Censored in 2008, Part 1
By Tony Palmeri
Every year since 1976 Sonoma State University's Project Censored has identified news stories "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States." Censored 2009 (Seven Stories Press) identifies the blackout of a true casualty count in Iraq (independent sources estimate that as many as 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 US invasion) as the top censored story of 2008. A summary of Project Censored’s top censored stories of the year can be found here.
Inspired by Project Censored, every year I dedicate two columns to the top ten stories that were in my judgment censored by the local corporate media. As long as corporate media remain the most watched, read, and listened to sources of information, we need to demand more ethical and thorough coverage of issues.
And now the censored stories:
No. 10: Journal Communication Laps For Lazich. This censored item was suggested by Oshkosh blogger The Chief. Journal Communications owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, smaller community newspapers, and a horde of radio and television stations. They also run websites serving the Milwaukee ‘burbs. One of them, FranklinNow, offers free blog space (called “Community Voices”) to state senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and her legislative aide Kevin Fischer. A glance at the blogs reveals that Lazich and Fischer don’t hesitate to use the space to launch partisan attacks against Jim Doyle and legislative Democrats. The Chief argues that Journal Communications is essentially providing Lazich with a “free permanent online advertisement,” and wonders if there might be a violation of campaign finance law involved. Now there’s something a less lap doggy media would be looking into.
No. 9: Isn’t Anyone Against TIF? In October the Oshkosh Common Council approved the use of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) for a retail Shopko development on the city’s north side. The use of TIF for big-box retail development is controversial even among those generally in support of taxpayer financing of private development, yet you would never know that from reading the Valley’s corporate press. Oshkosh is now in the odd position of using TIF for a neighborhood big-box at the same time all reliable forecasts show that retail is headed for its worst slump in history. A rigorous press would have educated the public and the City Council about the consequences of going down that road.
No. 8: Keeping the Key Hidden. In late April Oshkosh Mayor Frank Tower and then acting City Manager John Fitzpatrick decided it would be a good idea to award a “Key to the City” to Mark Har, the location scout instrumental in getting Johnny Depp’s “Public Enemies” filmed partially in ‘Kosh. Har was crowned at a private event, somewhat strange given that the entire purpose of awarding a Key to the City is to provide an individual with public recognition. I personally only knew about it because a citizen found out from a friend in attendance at the celebration and asked me if the City Council was aware of it. Har was at least more deserving of the honor than Jack Pelton, the CESSNA CEO who received a Key in spite of buying two “degrees” from a diploma mill. Corporate press indifference to these events really does make Oshkosh look like a backwater.
No. 7: ALEC’s Wisconsin Pull: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 by ultra conservative Paul Weyrich. It’s membership consists of over 2.400 state legislators from both political parties. ALEC drafts “model legislation” that frequently gains high visibility and succeeds in framing state issue debates. Environmental groups have called ALEC a "tax-exempt screen for major U.S. corporations and trade associations that use it to influence legislative activities at the state level." The National Resources Defense Council says that companies "like Enron, Amoco, Chevron, Shell, Texaco, Coors Brewing, Koch Industries, Nationwide Insurance, Pfizer, National Energy Group, Philip Morris, and R. J. Reynolds pay for essentially all of ALEC's expenses".
In January, long-time telecom analyst Bruck Kushnik identified Wisconsin as “a classic example of how ALEC operates.” Kushnik revealed how four “AT&T friendly” bills made their way through the Wisconsin legislature, each bill virtually identical to ALEC’s “model” legislation. Writes Kushnik, “In Wisconsin as elsewhere, corporations write laws and control the public agenda to a great extent through a well-entrenched group of legislators and corporate money.”
Reform organizations like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and FightingBob.com have been writing about ALEC’s pull for some time, but the corporate press remains largely silent. Absent a hard hitting mainstream press, ALEC can be expected to rule Wisconsin indefinitely.
No 6: Silencing the Winter Soldiers. In March a gathering of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans met in Silver Spring, MD to offer public testimony about war crimes they had participated in or observed. These “Winter Soldiers” showed great courage and honor in coming forward. Writing for the March Scene, I asked: “Will the press finally take its watchdog responsibility seriously and provide anti-war dissent with the space necessary to allow Americans to make informed judgments about the war?” Not surprisingly, the answer was a resounding NO. The Winter Soldiers were silenced nationally and locally. How sad.
Next Month: The Top 5 Censored Stories of 2008.