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 is the first installment of a two-part series. The second installment can be found here.
The social safety net reduced poverty by nearly half
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
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 also benefit 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
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
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
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 rights protections 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 to Michigan.
But EPA is not the only federal agency responsible for enforcing the Civil Rights Act and the White 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
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”
Roughly $3 trillion of Americans’ retirement savings sits in public pension systems that have become a major profit center for financial firms. Thanks to a coordinated 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
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.