Censored in 2002, Part I

from the January, 2003 issue of The Valley Scene

by Tony Palmeri

Every year since 1976, Sonoma State University's Project Censored has identified news stories that are "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States."

Censored 2003 (Seven Stories Press, 2002) presents the Federal Communication Commission's moves to privatize the airwaves as the top censored story of 2002. Those interested in fighting for democratic control of media should consult the Democratic Media Legal Project (www.geocities.com/figu12345/index.html).

Project Censored focuses on censored stories of national importance. In this rant and next month's, I'll identify the top 10 censored local stories of 2002. Because establishment Valley media act as chamber of commerce cheerleaders, key issues affecting the majority of the region's citizens do not get adequate coverage.

And now, the censored stories:

No. 10: Valley Legislator Obstructs Mental Health Parity. Forcing insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental health was an issue the late Sen. Paul Wellstone fought for his entire political career. But the issue is not of concern only to liberal Democrats.

Even President Bush has said, "We are determined to confront the hidden suffering of Americans with mental illness. They deserve a health care system that treats their illness with the same urgency as a physical illness."

In Wisconsin, mental health parity has the support of a wide range of health care providers, the conservative Wisconsin State Journal, and Republican Senate leader Mary Panzer. A bipartisan majority in the Senate passed parity legislation in 2001. Yet the bill has not become law due literally to one man: Oshkosh Republican Gregg Underheim.

As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Underheim has done everything in his power to obstruct the legislation, a fact minimized by the Valley media. Underheim's kowtowing to the insurance industry is a scandal that deserves regular front-page coverage until the bill is allowed a floor vote.

No. 9: Republican Party Protected From Scrutiny. Winnebago County District Attorney Joe Paulus lost his 2002 re-election bid after former Assistant DA Edmund Jelinski revealed an FBI investigation of Paulus' office. Jelinski also released audiotapes of Paulus bragging about alleged sexual exploits on the job.

Assistant DA and Paulus confidant Milt Schierland has been implicated in the corruption probe. At the time Jelinski and Menasha police officer Ann Gollner went public with their charges, Schierland was chair of the Winnebago County Republican Party, a fact not highlighted in media coverage of the case.

Schierland has since stepped down as party chair, but a full investigation of the relationship between "Republican Old Boys" and the public institutions of Winnebago County has yet to be done.

No. 8: Mercy Medical Center Workers Try to Organize. Alleging abusive workplace practices on the part of Affinity Health System, in September health care staff at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh announced plans to organize with the United Food and Commercial Workers. Appearing on Commentary, UFCW organizer Karen Prade said that Affinity's behavior shows how Enron-like values have taken over the Valley's health care establishments.

As Affinity, ThedaCare and Aurora continue a greed battle throughout Northeast Wisconsin, hospital workers trying to organize will have to work around an unsympathetic Valley press. In December, the Oshkosh Northwestern reported that Affinity Medical Group's 37 nurse practitioners and physician's assistants would no longer receive incentives designed to reward them for seeing more patients. Yet the story made no mention of the union organizing. Meanwhile, the Gannett papers describe Affinity and ThedaCare as health care providers "with national reputations of quality."

No. 7: Losing Our Manufacturing Base: What Does It Mean? The Fox Valley is in the midst of an economic transition featuring a dramatic loss of much of the traditional manufacturing base. Department of Workforce Development data indicate 2,400 fewer manufacturing jobs to be had in October 2002 compared to the same month in 2001 in Calumet, Winnebago, Waupaca and Outagamie counties.

A service sector economy necessarily means less job security, lower wages, and less chance for upward mobility. In their book Divergent Paths: Economic Mobility in the New American Labor Market (Russell Sage Foundation, 2001), Annette Bernhardt, Martina Morris, Mark Handcock, and Mark Scott could be describing the new Valley economy: "At the top of the job pyramid, the 'new nomads' -- highly credentialed, well-connected workers -- regard each short term project as a springboard to a better-paying position, while at the bottom, a growing number of retail workers, data entry clerks, and telemarketers are consigned to a succession of low-paying, dead-end jobs."

Valley media do a decent job of reporting on plant closings and announcing new economic initiatives. What they fail to do is expose the fact that our economic plight is the result of failed national and state policies that reward what the Center on Wisconsin Strategy calls "low road" companies.

No. 6: The Buying of Ken Harwood: As Mayor of Neenah, Ken Harwood was one of the most vociferous critics of Scott McCallum's plan to end the state's shared revenue program, even writing lyrics to the tune of The Beatles' "Yesterday" to mock the plan. After losing his re-election bid in April, Harwood became a paid policy consultant for McCallum, actively supported his campaign, and tried to convince local government officials that the guv was not so bad after all.

Valley media were mum on this blatant buyout of a political critic -- an especially outrageous silence given that McCallum's shared revenue plan would have devastated the region.

Next month, the top five censored stories of 2002.

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