrophe is now legitimate and has now become standard practice in warfare (witness the ongoing destruction of Chechnya by the Russian army). And it wasn’t some evil, Third World dictator who did it. It was us. Where was the U.S. media?
This year, the U.N. stood by and allowed two atrocities to occur: the ongoing sanctions in Iraq (which continue to slaughter innocents, with no appreciable effect on the Iraqi government) and the Indonesian military’s destruction of East Timor. There was barely a whisper about either of these in the U.S. press. There were no clearer or more closely watched (in the Eastern and European press) examples of the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy and the ineptitude of the U.N., but the U.S. media was oblivious.
And finally, over two months ago another Global Climate Conference came and went without a single mention in the U.S. press. The BBC covered it, the Financial Times of London wrote it up, Agence France Presse was there, and even the Irish Times had something to say about it. But here in the U.S. not a word was printed. Perhaps they didn’t want to print information embarrassing to U.S. business, Congress, and the Clinton/Gore Administration–i.e., the shameful performance of U.S. delegates, who did everything they could to undermine any implementation of the Kyoto accords. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress still hasn’t ratified the treaty on global warming. And why would they? The press seems to have forgotten all about it.
And finally, a couple of smaller, but more heartening, stories went largely unnoticed. The emergence of an anti-genetic engineering movement in North America has failed to make the news, in spite of several successful actions this year. Secondly, with the help of radical environmentalists, Watch Mountain and Fossil Creek were both removed from the Plum Creek I-90 land exchange. Saving these two forests from logging is a major local environmental victory. Congratulations to the local residents of Randle, WA, and to the tree-sitters and activists from the Cascadia Defense Network who worked together to save these areas from the axe.