Most Underreported Stories of 2013

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Plant Explosion Investigation

Investigators looks over a destroyed fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 14 people in April 2013. (AP Photo/Pool/ LM Otero, Pool)

What stories did not get the coverage they deserved in 2013? We asked editors, journalists and friends of to weigh in with their choices, including stories they reported on. Here’s what they had to say.

A Dramatic Wake up Call on Climate Change
Monika Bauerlein, co-editor, Mother Jones

Monika Bauerlein

This year may turn out to have been a watershed in the biggest story of our age — the enormous shift in global climate. It was a year of record weather events, from freak storms across the US to record floods in Europe and lethal typhoons in Asia. It was also the year when the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dramatic wake-up call, reporting that CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than it’s been in a million years and that within our children’s lifetimes, the oceans may rise a full three feet. For the story’s absence from US headlines, blame the IPCC’s poor communications; but don’t forget the media where coverage of climate change fell to a 10-year low ahead of the report. (For a counterweight, see the Climate Desk, a collaboration of major news organizations whose work is regularly featured here at Moyers & Company.)

Supreme Court Overturns Key Provision in Voting Rights Act
Ari Berman, contributing writer, The Nation

Ari Berman

The most underreported story of 2013 was the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. It was the most wrongheaded voting rights decision in a century, since the Court upheld poll taxes and literacy tests in Giles v. Harris in 1903. John Roberts’s ruling invalidating Section 4 of the VRA means that the states with the worst history of voter discrimination in the United States no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. As a result, onerous laws that were previously blocked by the federal courts, such as Texas’s voter-ID law, immediately went into effect while new states like North Carolina rushed to enact even more flagrantly discriminatory measures. Yet far too many in the mainstream media have ignored the ramifications of the decision and have not paid attention to the disturbing spread of Jim Crow 2.0.

Obama’s Relative Silence After Texas Plant Explosion
Mike Elk, staff writer, In These Times

Mike Elk (In These Times)

The failure of the Obama administration to use the explosion at a fertilizer company in West, Texas, which killed 15, to launch a major public campaign to reform deeply flawed workplace safety laws has been seriously underreported. Following the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners, Obama used his remarks at the workers’ memorial to call for increased workplace safety measures, which ultimately failed in the House. But three years later, Obama did not even mention the plant’s long history of breaking workplace safety laws at the memorial commemorating the workers and firefighters who were killed in the West, Texas explosion. It was just another mass killing of Americans with no serious political will behind it to create changes.

US Military’s “Pivot to Africa”
Tom Engelhardt, editor, of The Nation Institute’s TomDispatch

Tom Engelhardt. (Photo: Dale Robbins)

With a certain pride, I want to offer Nick Turse’s reportage on how the US military is moving into Africa as the most important story at TomDispatch that was barely reported elsewhere this year. In 2013, there was endless media coverage of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” because the administration assured one and all that it was so crucially important (though the actual pivot consisted of little indeed). In the meantime, no one talked about the importance of the US military’s “pivot to Africa.” In Africom’s Gigantic Small Footprint, Turse quite literally mapped out the extent of that development, one of several pieces he wrote in 2013 on a subject that could help define our global military future in a big way.

Racial Discrimination in University of Alabama’s Sororities
Danielle Ivory, reporter, The New York Times

Danielle Ivory (Photo by Earl Wilson, The New York Times)

Fifty years after Gov. George Wallace stood in front of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in a fruitless attempt to stop the enrollment of two black students — Vivian Malone and James Hood — two students at the university exposed rampant discrimination this year in the college’s Greek system. Abbey Crain and Matt Ford reported that traditionally-white sororities turned down minority students because of pressure from alumni. The storyis a reminder that racial segregation is a modern-day problem, not a relic of the past.


US Negotiates Major Trade Agreement
Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund and blogger at The Baseline Scenario.

Simon Johnson

The US is on the verge of signing a major trade agreement, with big implications for business, finance and jobs.  This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), about which there has been relatively little media coverage – although this Washington Post article does a nice job of explaining what is at stake.  Approving or amending this trade deal will be a major issue for Congress in early 2014.  You should become better informed and put pressure on your congressional representative.  Left to their own devices, they will likely just wave this through.

Tax Writers Promise 50 Years of Secrecy for Senators’ Suggestions
Mattea Kramer, director of research, National Priorities Project

Mattea Kramer

The wealthiest Americans and corporations enjoy deep tax savings because our tax code is riddled with loopholes that cost the federal government trillions of dollars annually. But this summer Senate finance leaders promised senators 50 years of secrecy for stating which loopholes they want kept in the tax code. That gave them license to stand up for special interests instead of their constituents – and that’s outrageous. We must not allow taxes to be cloaked in secrecy or treated as the third rail of our democracy. Getting rid of loopholes is a crucial move toward a federal government that has the money to invest in job creation, education and scientific research, among many other priorities.

America’s War on Youth
Maya Schenwar, executive director, Truthout

Maya Schenwar

While a variety of media have touched on the corporatization of school systems and the shutting down of impoverished schools, there’s been a marked dearth of coverage of the interconnections between the various forms of violence hitting youth  from all sides. Rania Khalek tracked the connections between rising prison budgets and atrophying education funding, Victoria Law has chronicled the criminalization of poor youth of color fed into the juvenile “justice” system, I have pointed to the devaluation of the lives of prisoners’ children through the severing of mother-baby bonds at birth and Michael Corcoran has analyzed corporate media’s complicity in demonizing youth for their poverty and unemployment. All the while, Henry Giroux has demonstrated how the interwoven forces of market-driven politics, surveillance, criminalization and overarching authoritarianism have produced a culture that increasingly renders young people “disposable.”

The Heroism of Transgender People of Color
Rinku Sen, Publisher, Colorlines

Rinku Sen

Rinku Sen

The most under reported story of 2013 was about transgender people of color. It is a small slice of the US population and hard to pin down — somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5 percent of Los Angeles residents, for example. But their effects on how we live will be major. Trans people of color make their way through many systems, revealing the worst and best ways in which we value each other. Studies have shown that the numbers on police harassment, hate crimes, employment discrimination and other issues are alarming. Yet, the stories to be done are of heroism and agency, not of victimhood. Gender and race binaries rule our lives. To have them bent and stretched to reveal a much longer identity spectrum than we imagined is historic, and most of us are missing that story.

Plant Explosion Investigation

An investigators looks over a destroyed fertilizer plant in West, Texas, May 2, 2013. Investigators face a slew of challenges in figuring out what caused the explosion at the fertilizer plant that killed 14 people and destroyed part of the small Texas town. (AP Photo/Pool/ LM Otero, Pool)

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