Media Follies!

For the ninth year, here's my list of the most overhyped and underreported stories. Given the amount of hype and missing reporting in mainstream American media, I'm sure to have missed some, but here is my attempt to briefly catalog a badly flawed media performance.

Top OverHyped Stories

John Kerry as a viable candidate. He got the Democrats' nomination because he was the candidate who could beat George Bush—and then turned around and ran a stunningly inept campaign through September. It cost him the election.

Ralph Nader as a threat to the Democratic ticket. Who were they kidding?

The economy is improving. Then it's not. Then it is. Then it's not. But Alan Greenspan says . . . Only the U.S. media could make unemployment, high credit-card debt, a sky-high federal deficit, kamikaze tax cuts, a record trade imbalance, and sagging corporate profits appear rosy.

The Scott Peterson trial. The media are obsessed with Peterson because he's photogenic, upper middle class, young, and white. But on any given day, somewhere, a woman is being murdered by a husband, boyfriend, or ex. Peterson was just one more.

Ronald Reagan's death. Forget Iran- Contra, illegal wars, administration corruption, AIDS, and the Me Decade. Just remember that he was a really nice guy. All hail the Great Fallen Helmsman Comrade Leader.

Anything the White House says about Iraq. It's time to stop treating these ridiculously optimistic, obtuse pronouncements as credible. "Freedom is on the march"? Please.

Extreme weather. Get used to it. With global climate change, our future will be full of storms.

Top Underreported Stories

Global warming and climate change. No credible scientist disputes it. Flooding, monsoons, droughts, intense heat waves, and the disappearance of fresh water will lead to the deaths of millions of people around the world within our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children. The impact will also, by some estimates, include the extinction of nearly half the planet's species. The Bush administration's intransigence is a scandal.

The global AIDS pandemic. You'd think AIDS had been conquered. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The West has largely shirked its responsibility for combating the worst epidemic since the Black Death swept medieval Europe.

The politics and economics of oil. It permeates everything from the economy to foreign policy, but it's never discussed directly. From major pipeline deals between Russia and Japan, to the influence of oil on U.S. intervention in the Middle East, to China cutting major deals with Latin American and African nations for long-term oil contracts, to the impact of burning fossil fuels on our environment, to misguided tax policies and our deteriorating highway system—the media talk around the main topic: We are addicted to oil, and something can and must be done to wean us off this drug.

Continuing corporate scandals. The Enron and WorldCom scandals broke in 2001. Shortly thereafter, politicians and businesspeople on Wall Street assured us that new regulations would make corporate scandals a thing of the past. Hah. This month, the SEC announced that the mortgage giant Fannie Mae will have to recognize $9 billion in losses that they've hidden from the public since 2001, in spite of the so-called crackdown on corporate crime.

Not every vote counts. Miscounts and "accidents" (which may or may not be accidental) have steadily oozed out of Ohio and Florida; tampering with voter registration lists and voter suppression techniques have also been widespread. It adds up to an election process so riddled with fraud and error as to shame Third World countries. We're supposedly a model?

Southern Hemisphere stands up to Washington. In elections this year, there has been a near sweep (the exception being Colombia) of South American governments by left-leaning candidates who won office by campaigning against Bush and American neocon policies. The result: an emerging bloc led by Brazil and Venezuela—and India—that has stopped free-trade expansion via the WTO and FTAA.

Torture. The Abu Ghraib scandal got plenty of attention, but the systemic use of torture and prison abuse at Guantánamo, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq has now been documented far beyond question. Less examined: Many of the torture techniques, and not a few of their practitioners, have been borrowed directly from federal and state "control unit" prisons, where such practices have been decried by Amnesty International and others for years.

Anything happening on the ground in Iraq. The use of napalm, white phosphorus, and cluster bombs; continuing evidence of prisoner abuse in U.S. detention centers; the lack of foreigners among captured Iraqi insurgents; zero progress in reconstruction; major fraud and the misappropriation of reconstruction funds; no voter registration at all in the Sunni triangle, including Iraq's third largest city, Mosul; the massacre of civilians by hastily trained, poorly equipped Iraqi security forces and the combat-weary, stressed-out U.S. soldiers who oversee them; U.S. military policy copying failed tactics from the Israeli military's playbook for Palestine; continued fighting in Fallujah—the list goes on and on.

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