White noise

Even more than usual, there was a lot of nonsense in mainstream US media this year; silly stories from Florida dominated while important local and world developments often went unremarked. Here's a sampling of the year's most overrated and underrated stories:

The overrated

Presidential-election mania ruled, with the media pursuing various tangents: the Bradley and McCain campaigns when neither ever had a chance of securing their parties' nominations; the Nader "spoiler" factor when there were many other factors far more injurious to Gore's foundering campaign; Bush's "stupidity," a liberal conceit when Bush (while no genius) is not only as competent as most Americans but possibly dyslexic (Vanity Fair made a convincing case); the meager differences between Bush and Gore when literally scores of issues on which they essentially agreed went unexamined; one or another Florida county's recount process when the US Supreme Court never had any intention of letting Gore become president; and, of course, the extended infomercials called party conventions.

But easily the worst, most overrated story of the year was EliᮠGonzᬥz. Custody kidnappings happen all the time. This one was different only because it involved—stop the presses!--Cuban Americans who hate Castro. Oh, for the column inches wasted on such idiocy. . . .

The underrated

Nasdaq Crash: For all the weeping over dot-coms, this was far more important—the most visible of many signs that the Wall Street party is over. What does that mean for the tens of millions of Americans without job security, health insurance, or safety nets? We never heard.

National Missile Defense: We heard a bit, nationally, about the failed tests, but not about the hundreds of billions of dollars already spent, the extensive evidence that it will never work, the destabilizing impact NMD would have on the world, or, locally, Boeing's role as a primary NMD pork recipient.

Paying Down the Debt: While Gore and Bush wrangled over how much of the federal budget surplus—recently estimated to reach $6 trillion over the next 10 years—to devote to tax cuts or new spending, almost nobody reported that nearly half of it has been taken off the table, without debate, in response to Wall Street's self-serving demands to pay down the national debt. This is the mother of all budget issues.

Enforcement of Laws Gutted: In all the local media glee over an appellate court's potential overturning of the Microsoft antitrust verdict, few have noted that this effectively means the probable end of antitrust law. If a clear-cut case against monopolistic practices like Microsoft's can't be won—in the face of a small army of lobbyists and lawyers and a rapidly shifting market—no future prosecutions are likely even to be attempted. Similarly, while liberals went into paroxysms of panic over George W. Bush's pollution philosophies, few noticed that the Clinton-Gore Administration had largely defunded the enforcement arms of the EPA and other agencies. Locke pulled the same trick in Washington state. The laws may still be on the books, but so what?

Allenworld: Paul Allen's aggressive business diversification has included buying up much of South Lake Union and Union Square, but there's been much, much more. The fawning local media haven't even come close to cataloging his dovetailing acquisitions and start-ups in media, sports, high-tech, real estate, education, and various other sectors. How much is too much?

Middle East Complexities: Invariably, in the latest wave of Palestinian protests, Palestinians were represented as a monolith "controlled" by Yassar Arafat—when many of them revile Arafat's thuggish Palestinian Authority almost as much as they do Barak or Netanyahu. The US media also gave its usual free pass to Israeli government policies that were deeply controversial in the rest of the world, airing far fewer critical voices than even media within Israel itself. For example, on December 6 an Israeli human rights group, Betselem, accused Israeli soldiers of routinely firing live ammunition at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and reported that most of the incidents in which Palestinians had been killed or wounded involved no Palestinian gunfire.

Virtually all of the some 300 deaths in three months of violence have been Palestinian, but stateside media tended to portray such statistics as acts of nature, curiously lacking in details about who was shooting and who was dying. You can be sure that, were the situation reversed, we'd hear all about it. Instead, not only was the Israeli government exempt from scrutiny, but so was the US government's self-anointed role as an "impartial" arbiter of the conflict.

Taliban: The world's most horrific human rights violations are occurring against 51 percent of Afghanistan's population—its women—while the world, especially the United States, watches benignly.

Et Cetera: Oh, there's lots more: global warming (and Clinton Administration intransigence), violations of the Voting Rights Act in Florida and elsewhere, consumer debt, declining civil liberties, the prison-industrial complex, Cuba's future, Korean reconciliation, Siberian deforestation, genetically engineered food, biopiracy. . . .

Seek out alternative media, and don't believe everything you read in 2001. Happy New Year!

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