Welcome to my 10th year of selecting the year's most overhyped and underreported stories. There's plenty to unravel: stories that should never have been stories, stories whose reporting largely missed the point, and stories barely told at all in mainstream U.S. media. Foreign media, independent media, and the blogs are an increasingly important news source for many Americans, precisely because so much of the mainstream hasn't been doing its job.
The Year's Most Overhyped Stories
Terri Schiavo. Somehow, the fate of a woman who hadn't done much more than twitch in nearly two decades became a crude political football for pandering presidents and members of Congress. They should be ashamed—as should the media outlets that milked this nonstory for weeks.
Intelligent design [sic].
The "War on Christmas." What do all three of the foregoing items have in common? They were all introduced and hammered into "controversies" by the right-wing echo chamber at times when they wanted to ensure the public wasn't paying attention to scandals, a disastrous war, or the death of a major American city.
Everything's going splendidly in Iraq. From the myth that Bush's vision for democracy was blossoming throughout the Middle East, to the notion that Iraqi troops were trained en masse and ready to fight, to entirely mythical "progress" in Iraq's economy and reconstruction, to the prediction during each election that it marked a major turning point, it was hard to take seriously anything the White House said about Iraq.
Michael Jackson's trial.
Julia Roberts' babies. OK, OK, any of the beautiful people.
Pat Robertson. He wants Hugo Chavez dead. He threatens Dover, Pa., on behalf of a God who apparently can't speak for himself. He thinks New Orleans' suffering is punishment for not meeting his warped idea of morality. WHO CARES? The publicity just encourages him.
Rossi vs. Gregoire. The court case devolved into Republicans dragging out a stunningly weak legal argument so that they could repeat, endlessly, their unsubstantiated charges of vote fraud and a massive conspiracy by King County Elections. They were essentially laughed out of court, but not before months of credulous coverage of their bogus claims. Anyone notice that in 2005 King County Elections performed nearly flawlessly?
The Underreported Stories
Iraq is spinning out of control. Ethnic and sectarian hostilities have turned into open street battles, including death squads, secret arrests, government- sanctioned torture of prisoners, and an outright Balkanization of Iraq. Iraq's oil fields are rapidly deteriorating from a combination of sabotage and neglect. Reconstruction is a joke. Oil exports are down drastically, leaving Iraq unable to pay teachers, doctors, or police. Corruption is rampant. And the insurgency is becoming more efficient and more deadly.
The United States is becoming a torture regime. It is no longer a secret that the United States tortures. But numerous aspects of this abomination remain under-covered. It all adds up to an administration that feels it can do absolutely anything it wants.
Say, where is Osama bin Laden, anyway?
The Downing Street memos. Ignored for weeks by U.S. media until the blogosphere buzz became too loud, these early revelations of "fixing the intelligence around the policy" have now been completely corroborated.
The economy is balanced on a knife-edge. The U.S. has a record trade deficit and a record budget deficit. Republicans are slashing the budget on the backs of poor people while trying to make Bush's tax cuts permanent. China and Japan own most of our public debt.
The Bush administration's continued attacks on the environment. From global warming to the privatization of public lands to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, media hasn't cared much about Bush's shocking attempts to pillage the environment.
Republican corruption scandals. Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff are just the tip of the iceberg.
Hurricane Katrina, racism, and the gutting of FEMA. Follow-up to this huge story simply hasn't happened. Both the corruption of rebuilding contracts and the abandonment of New Orleans by the feds have received virtually no attention.
The devastating earthquake in Kashmir.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The pullout and the fallout on Israeli and Palestinian politics are more important to Middle Eastern peace than anything happening in the War on Terror.
The right-wing radicalism of Samuel Alito is no secret; it's just been deeply ignored by a too cautious press.
The biggest labor news in decades, the AFL-CIO split and the formation of the new Change to Win Coalition, was utterly invisible. It's time to start unionizing a few more media outlets.
The corporate welfare flowing to South Lake Union, from a useless streetcar to extensive high-tech infrastructure investment, received virtually no local media attention. Seemingly every city and suburb in the country is putting its economic development eggs into the same overcrowded biotech basket—all for an industry that is mostly wildly unprofitable. Didn't we learn anything from the dot-com binge?
The failure of Initiative 912 at the polls was the first time in recent memory that a statewide antitax initiative failed, giving new hope that Washington state voters are willing to invest in basic governmental services.