Censored in 2004, Part 1

Media Rants By Tony Palmeri

from the January, 2005 issue of The Valley Scene

Every year Sonoma State University's Project Censored identifies news stories that are "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the US." Censored 2005 (Seven Stories Press) cites widening wealth inequality and John Ashcroft's assaults on one of the world's oldest human rights laws (the Alien Torts Claim Act) as the two most censored stories of 2004.

This column is the first of two parts on the top 10 censored stories in northeast Wisconsin during 2004.

No. 10: The Blog Brush Off. The Internet has witnessed a proliferation of Weblogs or "blogs," loosely defined as online diaries. Blogs are updated frequently and often deal with politics. Some of my favorites are Ed Garvey's blog on FightingBob.Com, James Howard Kunstler's "Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle" (www.kunstler.com), and Joshua Micah Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" (www.talkingpointsmemo.com).

Locally, UW Oshkosh journalism professor Miles Maguire was the driving force behind the creation of the Oshkosh Community News Network (www.oshkoshnews.org), which includes an "Oshblog" on which anyone can participate. In a unique effort, Maguire was able to get all four candidates for the 54th Assembly District (including yours truly) to participate in a blog. The blogs received many hits, but far fewer than they should have because the Gannett press and commercial radio refused to give them any meaningful promotion. Giving the blogs the brush off may have simply been a case of gross negligence, but I suspect it was more than that. When voters can interact with and learn from candidates via blogging, commercial media loses its power to frame issues and construct candidate images. Media will not give up that power easily.

No. 9: Reagan Whitewash. When former president Ronald Reagan died last June, the national media heaped godlike status on the Gipper, glossing over scandals and misdeeds in a manner that would have made the editors of Pravda during the halcyon days of the Soviet Union very proud.

Local media were no different; scant mentions of Iran/Contra or the fact that northeast Wisconsin suffered under Reaganomics were buried under an avalanche of adoration. A notable exception was the Green Bay News Chronicle's Tom Brooker, who wrote, "Newspapers would be remiss if this period of euphoric memory was left to stand alone while the darker side of the Reagan years were treated as if they never existed."

No. 8: Who Paid for the No Special Interest Left Behind Act? Even though it was opposed by every major environmental organization in the state along with Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, Governor Doyle and a bipartisan majority of legislators early in 2004 gave us the "Job Creation Act," a big developer's dream that creates no jobs but lowers no fewer than twenty of the state's environmental standards. Turns out that the governor and legislature received substantial contributions from the special interests behind the bill, including construction, energy, manufacturing, real estate, road building, banking, oil and gas, papermaking industries, and SBC. When Doyle visited Nicolet Papers in DePere to sign the legislation into law, the northeast Wisconsin media did not think it relevant to point out that he alone was the recipient of $1.6 million from these interests during1993-2003, and that more than $6 million went to legislators.

Northeast Wisconsin legislators received generous contributions from these special interests, including $147,370 to John Gard (who claims to represent Peshtigo), $85,554 to Mike Ellis, $50,608 to Carol Roessler, $42,592 to Steve Wieckert, $41,893 to Terri McCormick, $32,599 to Gregg Underheim, $28,399 to Dean Kaufert, and $18,452 to Carol Owens. All data is from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Clearly it is with good reason that Curt Andersen of the Green Bay News Chronicle calls the Job Creation Act the "No Special Interest Left Behind" Act. Political De-Evolution: Gaylord Nelson (Left) fought for the environment while Jim Doyle (Right) signs it away to the highest bidder. Jim Doyle







No. 7: B'Gosh Sweatshop. In late December 2003 the nonprofit National Labor Committee (NLC) released a report documenting abuse of workers at Hanchang Textiles in El Salvador. You'd think that northeast Wisconsin media would have an interest in abuses at factories that sew clothing for Oshkosh B'Gosh, especially given the fact that such sewing used to be done here before NAFTA. Yet little interest was shown in the NLC's documenting of Hanchang's "harsh sweatshop conditions, union busting and apparent tax fraud with the complicity of the Salvadoran Ministry of Labor."

No. 6: Jobs Grow, Optimism Shrinks. In 2004 the best reporting on the northeast Wisconsin economy was done by the Los Angeles Times, which reported in its August 9th edition that, 'the state has been swapping well-paying factory jobs for positions in restaurants, hotels, casinos, hospitals, banks, insurance firms and temp agencies." The Times interviewed a dozen displaced northeast Wisconsin workers, including laid off factory worker Steve Anderson. Leafing through job postings, the 50-year old Anderson said, "Supposedly there's a whole mess of new jobs being created, but they're not jobs we can live with . . . they're paying $9 an hour. Five years ago, it would have paid maybe $18…. This one is paying $12…. Here's one for $8.75…. These are the great new jobs that are opening up in Green Bay." Northeast Wisconsin media has difficulty with economic issues because they have editorially endorsed and served as propagandists for the very policies that have brought economic hard times to our region.

Next month: the top five censored stories of 2004.

Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.