Bill Moyers | The Most Undercovered Stories of 2015 Parts One and Two

Around this time every year, BillMoyers.com asks reporters, editors and bloggers which key story they feel the mainstream media failed to cover adequately over the last 12 months. 

(Part One)

From left to right: Bernie Sanders draws a crowd of roughly 28,000 at a rally in Oregon (Benjamin Kerensa/Flickr cc 2.0); a Florida SNAP food assistance card (Joe Raedle/Getty Images); a police officer at a 2011 Occupy protest in Washington, DC, wearing a taser (thisisbossi/Flickr cc 2.0).

The social safety net reduced poverty by nearly half

Greg Kaufmann

One of the greatest hoaxes pulled on the American people is the assertion that “we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won.” The conservative talking point was first uttered by President Reagan, and it has been pushed incessantly by the political class and the media ever since.

But it’s not true.

Census data released this year showed that in 2014 the safety net lifted 38 million people out of poverty. Without the safety net, our poverty rate would have been 27 percent instead of 15 percent. In 2012, the safety net literally cut poverty in half. That’s not losing: The War on Poverty has brought us halfway to where we want to be.

As long as the media continues to ignore the successes of our antipoverty policies, the American people will be vulnerable to conservative misinformation that aims to do one thing: cut the very programs that, at some point in our lives, most of us will turn to.

Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org


The link between detention, deportation and mass incarceration

Maya Schenwar

Over the past year, mass incarceration finally became a regular topic of mainstream media headlines. Yet most reports fail to recognize immigration “detention” (in reality, a form of incarceration) as a facet of the prison industrial complex.

At Truthout, we’ve highlighted the way in which immigration and prison issues are enmeshed. When Obama announced the early release of 6,000 drug prisoners, our report, by Victoria Law, showed that 2,000 of those being released would face deportation. Earlier in the year, Truthout reporter Candice Bernd tracked human rights violations at Texas immigrant family jails — as well as the brave resistance of the hunger-striking mothers locked inside. All the while, we’ve emphasized how the same private prison companies that profit off mass incarceration alsobenefit from keeping undocumented people behind bars. The prison industrial complex is a vast web, and as media makers, we have to commit to connecting the dots between all of the institutions that cage human beings.

Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief, Truthout


Federal regulators won’t enforce campaign finance regulations

Joshua Holland

Federal regulators’ enforcement of what remain of America’s campaign finance laws has all but collapsed. It’s a story that has received some attention, but the whole picture remains largely obscured in the mainstream media.

Since 2009, the agencies tasked with enforcing campaign finance laws — notably those governing what super PACs and “social welfare” organizations can and cannot do to advance their political agendas — have, to varying degrees, been severely constrained from doing their jobs. Campaign finance watchdogs say they’re frustrated by their inability to get the FEC and the IRS to act on even airtight cases alleging campaign finance violations.

It’s a notable departure from the “broken windows” theory that dominates the policing of people who don’t have the kind of political clout our donor class enjoys.

—Joshua Holland, contributing writer, The Nation


Bernie Sanders’ serious, issue-based challenge to Hillary Clinton

Lee Fang

Bernie Sanders has generated some of the largest crowds of any candidate for his presidential campaign and surprised pollsters with a strong challenge to the establishment favorite in the race. But good luck hearing about the Vermont senator if you’ve relied on broadcast media for the news this year.

ABC World News Tonight devoted at least 81 minutes of coverage to Donald Trump’s campaign compared to about 20 seconds of coverage to Sanders, according to the Tyndall Report, an industry watchdog. NBC’s flagship political program Meet the Press provided near constant coverage of Hillary Clinton during the first three months of 2015 while failing to invite or mention Sanders once. And when Sanders is introduced to media consumers, the coverage has been worse than trivial, with questions that beg him to make horserace-style jabs at his opponents, or to explain the style of his hair. There’s little appetite in the media, it appears, for a discussion of Sanders’ ideas to reform the campaign finance system, introduce postal banking, or reduce our new Gilded Age gap between rich and poor. Maybe that explains the fundamental problem. For a media system that thrives on sensationalism and partisan knife-fights, Sanders’ largely issue-based campaign strategy is too much of a bore for political reporters.

Lee Fang, investigative journalist, The Intercept


The ongoing failure to address the racial disparities in environmental protection

Brentin Mock

A story that goes underreported almost perpetually is the broken application of civil rights laws when it comes to environmental and climate change protection. There’s been ample reporting about environmental racial disparities, like African-Americans and Latinos living in more vulnerable conditions than whites in terms of proximity to hazardous waste facilities, highway pollution and non-flood resistant areas. But what gets less play are the policy decisions and malfunctions, intentional and otherwise, that lead to people of color living in these conditions.

The EPA gets much of the blame for this, and there was some terrific reporting from the Center for Public Integrity this year on how that agency has failed in its civil rightsprotections and obligations. Reporters Talia Buford and Kristen Lombardi did the necessary gruntwork to show how lax civil rights enforcement at EPA ends up affecting the health and quality of life of African-Americans and Latino Americans from Louisiana to California toMichigan.

But EPA is not the only federal agency responsible for enforcing the Civil Rights Act and theWhite House executive order on environmental justice. Every federal department and agency holds that responsibility. When HUD or the Department of Transportation, or even the Department of Defense, falls short, we end up with racial health disparities. Reporters have no trouble finding stories about those health inequities — they’re not hard to spot. But it’s more difficult to look within the governmental mechanisms to find the cracks and fault-lines that explain them. Reporters often focus on how Obamacare, for instance, intersects with race, but this coverage is only looking at the symptoms of those health problems; health insurance can’t solve the racial disparities that the problems stem from. There is a reason why civil rights advocates began to look at racial discrimination in environmental policy in the early 1970s after the fight for voting rights and against segregation — because unlike those important battles, what’s at stake with environmental civil rights protections is life and death.

Brentin Mock, staff writer, CityLab


Police officers’ aggressive use of tasers

Heather Digby Parton

One subject I have been following for many years as a political blogger was hardly even mentioned in mainstream media, much less seriously investigated: the story of the police use of tasers.

I’ve documented many cases of tasers being unnecessarily deployed against people who are physically and mentally ill and I’ve collected dozens of stories of tasers seriously wounding and killing people without any accountability by the police. Perhaps most disturbing of all are the many, many cases I’ve written about in which police use tasers as torture weapons after they have suspects in custody to punish them for being disrespectful or uncooperative.

This excellent in-depth report by Ari Melber of MSNBC about a man tasered to death while in police custody is the first time I’ve seen the mainstream media take a comprehensive look at this phenomenon. He raised the consciousness of millions of people about an woefully undercovered law enforcement and civil liberties issue.

Heather Digby Parton, blogger, Hullabaloo.


Wall Street is putting trillions of America’s retirement savings into risky, secretive “alternative investments”

David Sirota

Roughly $3 trillion of Americans’ retirement savings sits in public pension systems that have become a major profit center for financial firms. Thanks to acoordinated campaign to keep investment details secret, much of the public does not know about the shift of an ever larger slice of this money to high-fee hedge funds, private equity firms and other so-called “alternative investments.”

With millions of Americans relying on these funds for their retirement, the Wall Street fees these investments generate — and the financial risk they pose to retirees — make the nexus of pensions and the financial industry one of the year’s most important stories. Many states and municipalities now confront intensifying scrutiny and pressure to disclose the terms of their deals.

 

David Sirota, editor-in-chief of IBTimes’ “Political Capital”


Three shadowy trade deals put citizens at the mercy of corporations

Chris Hedges

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade and investment agreement involving 12 countries comprising nearly 40 percent of global output — is, as Ralph Nader correctly points out, “the most brazen corporate power grab in American history.” It sets up a system by which corporations can bypass our three branches of government and are accountable only to secret corporate-run tribunals. Our labor, consumer and environmental laws can be dismissed if they impede corporate profit.

The TPP, which will be approved or rejected this spring by Congress, which is forbidden to alter the wording of the agreement or add amendments, is part of a triad of trade agreements that includes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). TiSA is designed to privatize public enterprises and utilities. It will jeopardize, among other government enterprises, the US Postal Service and public education. TTIP and TiSA are being negotiated and are likely to go before Congress in 2017.

These three agreements cement into place the final components of the corporate coup d’état and erode what is left of our national sovereignty. Citizens, once these agreements are ratified, will be at the mercy of corporate predators, unable to halt the exploitation of the ecosystem or find redress in our courts or democratic institutions on any issue that challenges corporate hegemony.

—Chris Hedges, activist and journalist, columnist for TruthDig.

(Part Two)

BY BILLMOYERS.COM STAFF | DECEMBER 24, 2015

Left: Marchers carry signs as they walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march on March 8, 2015 in Selma, Alabama (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images). Right: A climate protest in Manila, Philippines, following the conclusion of this year’s climate conference in Paris (350.org/Flickr cc 2.0).

Around this time every year, BillMoyers.com asks reporters, editors and bloggers which key story they feel the mainstream media failed to cover adequately over the last 12 months. This post is the second installment of a two-part series.

The first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act

Ari Berman

August 6, 2015, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the country’s most important civil rights law. It was also the date of the first Republican presidential debate. Yet the subject of voting rights never came up — and hasn’t been mentioned in seven subsequent presidential debates, despite the fact that the 2016 presidential election will be the first in 50 years where voters cannot rely on the full protections of the VRA. With tough new voting restrictions in place in crucial swing states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, too much of the media continues to ignore whether every eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot in 2016 will actually be able to do so.

Ari Berman, senior contributing writer, The Nation


Native Americans are being killed by police

Rinku Sen

The most underreported story of 2015 was that of Native Americans killed by the police. Colorlines covered the examples of Rexdale Henry (died in police custody in Philadelphia, Mississippi); Sarah Lee Circle Bear (died in custody in Aberdeen, South Dakota); and Paul Castaway (shot dead by Denver police). The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that Native Americans suffer the highest rates of death in three of the top five age groups killed by cops. While the American Indian press and independent media cover these developments, the mainstream press largely ignores indigenous people, relegating Native communities to the position of “invisible other” in their own land.

Rinku Sen, publisher, Colorlines


The impacts of the markets on Main Street

Dennis Kelleher

Will they or won’t they, and by how much? And goodness, what will the markets (meaning the traders on Wall Street) “think”? This has been the focus of the media coverage of the Federal Reserve Board’s year-long consideration of raising interest rates. Much of this coverage had little context, often even failing to mention that interest rates have been historically low in an attempt to alleviate some of the ongoing economic damage caused by the 2008 financial crash that ultimately cost America more than $20 trillion.

Although there has been substantial economic improvement over the last seven years, tens of millions of Americans are still struggling with the consequences of the too-often unmentioned crash. As the Fed begins to unwind its unprecedented policy in 2016, the media should stop focusing exclusively on market reactions and provide context for financial policy decisions by reporting on the real-world impact of the markets on Main Street families, jobs, homes and so much more.

Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets


BitCoin could spell the end for big banks

Simon Johnson

There has been considerable reporting again this year on Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that was established during the financial crisis to challenge existing forms of money (like the US dollar). But there has been almost no coverage of the bigger issue that is beginning to become clear – the underlying technology, the blockchain, has already begun to transform finance in fundamental ways.

The promise of blockchain is that it allows much more decentralized holding and trading of any digital asset. Gone are the days when you needed a trusted financial intermediary. Banks are on their way to join the buggy whip – as a quaint museum piece.

Or are they? The people who run banks are smart and they have many ideas about how to adapt in the face of technological change – and perhaps become even more important.

The real struggle for the future of finance has begun.

Simon Johnson, MIT economist and blogger at BaselineScenario.com


Car companies dodge criminal penalties

Danielle Ivory

Earlier this year when the Justice Department settled with General Motors for less than $1 billion for a more than decade-long failure to report a deadly defect, many were shocked to learn that employees at the automaker likely would not face criminal penalties. This stemmed from a high legal burden in the auto industry — one that stands in contrast to many other industries. The car industry has spent nearly five decades blocking efforts to strengthen criminal provisions in the law. And, just weeks ago, as Congress passed the transportation bill, the industry was successful once again in beating back efforts to increase accountability through criminal penalties.

—Danielle Ivory, business reporter, The New York Times


Corporate trade deals could deregulate America

Craig Brown

It’s bad enough that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two pro-corporate “free trade” deals, were negotiated in total secrecy. But on top of that, the corporate media has failed our democracy again — with virtually no televised news coverage of the story and very little in print. The American people remain largely unaware that these deals are huge gifts to big corporations and major blows to our democracy: Foreign corporations would have extraordinary new powers to challenge our local and national policies, from regulating Wall Street, to food safety, to climate change protections. The corporate media won’t tell you that there is a way to stop these deals, but an informed and active citizenry can still rise up and say: No!

—Craig Brown, editor, Common Dreams


The fight for climate justice can’t be suppressed forever

Ben Adler

Over years of covering climate change, especially the recent UN climate negotiations in Paris (COP 21), I have realized that the single biggest challenge the world faces is not just containing climate change, but the struggle for climate justice. When the US media talks about climate change, the focus is on how much we can limit global greenhouse gas emissions and the warming they cause, and on how we can adapt to the warming that is already inevitable. But almost all of those historical emissions came from the world’s richest countries — roughly one-quarter each from the US and the European Union alone. We still emit roughly ten times as much carbon per capita as India and our GDP per capita is roughly 40 times as high. Developing countries — many of which are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, extreme heat waves, drought and severe storms — are outraged that rich countries are offering only modest, gradual reductions in carbon emissions, while, in exchange, we ask them to limit their emissions far below our own current and historical emissions.

The just and practical solution is for the rich to buy off the poor with massive subsidies for clean energy, adaptation to climate change and compensation for climate-related loss and damage. These demands from developing countries and civil society, and the West’s unwillingness to meet them, were the source of the central conflict at the Paris negotiations. The end result was an agreement that did even less for climate justice than it did to limit emissions. In the last four years, the word “Kardashian” has appeared in the Wall Street Journal 450 times, while the phrase “climate justice” has appeared only 16. But eventually, the business elite of the US will have to pay attention to this problem: Those displaced by climate disasters in the developing world will seek a better life — whether through immigration, lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, or other means. The US ignores climate justice now, but when it turns into the sort of thing the media covers — a war over resources, a refugee crisis — they will tune in. By then, however, it will be too late.

—Ben Adler, politics and policy reporter, Grist


The enormous power of US Special Operations forces

Tom Engelhardt

For my choice of most underreported story of the year, I think I might go with the growth of America’s Special Operations forces. Of course, they’ve gotten plenty of news coverage this year (as in previous years), but what’s not been covered, not even truly taken up (or in), is how strange their development and expansion into a force of 70,000 “elite” troops really has been. As Nick Turse has reported at TomDispatch, they carried out operations — from raids to training missions — in 147 countries this year, which should stun us all.

What we’re talking about here is the exponential, still unending growth of an enormous, shadowy secret military cocooned inside the regular US military. Political scientist and author Chalmers Johnson used to speak of the CIA as being “the president’s private army.” Whose private army would these Special Operations forces be? They are, after all, larger than the entire militaries of many other countries. What does it mean for a secret military to now be leading the way in America’s spreading wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East and Africa? What kind of a country are we when, like so many other aspects of governmental life, the actions of a major part of our military largely disappear into the shadows?

Let me know if you figure that out. One thing’s for sure, though: You don’t need to waste your time looking for thoughtful coverage of such matters in the mainstream media. That’s not in sight either. It, too, went undercover, which might be considered appropriate for such an undercovered story.

—Tom Engelhardt, editor, TomDispatch

3 comments

  1. […] rise to the command of SOCOM should highlight something that, despite all the publicity given to America’s special ops troops, seldom comes […]

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  2. […] rise to the command of SOCOM should highlight something that, despite all the publicity given to America’s special ops troops, seldom comes […]

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