Censored in 2005, Part I

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

from the January, 2006 edition of The Valley Scene

[note: Discuss this piece in the Talk to Tony blog]

Growing numbers now get news from Internet blogs and other cyber sources. More than anything, the popularity of online, independent sources of news and opinion proves that corporate mainstream media (MSM) leave too many stories untold and voices unheard. Millions prefer an unwieldy blog to MSM fog.

But while 39 million Americans over the age of 18 now read blogs (27 percent of adult Internet users), a majority still relies on the MSM for news. With the general public increasingly aware of and angered by MSM’s narrow profit motive, perceptions of MSM credibility continue on a downward slide. According to the Pew Research Center’s Trends 2005 Report, “in 1986 only about one in seven Americans gave major news organizations low marks for credibility; now that proportion stands at roughly one in three, or even higher.” Another Pew study found only 22% now believe news decisions are based on “informing people in order to serve the public interest.'"

In northeast Wisconsin, MSM tried to increase its credibility in 2005 by embracing blogs. Perhaps a better way would be to stop serving as lapdogs for big business and establishment politicians and devote resources toward in-depth coverage of meaningful issues. You know, like maybe be a real Fourth Estate instead of playing one on a blog.

Sonoma State University’s Project Censored has chronicled MSM’s credibility decline since 1976. The Project annually identifies stories that are "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the US." Censored 2006 (Seven Stories Press) cites the Bush Administration’s assault on the Freedom of Information Act and the civilian death toll in Fallujah as the top censored stories of 2005.

The remainder of this column is the first of two parts on the top 10-censored stories in northeast Wisconsin during 2005.

No. 10: KFC Cruelty Protests. In February the Oshkosh Northwestern represented an effort by PETA activists to make middle school children and their parents aware of the horrors of factory farming as “an effort to urge children to eliminate chicken from their diets.” Minimized or ignored during 2005 was the fact that factory farm reform has been embraced by conservatives such as President Bush’s former speechwriter Matthew Scully, that more than 850 million chickens are killed for Kentucky Fried Chicken each year in horrific slaughterhouse conditions the company refuses to address, and that protests outside of the Oshkosh KFC occurred regularly.
No. 9: The Citgo BUY-cott. Local MSM in 2005 covered the Bush Administration’s and Reverend Pat Robertson’s animus toward Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. What received less attention was the fact that Chavez uses his country’s oil wealth primarily to aid the poor. According to independent journalist Jeff Cohen, “Citgo is a U.S. refining and marketing firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela -- not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East . . . By buying your gasoline at Citgo, you are contributing to the billions of dollars that Venezuela's democratic government is using to provide health care, literacy and education, and subsidized food for the majority of Venezuelans.”
No. 8. The Case For Maintaining County Supported Nursing Homes In Wisconsin. The local MSM, especially the Oshkosh Northwestern editorial board, refuses to study seriously what would be the financial impact of privatizing Winnebago County’s Parkview Nursing Home. It was left to the local blogs to take seriously a speech by Colleen Bates, an Eau Claire County Board Member and Chair of the Human Services Board. In September she told an Oshkosh audience that “the impact of the decision to sell the county nursing home has significantly escalated our county cost and more importantly denied the appropriate level of care to the individuals for whom we are responsible.”
No. 7: Kaufert and Foti. Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah), an ardent death penalty advocate and a powerful member of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, rarely faces an opponent at election time. One reason for the lack of challengers is the fact that only the Milwaukee Press carries any substantive coverage of him. In February the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Spivak and Bice wrote about Kaufert’s tavern business dealings with caucus scandal tainted former representative and now lobbyist Steve Foti. The story uncovered nothing illegal, but left a reader wondering what else we won’t know about local officials until the Milwaukee press tells us.

No. 6: The Single Sales Scam. When Jim Doyle signed “single sales factor” legislation for big business taxation in 2003, northeast Wisconsin media served as cheerleaders. Since then MSM have shown no interest in what this legislation will actually do. In 2005 author Greg LeRoy released The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation. Of single sales he writes: “There's no requirement that the companies create any new jobs or even retain any jobs. And what we found in cases like Illinois is that even despite the promises and projections made at the time the bill was enacted, the state has actually continued to bleed manufacturing jobs at a terrible rate, and the public coffers have lost a huge amount of money because a small number of companies have gotten enormous corporate income tax breaks.”

Next month: The top five censored stories of 2005.

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