Which stories didn’t get the attention they deserved in 2014? Below editors, journalists and friends of BillMoyers.com provide answers.
The Attack on Voting Rights in the Midterm Elections
Ari Berman, contributing writer, The Nation
I called the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act the most under-reported story of 2013. And the attack on voting rights is again my pick for 2014. That’s because efforts to restrict the right to vote became even more widespread after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The 2014 election was the first in nearly 50 years held without the full protections of the VRA, and voters in 14 states faced new restrictions at the ballot box for the first time. The Supreme Court once again failed to protect voting rights, declining to block a flurry of new voting restrictions on the eve of the election. As a consequence, longtime voters were turned away from the polls in states like Texas, North Carolina and Kansas for no good reason. Yet few reporters covered the impact of these voting changes or pointed out that the number of disenfranchised voters far exceeded the rare instances of voter fraud, the purported rationale for making it harder to vote.
The CIA’s Global Campaign of Kidnappings
Tom Engelhardt, editor, TomDispatch
The media was convulsed by the recent release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. For days, the torture story led the news, 24.7, just about everywhere — and yet a crucial part of that story, probably the grimmest part of all, filled with criminalities of every sort, was missing in action. Left in the dustbin was the CIA’s global campaign of kidnappings, known as “renditions” or “extraordinary renditions,” aided and abetted by 54 other countries, in which “terror suspects” (often enough innocent people) were swept off the streets of major cities as well as the backlands of the planet and “rendered” to countries, ranging from Libya and Syria to Egypt and Uzbekistan, with their own handy torture chambers and interrogators already much practiced in “enhanced” techniques as grim as, or worse than, those the CIA was employing in its own black sites. This was done consciously with, you might say, malice aforethought by Washington’s representatives who, in the process, effectively condoned the torture practices of some of the worst regimes on the planet. You would think that it would continue to play a significant role in any American torture revelations, but no such luck.
Lack of Access to — and the Burning of — Public Records
Danielle Ivory, reporter, The New York Times
On his first day in office in 2009, President Obama said he was ushering in “a new era of open government” and urged federal officials to act promptly to make information public. Almost six years later, it is important that reporters continue to hold not only the administration to that promise, but also state and local government as well, and that they inform the public when access to records is blocked. In March, in an extreme example, the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts, reported that the local public works commissioner burned loads of public records without first getting the required approval from the state.
Elizabeth Warren Does Not Have A Pitchfork
Simon Johnson, former IMF chief economist and blogger at The Baseline Scenario
Reacting to the burst of aggressive lobbying surrounding the House spending bill in mid-December, Elizabeth Warren prominently rallied Democrats – and focused many of them against a big special favor that was being provided to mega-banks. And she continues to oppose the Obama administration’s attempt to hire even more Wall Street executives. This was high profile, but here is what almost everyone in the media missed. Elizabeth Warren’s views on the dangerous capture of Washington by Wall Street are completely aligned with responsible people from across the political spectrum. This is not left vs. right or liberals-with-pitchforks against anyone. It is sensible well-informed people against an excessively powerful lobby. This is why she frightens Wall Street.
Cash Welfare Assistance Unavailable for Many Impoverished Families
Greg Kaufman, editor, TalkPoverty.org
A story that doesn’t receive the coverage it deserves — and 2014 was no exception — is the extent to which cash welfare assistance, or TANF, is unavailable to people in poverty in the United States. In 1996, when welfare reform was signed into law, for every 100 families with children in poverty, 68 received cash assistance; in 2012-13, it was just 25 families. Moreover, the program is funded at the same level as in 1996. As a result, benefits have lost at least 20 percent of their purchasing power in 38 states, adjusting for inflation; and in every state benefit amounts are less than 50 percent of the poverty line — most are below 30 percent of the poverty line (less than about $5,900 annually for a family of three). As Peter Edelman wrote for TalkPoverty.org, “It’s past time to acknowledge that we have blown a huge hole in our national safety net for the very most needy among us.”
The Widening Wealth Gap
Suzy Khimm, national reporter, MSNBC
“Inequality” has become a rallying cry for those discontent with the state of the US economy, fueling campaigns to raise wages and incomes. But one of the most extreme forms of economic inequality has attracted far less attention: the wealth gap. If income is what you need to get by today, then wealth is your economic future — home equity, a retirement portfolio, a college savings plan. Lower-income Americans and minorities have been shut out of the housing recovery and are far less likely to be invested in the rebounding stock market. As a result, the wealth gap has gotten even worse: White Americans now have 13 times the wealth of black Americans, according to a new Pew study — the biggest divide since 1989.
Mexico’s Uprising Against President Peña Nieto
Jorge Ramos, correspondent, Univision and host of Fusion’s America With Jorge Ramos
The most underreported story in the United States is Mexico’s uprising against its own president. Millions of Mexicans, on the streets and on social media, have been asking for the resignation of President Enrique Peña Nieto. He has been negligent and ineffective in dealing with violence. The disappearance and possible death of 43 students in the state of Guerrero has created a very powerful protest movement nationwide. Also, there is the issue of conflict of interests. A government contractor is financing the $7 million home of the president’s wife. These two issues — violence and corruption — could lead to more political instability in Mexico with dire consequences for the United States. Peña Nieto is already a weak president and he still has four more years to go.
The Rise of the Prison-Industrial Complex
Maya Schenwar, executive director, Truthout
In the past year, while mainstream publications have devoted increasing attention to prison reform efforts, they’ve neglected to point out the insidious nature of some of these “reforms.” In many cases, these initiatives actually expand the size of the prison-industrial complex. Truthout delved into many of those rarely told stories: Victoria Law looked at how California is using private prisons to “address” overcrowding, James Kilgore documented the expansion of electronic monitoring as a “fix” for mass incarceration, Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock demonstrated how right-wing agendas dictate the terms of “bipartisan reform,” Aaron Cantú exposed the anti-black racism intrinsic to “predictive policing,” and Glenn E. Martin revealed the race and class biases that come along with the risk-assessment tools that guide many newly proposed reforms. As a growing consensus builds against mass incarceration, we must remain conscious of the encroachment of new oppressive structures.
How Police Unions Are Preventing Needed Reforms
Rinku Sen, Publisher, Colorlines
The most underreported story of 2014 is that of the obstructive role of police unions in efforts to control police misconduct and brutality. Last week, the police union of Richmond, California criticized Police Chief Chris Magnus, who has led significant reforms, for holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign while in uniform. New York City’s police union objected to Mayor Bill De Blasio attending police funerals and blasted the United Federation of Teachers for its support of Eric Garner protests. Conflicts will likely escalate in the labor movement itself. The International Union of Police Associations has sent a letter to the AFL-CIO about “anti-police” rhetoric from other unions. In August, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka signed onto an open letter calling for police accountability and an end to “systemic racial bias.”