AMONG THE MANY gifts of the late 20th century is the information explosion. Chain generated dailies grind on, alternative weeklies grace well over 100 cities, talk, micro and public radio flourish, practically every one and their dog has a 'zine and, of course, there's the medium of the fin de siecle, the World Wide Web. Never before has so much information been so available to so many. Information consumes us. But to what end?
The job of the media is to serve as the "Fourth Estate," to watchdog the three branches of government in a role essential to democracy. But does "The Media," in all its myriad forms and functions, get the job done? Do the truly important stories of the day reach the masses? Evidently not. As the team of researchers and judges at Sonoma State University's "Project Censored" rediscover each year, much of the news is, in effect, deemed unworthy by the media's most powerful outlets.
Founded by Carl Jensen in 1976, Project Censored's distinguished panel of judges reviews little-known stories culled from a national research effort each year. While loyal readers of Public Citizen magazine or listeners of Jim Hightower's radio commentaries may be up on corporate welfare scams or NAFTA's broken promises, these outlets are mere chips off the media monolith.
It is with no small amount of irony that the abysmal coverage of the Telecommunications Act leads the list of censored stories this year. Ironic because the telecom bill received plenty of ink; censored because of the fact that the vast majority of the media failed to explore the ramifications of the bill for consumers and of encroaching monopoly control over our communications system. Rather, standard press coverage recycled the corporate party line about the benefits of increased competition and looked the other way as the lobbying blitz of the century propelled the bill through Congress.
This was one story in a list of important of stories that examines such issues as the hidden costs of the health care crisis and the horrific state of child labor today--stories that detail real effects on people's lives. Vastly and shamefully under-reported, these and other important stories of the hour are probably news to you too.
1. Telecommunications Bill
("Federal Telecommunications Legislation: Impact on Media Concentration," Ralph Nader, James Love, and Andrew Saindon, Consumer Project on Technology, July 14, 1995.)
When the telecom bill was set to be passed, Vice President Al Gore called it an "early Christmas present for the consumer." The New York Times decried, "after four years of legislative struggle, there was one clear winner--the consumer." And citing rare bipartisan agreement in the Capitol and echoing the misguided shout of deregulation, media across the land cheerleaded its passage. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 proved to be the cause for a nearly unified chorus of hoorays from Beltway shakers and mainstream media alike, praising a bill that would ostensibly lower prices and improve service for all our information needs by opening up the market to competition. But as those rare telecom critics who dissected the bill learned, the law was not created with consumers in mind.
Bought and paid for by the very telecommunications conglomerates it is supposed to discipline, encouraging further monopoly and ultimately driving up costs to the consumer, the bill is nothing short of a travesty. While the mind-boggling density of the bill meant that few dared to decipher it, if the telecom critics are right, anyone who uses a phone, watches TV, reads the newspaper, or listens to the radio will learn first-hand the consequences of the most sweeping changes in communications law since 1934.
2. Balancing the Budget
("Cut Corporate Welfare: Not Medicare," John Canham-Clyne, Public Citizen, July/August, 1995)
FEW ECONOMIC STORIES dominated the news like the budget battle and its ensuing government shutdown in 1995. The mainstream media played into the hands of the politicians who posited the stalemate as a GOP v. Clinton scenario, complete with a political winner and a loser. The real losers, of course, were the many Americans left without work for weeks. The winners, as analysis by a broad range of groups across the ideological spectrum reveals, are the cash-rich corporations that remain on the government dole.
While Congress called for a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, and social welfare in order to achieve a balanced budget by the year 2002, according to a study done by Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, the books could be balanced without gutting programs for the poor and the elderly by tightening the reigns on what is commonly known as "corporate welfare." A wide range of subsidies, tax breaks, public property giveaways, and other policies benefiting certain companies or industries, corporate welfare costs taxpayers between $53 billion and $167.2 billion annually, depending on who's crunching the numbers. Why should Exxon be exempt from paying taxes on the $8.2 billion profits the oil company reinvests overseas? And how is it that U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for Campbell Soup's half-a-million-dollar direct subsidy from the USDA to advertise the salty stuff abroad? As the media quibble over whose plan to cut Medicaid is more "fair," few are finding the answers to the hard questions that challenge the U.S.'s corporate welfare state.
3. Child Labor Is Worse Today
("Working In Harm's Way," Ron Nixon, Southern Exposure, Fall/Winter 1995)
FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS after the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibited youth under 18 from working in hazardous conditions, child labor violations are happening more frequently today than at any time during the notorious 1930s. Some five million young people are reportedly in the workforce (the actual number is much higher), but as Ron Nixon reports, enforcement of the FLSA is lax, and lobbying efforts by a wide-range of business trade organizations "make reform nearly impossible." Farms, notoriously unregulated, are not eager to expose this problem, nor is the government, which cut investigations into child labor violations nearly in half from 1992-1994.
Why does the government turn a blind eye toward the plight of its smallest victims? In a piece for Southern Exposure, Nixon followed the money and found that the National Restaurant Association gave more than $650,000 to 279 candidates in the 1994 election, with 73 percent going to Republican candidates. Since so many young workers are paid under the table and the government does not even gather data on workers below the age of 15, there is little information available, leaving many child labor violations unreported--and unspoken. Nobody knows for sure just how many children remain in work situations that are detrimental to their mental and physical health. What is certain is that by the time a negligent company has been fined, and the media's interest is in turn piqued, the damage has often already been done.
4. U.S. Plans to Spend Billions on Nukes
("U.S. Seeks Arms Ingredient As It Pushes Nuclear Pact," Thomas W. Lippman, Washington Post, May 1, 1995)
THE UNITED STATES faces no Cold War military power, but it still maintains thousands of nuclear missiles to guard against a minimal threat. Such a vast arsenal is not needed to protect ourselves from the Libyas and Iraqs of the world, but the military continues to pump up its nuclear might.
As the U.S. urges other nations to eliminate nuclear weapons, it plans on spending billions of dollars to improve its own stock. The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to resume production of a radioactive gas to enhance the bang of nuclear explosions, while the feds contemplate two other options on how to throw away taxpayers' money: Build either an unsafe nuclear reactor at the aging, leaking Savannah River, S.C., plant or erect an untested, theoretically feasible huge particle accelerator. Career Pentagon and DOE bureaucrats are pushing for the nuclear reactor, which would be the first new one ordered since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, and a favor that may turn into further back-scratching in the future.
5. Radical Plan from Newt Gingrich's Think Tank to Gut FDA
("Agency under attack: Newt Gingrich's foundation has a radical plan to gut the FDA and rely on the drug industry to police itself," Leslie Weiss, Mother Jones, Sept./Oct. 1995)
WE'VE HEARD ABOUT the laptops, we've heard about the orphans, but another less widely-known scheme of House Speaker Newt Gingrich is to gut the main organization safeguarding public health in America. Gingrich has called the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the "number one job-killer" in America, and its head David Kessler a "thug." But the agency maintains that title is better than being a person-killer, a possibility if important food and drug controls are relaxed.
Gingrich's scheme is to allow private companies to speed through their own internal testing and receive a rubber-stamp approval from the weakened FDA. What's more, Gingrich's Progress and Freedom Foundation, heavily funded by the drug industry, wants to limit the liability of the pharmaceutical companies when they rush their overpriced, unsafe drugs and medical devices to the market.
6. Medical Fraud Costs the Nation Billions Annually
("Medscam," L.J. Davis, Mother Jones, March/April 1995)
WHAT HAVE WE learned in the long wake that followed the failed Clinton health care plan? We know this: We are in a health care crisis--or not--depending on who you ask. Critics of further government intervention in the medical industry argue that the government's role in health care is already out-of-control, but what is less widely known is that medical fraud ravages the health care industry, funneling off unknown sums ranging in the billions. The one-trillion-dollar annual health bill each year is 14 percent of the U.S. GDP, with estimates of fraud ranging from $31-$53 billion. The crooks range from hospital executives pushing phony costs to taxicab drivers lying about driving the elderly to a hospital. All the while, doctors are submitting false and outrageous bills to insurance companies, often for work that was never done. Because the government has been slow to investigate complex and hard to prove white-collar crime, the crooks have had a head start.
Ironically, while every dollar of taxpayer money spent on investigating medical fraud yields a $72 return, there are only 125 federal investigators now on the trail of the medi-scams. Budget cuts mean that number is being cut down even further. With little investigation on the part of the government or the media, these scams will continue to run rampant. The only ones who aren't confused about the health care industry, it seems, are the crooks.
7. Russian Injects Earth With Nuclear Waste
("Poison in the Earth: Nuclear Roulette for Russia," William J. Broad, New York Times, Nov. 21, 1994)
LIKE TOXIC CRUMBS under a communist rug, the former Soviet Union (now followed by Russia) conveniently ferreted its nuclear waste into the ground for decades, perhaps figuring that the problem would simply go away. But many of Russia's disposal sites are located near rivers, and the contaminants have leaked beyond projections and spread in one of the Cold War's most deadly legacies. The total amount of waste tossed out is 60 times greater than the radioactive release from Chernobyl.
The good news? The waste may be rendered less harmful as it decays, though of course that process is a best-case scenario and may take decades. If the waste leaks to the surface, the radioactivity may spread through the world's oceans and prompt a global rise in birth defects and cancer deaths. Yet as the media continue to train its tunnel vision on Boris Yeltsin's health, the resurgence of Communism and Zhiranovsky's latest rantings and ravings, a toxic reality that affects millions of Russians continues.
8. Privatization of the Internet("Keeping On-Line Speech Free: Street Corners in Cyberspace," Andrew Shapiro, The Nation, July 3, 1995)
IF MOST AMERICANS never hear another word about the Internet they won't be sorry. Yet one of the most troubling developments in cyberspace in 1995 yielded barely a peep out of the major media. Gradually, and quietly, the U.S. has been transferring large chunks of the Internet to corporations such as IBM and MCI as part of the government's plan to privatize cyberspace. "Speech in cyberspace will not be free if we allow big business to control every square inch of the Net," writes Andrew Shapiro in The Nation. "The public needs a place of its own."
At risk is the heart and soul of the online world. An unregulated, largely non-privatized Internet may be a chaotic one, but it's the model that allows for the largest amount of public space and the widest range of opinions. Yet if companies continue to gobble up cyberspace at the current rate, the online world will lose its community feel, evolve into a suburban version of what it once was. "If cyberspace is deprived of public forums," writes Shapiro, "we'll get a lot of what we're already used to: endless home shopping, mindless entertainment and dissent-free chat." While this may be the model that makes the power structure sleep well at night, it means that the medium of the moment would have indeed lost a real opportunity to help make democracy work.
9. Chemical Industry Fights for Toxic Ozone-killing Pesticide
("Campaign Against Methyl Bromide," Ann Schonfield, Earth Island Journal, Summer, 1995)
NOT ONLY IS methyl bromide a great killer of pests and aid to agriculture, it's listed as one of the most dangerous toxins and is a major cause of Ozone depletion in the earth's atmosphere. While chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are much better known, methyl bromide is at least 50 times more destructive to the ozone layer.
The Clean Air Act banned methyl bromide beginning in 2001, and the international Montreal Protocol is moving to phase out the chemical too. But agri-business is fighting the decision tooth-and-nail. Farm managers, however, may not be as mad as their underpaid, non-union field workers and nearby residents most vulnerable to the central nervous system damage, heart disease, and reproductive harm associated with this deadly substance.
Organic--less dangerous and less publicized alternatives--of course exist, with many European countries phasing methyl bromide out. The U.S. is the most lucrative market for the poison, the one nation where the opportunity to sell out the future still exists. But if American sales shut down, there's always the unregulated opportunities to poison the less-developed nations, with no EPA to sound alarms.
10. NAFTA's Broken Promises
("NAFTA's Corporate Con Artists," Sarah Anderson and Kristyne Peter, CovertAction Quarterly, Fall 1995; "A Giant Spraying Sound," Esther Schrader, Mother Jones, January/February 1995)
Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan and the scores of grassroots anti-NAFTA activists were right: Two years after NAFTA's narrow passage, the 200,000 new jobs promised by the trade brokers are nowhere to be found, pollution has increased in Mexico, and workers across the border are spraying more toxic pesticides on fruits, vegetables and people then ever. Most hypocritically, the same CEO's who promised more jobs in the U.S. as a result of the deal have actually carried out layoffs in spades.
The worst of the lot is probably USA*NAFTA, a huge coalition backboned by Fortune 500 companies which helped push through NAFTA by waging a self-serving lobbying campaign wrapped in false patriotism. Despite several recent reports in the past year documenting the results of NAFTA's first two years, USA*NAFTA has hailed NAFTA as a winner for the American people, ignoring the brutal realities of job loss and environmental havoc. "During the past two years," write Sarah Anderson and Kristyne Peter in CovertAction Quarterly, "that flag [of patriotism] has proved to have an exceptionally slick Teflon coating. The group has suffered neither negative publicity nor political disfavor, despite NAFTA's miserable results."
The 1995 Project Censored Yearbook, Censored: The News That
Didn't Make the News and Why (Seven Stories Press) is now
available in bookstores nationwide. The Project Censored Web site
can be found at
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