Censored in 2003, Part 1

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri

from the January, 2004 edition of The Valley Scene

Every year Sonoma State University's Project Censored identifies news stories that are "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States." Censored 2004 (Seven Stories Press) cites neoconservative plans for global domination and homeland security threats to civil liberties as the top censored stories of 2003.

Last year I began what is now an annual series of columns on the top 10 censored stories in Northeast Wisconsin. Two items on last year’s list (“Valley Legislator Obstructs Mental Health Parity,” “Tax Incremental Finance Flimflam”) received better coverage in 2003, though mostly in local independent publications like The Scene and Lake Winnebago B2B.

Corporate media censorship is a product of the bottom-line mentality that now rules journalism. Media bosses no longer devote the resources needed to cover adequately those social, economic, and political events that shape our world.
The result? Northeast Wisconsin gets excessive Green Bay Packer coverage while news necessary for people to be responsible citizens gets short shrift. And now the top censored stories of 2003:

No. 10: God Talks To Bush.
Many were disturbed when General William Boykin said, "George Bush was not elected by a majority of voters in the United States. He was appointed by God." Yet Northeast Wisconsin media joined the national press in ignoring the most disturbing presidential statement since Gerald Ford denied Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

In June, then Palestinian prime minister and Bush administration favorite Mahmoud Abbas told the respected Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz he was told by president Bush, "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

The White House has not denied the statement. Bush’s remarks may not be as titillating as Bill Clinton denying sex with an intern, but more frightening when considering that God might tell Mr. Bush to order nuclear strikes.

No. 9: Realtors Inspire Republican Tax Freeze.
Fox Valley Republican state legislators voted to override governor Doyle’s veto of the smoke-and-mirrors “property tax freeze” even though local government officials pleaded with them to support the veto.

During the freeze debate, Northeast Wisconsin media downplayed the fact that the freeze proposal was a product of a public opinion poll conducted by the Republican-affiliated Tarrance Group of Arlington, Va., and financed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association. WRA spent more than $87,000 lobbying the Legislature in 2003, while local Republican legislators have received financial support from real estate interests in the last 10 years, including $3,470 for Rep. Underheim, $4,925 for Sen. Roessler, $6,350 for Sen. Ellis, and $40,545 for Rep. Wieckert.

These politicians will run for reelection claiming to be taxpayer friendly, when the reality is that they put the interest of their campaign contributors above the interests of their constituents. And the media let them get away with it.

No. 8: Tommy Thompson’s Pay-To-Play Legacy.
Tommy Thompson remains popular in Wisconsin, especially in the conservative Fox Valley. “Teflon” Tommy benefits from media minimizing of his administration’s complicity in shady schemes.

In 2003, University of Michigan professor Roland Zullo released a study showing a pattern of pay-to-play politics in the Thompson administration. Contractors who contributed to Thompson were awarded contracts averaging $20 million, while contractors who did not contribute were awarded contracts averaging $870,000. Rather than use this study as a basis to call for further investigations, or at least as a basis to reevaluate the Thompson legacy, Wisconsin media allowed Tommy’s cronies to dismiss the findings out of hand.

No. 7: Doyle Doesn’t Understand Single Sales.
In June, Democratic governor James Doyle signed legislation making Wisconsin the fifth state in the union to enact a “single sales factor” formula for taxing big business. The formula will take $45 million out of the state treasury without even requiring that the benefiting businesses make good on their pledge to create new jobs.

Though The Post-Crescent expressed reservations about the law, most Northeast Wisconsin media either supported it or downplayed the risks, probably because of intense paper industry lobbying. Sadly, Jim Doyle can’t even comprehend the boondoggle. According to the Madison Capital Times, "The governor, when asked about the loophole recently, seemed not to understand how it would work."

No. 6: Wal-Mart Day Of Action.
Last year Fortune magazine said that "Wal-Mart in 2003 is, in short, a lot like America in 2003: a sole superpower with a down-home twang." You’d think that local media would show interest in attempts to raise awareness about Wal-Mart, right? Wrong.

On April 19, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 73A and the Winnebago County Labor Council gathered outside the new Oshkosh superstore to voice their opinions about Wal-Mart’s anti-union practices, poor benefits, non-American made products, low wages, use of out-of-state contractors to build their stores and the negative impact on local economies. Not one Northeast Wisconsin newspaper, radio or television outlet considered the event newsworthy enough to send a reporter. Shame on them.

Coming next month: The top five censored stories of 2003.

Tony Palmeri (Palmeri@uwosh.edu) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.