EVERY YEAR, I SURVEY some of the year's most overhyped and underreported stories. But this year, along with the perennial trivia, comes a dangerous new ingredient: disinformation, cynically fed by politicians from the White House, self-interested corporations, and media that could know better. The remedy? Seek alternative news sources—and make up your own mind. Meanwhile, here's some context for your search:
2002'S OVERRATED STORIES
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction: Only the Bush administration and Tony Blair believe they exist. If they did, they'd be few in number and poorly made.
The economic recovery: It's coming, remember? And coming, and coming. It's just around the corner. Really.
John Walker Lindh: Or, "How a dirty, filthy traitor becomes a confused kid with a heart of gold when Dad hires good lawyers."
Catholic sex scandals: Hype routinely failed to distinguish between recent crimes and ones from two or three decades ago. Yet someone who directly or indirectly kills thousands in the 1970s or 1980s completely escapes censure, even when nominated to a high-profile national position. That could be Henry Kissinger—or any of a dozen others now in Washington.
*Kidnapped kids: An epidemic of scare stories, with the actual rate of snatchings unchanged—and, as usual, mostly involving custody disputes, not strangers. Pointless, horrible, and pandering to parents' worst fears.
Honorable mention: Code yellow, or amber, or whatever other transformation of routine risk into public fear is afoot this week; 9/11 conspiracy theories and their moronic cousin, those about Sen. Paul Wellstone; and the nonexistent smallpox threat and its lucrative vaccines.
*America's weapons of mass destruction: Ours, not Iraq's, still could end all life. Yet abolition of the ABM treaty and the world's arms-control structure, the obscene cost and global offensive potential of a Star Wars defense, and the potential for terrorist attacks against vulnerable facilities—like the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington—were ignored.
Say, who sent that anthrax, anyway?
Americans aren't fooled: The "broad public support" for invading Iraq is, in polls, only if there is international support and there are few American casualties—both highly unlikely. Meanwhile, huge opposition sentiment emerged, locally, nationally, and globally.
Afghanistan: If we're to instigate "regime change" and democracy in Iraq, what happened in Afghanistan? Women are just as oppressed (says Human Rights Watch); our puppet regime controls only Kabul; the rest of the country is being carved up and eaten by warring thugs; and there was a record poppy harvest this season.
Palestine: Excepting a brief flurry during the Easter offensive, Israel's ongoing attacks and butchery of civilians have mostly garnered less news coverage than suicide bombings. And American diplomatic and military backing is never, ever discussed—except by people who hate us.
Corporate scandals: Enron was a star. WorldCom got some ink, Harken and Halliburton even made brief appearances. But the lengthy list of other scandals and systemic policy causes (like deregulation) rarely escaped the business section. And the "reform" effort was a short-lived, toothless fraud.
Bush's foxes, our henhouses: Every segment of America's corporate economy now has a friend on the inside: Food safety, media ownership, land use, bankruptcy law, tort reform, pollution, tax law, antitrust protection, and on and on. A looting of historic proportions.
Environmental catastrophe: The Bush cabal's abolition-by-decree of numerous major protections led to other important stories: global warming (and our emergence as Atmospheric Enemy No. 1), the Spanish oil-tanker disaster, the looming plunder of remaining old growth, the Klamath fish kill, and the potentially enormous disaster if the Gulf War's oil fires are replicated in Iraq.
Shredded safety nets: Washington is one of 46 states this year with severe budget shortfalls. Guess who'll suffer the most?
Transportation scams: The region's favorite topic somehow always avoids the price tag—where the money would come from, and how the cost gets so high.
The Port of Seattle: It remained the least accountable local government: changes at Fisherman's Terminal, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's third runway, a massive property-tax hike, sweetheart deals for the cruise lines—and nary an inquiring mind.
Honorable Mention: The flexible relationship between White House claims and reality, and its relentless power grab; water privatization, already a fact in much of the world; Colombia, and all our other secondary wars; redistricting, ineffective campaign finance reform, and other perks of incumbency; our decaying health care system, which always makes this list; the horrific conditions in our local prisons; numerous labor struggles; and the Boeing jobs that disappear to Mexico or China, not Chicago.
Happy new year!