In 1998, the consolidation of corporate media, in both ownership and news content, continued to rage unabated. In Seattle and nationally, in TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, and, yes, Internet, editors consensed without even knowing it on the stories we, the news-consuming public, most needed to know. The results were not good.
Most Overrated Stories
With Clinton’s sex scandal, the award for most overrated story can safely be retired for posterity. If the worst imaginable outcome happens (it won’t), and Al Gore becomes president for a year or so, it will bring virtually no change to any policies of consequence. If, as is far more likely, Clinton is merely disgraced, we will have spend millions of dollars and air hours confirming what anyone with an IQ over 14 already knows: anyone with the ambition to hold high elected office in the U.S. is almost certainly a jerk. Including both Bill and his persecuters. Instead, put them all on trial for their very real crimes against the electorate.
In Seattle, the desire for a good sex story resulted in the overcoverage of Mary Kay LeTourneau and her nasty habit of having kids by a former student, still well under age. Oddly enough, media interest in this story started to wane when said boy started asserting himself as a, well, adolescent boy, making it a bit harder to portray LeTourneau as evil incarnate.
Special kudos here go to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer–goodness knows, their editors want awards for it–and its grotesque overhype of the Wenatchee sex ring story. Granted, the overturning of several convictions in the case merits attention–but the P-I gave the story its own cute graphic, literally dozens of editorials, op-eds, and editorial cartoons to back up its months of righteous indignation, and very little coverage of the “other” side: the side that says there were very real reasons for believing abuse occurred.
While the P-I went for sex, the Seattle Times went for something even better: public-private partnerships. Here, the usual blitz of editorials, op- eds, and biased coverage couldn’t make up for the fact that the Schell administration had virtually no support outside the usual downtown suspects (championed by the Times) for the usual array of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare schemes. The death of the 2012 Olympics may have been the most satisfying comeuppance for the Times in years–or at least since the Seattle Commons.
The Times also led the way–barely–in local and national media’s obsession with our need to shop. It’s essential for business success, the health of the economy, and our national vitality, you know. For details, we go live to the mall!
No survey of local media would be complete without mentioning the biased overcoverage of Boeing (especially poor stock performance) and Microsoft (especially anti-trust proceedings). Of course, poor stock performance wasn’t just a local problem. Every day (it seemed) media idiots reported breathlessly on the latest yo-yoing of the Dow Jones, as though it mattered to the audience. And the hourly utterances of Alan Greenspan– -which propelled most of that yo-yoing–can go, too.
Lastly, there’s the perennials: overhyped weather events, sports scores, celebrities, fashion, horoscopes, pet features, or tragedy-stricken children (or tragedy-stricken school superintendents). Obvious, so it has to be said: these are products of a profit-driven entertainment industry. There is nothing wrong with being entertained. But it’s not news.
One More Thing: We’re a year away, and I’m already so fucking sick of the fraud that is Y2K hysteria and general millenial kitsch that I could scream, barf, or maybe even turn the TV off.
The Most Underrated Stories, At Home And Abroad
Planet Continues to Die: Here’s what we wrote in this category the last two years: “For a time in past years, things like ozone holes, global warning, mass species extinctions, and toxic waste attracted headlines and scientific concern. The concern is increasing, and the headlines have disappeared. Not only has the Antarctic ozone hole widened, but a matching Arctic hole extends at times as far south as Seattle. (Vancouver, B.C. media reports local ozone counts; Canada, like the rest of the world, is a bit more worried than we are.) The rainforests, of course, continue to fall as fast as they can be processed into disposable chopsticks. Global warming is now an accepted fact. Cancers and other illnesses based on chemical sensitivities are fast becoming a global epidemic. The U.S. continues to work hard to stall international agreements that might cut into transnational profits in an attempt to save life on Earth.”
Add declining sperm counts, genetic engineering, contaminated food supplies, polluted oceans, and the Al Gore For President Campaign, and it’sclear that our biosphere is in even greater danger 12 months later. The crisis, when mentioned at all, is portrayed as a crisis in potential corporate earnings. May the cockroaches have pity on our souls.
Boeing Goes To War: Boeing, with its acquisition of Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas, became one of the world’s leading arms dealers. You’d never know it from the extensive and fawning coverage of local media–which, between product release puff pieces, asks hard questions about production techniques but never spends any time looking at where the finished products are going, or which dictators are using them to murder which large masses of civilians. That would be bad for business.
Anything to do with Local Politics. The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly, the city’s two alternative weeklies, are the city’s only reliable regular sources of local political news. The dailies, despite tremendous resources, report on it glancingly and then often with the bias that comes with golf dates with the heavy hitters. Television coverage of local politics is an oxymoron. Overall, citizen knowledge of what’s being done in our name with our money is depressingly minimal; you have to be determined to find out.
Specifically, the sea shift in Seattle’s city council was a story that didn’t get much play. That deliberative body, thanks to three new progressive voices and especially the leadership of Nick Licata, was more vibrant and more of a force in city politics in 1998 than our supposedly visionary but in fact curiously hands-off mayor, Paul Schell. His disappearance was another barely-noticed local story, as was that of Republican-in-donkey-drag Governor Gary Locke.–Geov Parrish
Foreign Stories of 1998
In recent years U.S. media, especially TV network news, has devoted less and less space to foreign news. In 1998 the U.S. press did a particularly sad job of covering international news. Here’s a quick summary of the foreign stories that were covered ad nauseam versus the really important stories that were ignored. First, the drek:
Balkan bloodbath and carnage in the Congo. Body counts, burned villages, troop movements–when it was covered, it was all served up in gory detail, without a shred of background information, history, or on-the-spot investigative reporting to make it meaningful.
The Middle East peace process that never was. This was a fiasco from the start. No sooner had the U.S. press shouted that the Wye Accords were Clinton’s big foreign policy coup, than the Israeli government gave the go-ahead to bulldoze more Palestinian homes to make way for even more Israeli settlements. Almost nothing has changed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, yet the U.S. media continues to keep the “peace process” corpse alive, day after day.
International terrorism. Terrorism kills one–sometimes two–dozen U.S. citizens per year. Even when extremists hit a big target (like this year’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) the number of total Americans killed in all terrorist attacks is still less than the number of people killed in a single large airplane crash, or are killed each year by bad driving in Third World cities.
Boris Yeltsin’s health. As if we care. Russians all know he’s not running the country anymore, but somehow the U.S. press hasn’t figured it out yet. Russia’s a mess that has a lot bigger problems than Yeltsin’s bad heart and alcoholism. So why do our newspapers devote several column inches to his every sneeze?
Other trivial items: North Korean nukes, Iranian nukes, suitcase bombs, and chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. These stupid stories have been repeated so often that most people believe they’re true, in spite of the lack of hard evidence to support any of them.
Here’s my short list of 1998’s most important international stories not widely covered in the U.S. press:
Major breakthroughs in the enforcement of international human rights laws, including: the establishment of an international court to try war criminals, the release of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, the trial and conviction of several war criminals in Rwanda and Bosnia, and the arrest of Augusto Pinochet.
Meanwhile, human rights continued to be violated all around the globe on the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Most of the offenders continue to do it to retain political power, to gain control of natural resources, or to keep the poor marginalized. Some of the worst offenders: Serbia, Indonesia, Colombia, Algeria, Burma, China, troops fighting on both sides in the Congo war, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the U.S. government–just to name a few.
A combination of mal-development and global warming turned Central America into a wasteland. The main culprit: corporate, plantation agriculture, which had pushed most of Central America’s rural poor up into the hills to farm on steep slopes. Denuded of brush and natural vegetation, those slopes quickly turned into massive mudslides during Hurricane Mitch’s heavy rains. The lack of government money for social spending, disaster relief, and disaster planning (casualties of IMF “reforms”) in these countries were no help, either.
Asian economic crisis spreads to Russia and Latin America. Russia defaulted on its domestic debt this year, and won’t be able to pay its foreign debt due at the end of this month. A second default is likely. Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina have all needed help from banks and the IMF to stay afloat. And now Mexico is teetering on the edge …
Collapse of Mexican banks. Sinking under massive debt left over from the 1994 crisis, a number of Mexican banks have gone under. The Mexican government wants to bail them out to the tune of $60 billion, but it doesn’t have the money–primarily because of a huge drop in oil prices. Oil revenue makes up about 30-40% of the Mexican government’s income.
The collapse of commodity prices has turned a world-wide recession into a Depression, and it’s hitting the poorest nations the hardest. As populous nations (Russia, Indonesia, India, Brazil, etc.) succumbed to currency crises in the past year, they couldn’t afford to buy imported foods, fuel, or other commodities. As demand dried up, commodity prices plummeted. Now most Third World countries, whose economies rely heavily on export commodities, are suffering terribly.
And that’s my list–not edited to please investors, boost the Dow, attract advertisers, or sell tennis shoes. Here’s to a happy–and hopefully better–New Year!