It goes without saying that in the 1998 media world of all-Monica, all-the-time, many important news stories were destined to be invisible or get short shrift. The corporate media, especially the broadcast media, gave us primarily infotainment and celebrity news, pushing more complex stories to the back pages or off the air. At the same time, public-affairs television programming and international news coverage have become less and less visible.
Project Censored's annual list, the Top Ten Censored Stories, for 1998 reads like a review of "The Dangerous Things That Were Happening While You Fixated on the President's Sex Life." For 23 years, Project Censored-a Sonoma State University media watch group-has shown a spotlight on the important news that didn't make the news. This year's Top Ten, selected by a distinguished panel of judges, suggest that many insidious developments in the areas of public health and safety are going unreported by the mainstream press.
The media's own self-censorship, combined with a number of overt censorship tactics-such as silenced sources or news outlets unwilling to sell controversial publications-makes for a media diet shrinking in substance. It seems clear that readers will need to change their habits and more aggressively seek out the truth behind the news if they want to remain informed. Media organizations committed to public-interest information may also have to rethink their methods for getting material into the hands of wider audiences.
Susan Faludi, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of Project Censored's 1998 judges comments that "this past year's censored list is brimming over with uncovered crucial stories which have devastating implications for the world's future health and well-being. I had a very difficult time this year narrowing the list down to the ten most important. They were all important. Many of them shared an underlying story: the disturbing consequences of the rise of a global economy. It's distressing that at the very time the world is going global, the media have narrowed their sights to an Oval Office broom closet."
Without further ado, here are Project Censored's Top Ten Censored Stories of 1998:
International Trade Agreement Undermines the Sovereignty of Nations
The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), would set in place a vast series of protections for international investment and threaten national sovereignty by giving corporations near-equal rights to nations. Poor domestic coverage of the ramifications of this agreement led Project Censored judges to name this story the No. 1 unreported story of 1998.
The MAI would thrust the world economy much closer to a system where international corporate capital would hold free reign over the democratic values and socioeconomic needs of people. Fortunately, an international grassroots effort built from previous struggles over GATT and NAFTA has derailed the MAI's chances of being approved internationally. The possibility of MAI coming before the U.S. Senate are also slim at this point.
Sources: In These Times, Joel Bleifuss, January 11, 1998. Democratic Left, Bill Dixon, Spring 1998. Tribune des Droits Humanes, April 1998.
Chemical Corporations Profit Off Breast Cancer
Perhaps one of the most insidious corporate abuses revealed in 1998 was that chemical and pharmaceutical companies are making huge profits from breast cancer, manufacturing and selling known carcinogens on one hand, and then producing (and profiting from) breast cancer treatment drugs on the other. Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, among the world's largest manufacturers of pesticides, plastics, and pharmaceuticals is also the controlling sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), so they're able to approve-or veto-any promotional or informational materials, posters, advertisements, etc. that BCAM uses. The focus is strictly limited to information regarding early detection and treatment, with an avoidance of the topic of prevention. Critics have begun to question why.
Sources: Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, Peter Montague, Dec. 4, 1997. The Green Guide, Allison Sloan and Tracy Baxter, Oct. 1998.
Monsanto's Genetically Modified Seeds Threaten World Production
It's an invention that goes against the very grain of farming practices. The Monsanto Corporation, in conjunction with the USDA, has patented genetically engineered seeds that produce sterile offspring, making the age-old practice of seed-saving from season to season impossible and forcing farmers to return to the company each year to purchase more. Dubbed "terminator seeds," they pose a potential threat to farmers in developing countries and to the world's food supply.
Sources: Mojo Wire, Leora Broydo, April 7, 1998. Third World Resurgence #9, Chakravarthi Raghavan. Earth Island Journal, Hope Shand and Pat Mooney, Fall 1998. The Ecologist, Brian Tokar, Sept./Oct. 1998, Vol. 28, No. 5.
Recycled Radioactive Metals May Be in Your Home
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the steel industry have joined forces to relax regulations that currently keep recycled radioactive metal out of our homes. The relaxed standards would allow companies to convert millions of tons of low-level radioactive metal into household items such as tables, utensils and even eyeglasses.
Source: The Progressive, Anne-Marie Cusac, October 1998.
U. S. Weapons of Mass Destruction Linked to the Deaths of a Half a Million Children
For more than six years the United States has strongly supported sanctions against Iraq-punishing the country's citizens for their leader's failure to allow United Nations inspectors to search every structure for weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Perhaps even more startling is the allegation that many of the weapons being sought were supplied to Iraq by the United States in the 1980s.
Sources: San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Bernstein, Feb. 25, 1998. I.F. Magazine, Bill Blum, March/April 1998. Space and Security News, the Most Rev. Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., USAF (retired), May 1998.
U.S. Nuclear Program Subverts U.N.'s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
When scientists in India conducted a deep underground nuclear test on May 11, 1998, it was seen as a violation of the United Nations' Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), even though that country did not sign the document. But two months earlier, when the United States carried out an underground test at the Department of Energy's underground test site in Nevada, it went largely unnoticed by the American media, though it was perceived as threatening to the Test Ban Treaty by other countries. The U.S. insisted that it was a sub-critical test-no nuclear reaction maintained-and consistent with the CTBT.
Source: The Nation, Bill Mesler, June 15,1998.
Gene Transfers Linked to Dangerous New Diseases
A major public health crisis may be on the horizon, as both emergent and recurring diseases reach new heights of antibiotic resistance. At least 30 new diseases have emerged over the past 20 years, and familiar infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria are returning with vigor. By 1990 nearly every common bacterial species had developed some degree of resistance to drug treatment, many to multiple antibiotics. A major contributing factor, in addition to antibiotic overuse, might be the transfer of genes between unrelated species of animals and plants which takes place with genetic engineering. And to make things even worse, regulators are considering a further relaxation of the already lax safety rules regarding this unpredictable and inherently hazardous field. There currently is no independent investigation into the relationship between genetic engineering and the emergent and recurrent diseases.
Sources: Third World Resurgence, #92, Mae-Wan Ho, and Terje Traavik. The Ecologist, Mae-Wan Ho, Hartmut Meyer and Joe Cummins, May/June 1998, Vol. 28, No. 3.
Catholic Hospital Mergers Threaten Reproductive Rights
In 1996, over 600 hospitals merged with Catholic institutions in 19 states. This data reflects a trend, according to Project Censored, that threatens women's access to abortions, sterilization, birth control, in vitro fertilization and fetal tissue experimentation, resulting in the impairment of reproductive health care rights across the nation, since Catholic institutions will not allow these services. While this story has received intense local coverage, and activists have gained victories in protecting women's health care rights, there has been little coverage given to the issue at the national level.
Source: Ms. magazine, Christine Dinsmore July/August 1998.
U.S. Tax Dollars Support Death Squads in Chiapas
Mexican paramilitary soldiers, infamous for slaughtering villagers in the Chiapas region of Mexico, are charged with being trained to torture and kill with U.S. tax dollars. Their ostensible ongoing mission is to fight the "War on Drugs," but peasant activists in Chiapas say the real motive driving the U.S.-supported war is the protection of foreign investment rights in Mexico.
Sources: Slingshot, the Slingshot collective, Summer 1998. Dark Night Field Notes/Zapatismo, Darrin Wood.
What Price Cheap Oil? Environmental Student Activists Gunned Down on Chevron Oil Facility in Nigeria
Nigerian activists have stepped up the struggle against the multinational oil companies who, in conjunction with Nigeria's brutal dictatorship, have turned the pristine Niger Delta into an environmental and economic wasteland. On May 28, 1998, Chevron Oil retaliated by using its helicopters to fly in squads of Nigerian paramilitary troops who attacked and killed Nigerian activists at an off-shore Chevron rig.
Sources: Era Environmental Testimonies, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, July 10, 1998. Pacifica Radio, Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill, September 1998.
By Zach Dundas, Blake de Pastino, Beth Wohlberg and Sarah Schmid
As the pesky gadflies of Missoula's media, we try to be as vigilant as possible. And, though it's not our style to brag, we like to think we do a pretty good job. After all, we were one of the few news outlets to bring you Project Censored's story Number Three, the inside scoop on genetically engineered foods and Monsanto's "terminator" program. (That was our March 18-March 25 issue, in case someone swiped your copy that week). But still, there's a lot of news taking place around here that seems to have faded from view. So, in the spirit of this week's cover story, we sketched out just a few of Western Montana's own under-reported stories, news items that we think could stand a lot more attention. Of course, there are volumes of other untold stories out there, too. But for now, these dispatches might shed at least some light on the news of our region. That's what we're here for.
Rebuilding Poverty Flats
Anyone watching downtown Missoula knows about the money that flows from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the city's urban renewal department. For years, MRA has earmarked funds for kick-starting a once-dormant city center as a new appreciation for traditional business districts dawned in American civic life.
What most people aren't aware of is the MRA's other pet project: the retooling of the diverse Westside neighborhood roughly bounded by Russell Street on the west, the railroad's Bitterroot Spur on the east, Toole Avenue on the north and Third Street on the south. It's an area that lacks the economic dynamism and hip cachet of downtown, so the millions MRA has pumped into revitalizing the 'hood have gone largely unnoticed.
As developers find their way into virgin territory like the adjacent abandoned mill site on the Clark Fork, renewal efforts are likely to see more prominent play in a neighborhood with a cantankerous history.
"I've heard that years ago, the nickname for that area was Poverty Flats," says MRA director Geoff Badenoch. "It was only annexed to the city about ten years ago, and people that lived there were not happy about it. So you had this pocket of county land in the middle of the city, a sort of urban-but-not-really island with gravel streets where no one was on the sewer. There are some great people down there, but being in the city was not their idea."
In 1991, after the city absorbed this last bastion of rural living, it became Urban Renewal District II (downtown is URD I). According to Badenoch, the neighborhood's free-wheeling mix of residential, commercial and industrial land and poor infrastructure make MRA's work there much different than in downtown.
In fiscal year 1999, MRA pumped $1.7 million into the area, much of it federal money aimed at the construction of a pedestrian bridge linking California Street to the Clark Fork's northern bank. Other projects include pushing the city sewer and water network in, helping low-income folks with home improvements and work on the area's system of bike and walking trails. (ZD)
The Graying of Missoula
Its waggish, frisbee-tossing appearances aside, Missoula is growing older. Like the rest of the nation, Western Montana is experiencing the pangs of an aging Baby Boom generation, and the signs are likely to get more and more noticeable in the approaching years. But, local researchers warn, the impacts may manifest themselves much sooner than anyone expected. In fact, they could begin in about four years.
According to a study released in January by demographic analyst Jim Sylvester, in 2003, Missoula will be home to about 900 more women over the age of 65 who live alone. By 2010, the city's Office and Planning and Grants adds, there will be a full 3,000 women over the age of 85. These may not sound like overwhelming statistics, but they stand as results of a trend so broad and gradual that it can best be described as tectonic.
The shift, Sylvester explains, is largely a function of life expectancy, but marriage and settlement patterns are also playing a role. "Women tend to live longer than men," he says, "so these are women who are outliving their spouses. What we end up with is a large number of older women living alone."
And the results of this trend, he says, could be far-reaching, ranging from a hiccup in Missoula's housing market to shifts in local politics.
"It may affect the ability of the Missoula population to pass mill levies for grade schools, for example," Sylvester says. "If there are more people with fixed incomes and no kids, they would be less likely to vote for things like that. Single older ladies also need different kinds of housing than families, so you might see more demand for things like one-bedroom, low-maintenance apartments."
Statistics aside, others in town are more concerned about how the Garden City will be able to care for its burgeoning population of seniors. Already, local health-care providers have begun to map out strategies.
"It's going to take incredible flexibility on our part to meet those demands," says Eileen Sansom of Missoula Aging Services, "and that's what we're gearing up to do." Among the main hindrances, she says, will be dwindling support from the federal government, which is already strapped by its own Baby Boom problems, not the least of which is shoring up Social Security. "Basically, we're trying to plan for more self-sufficiency within the agency, so were not so dependent on public funds," Sansom says. "Hopefully, the federal government will help, but they're really lagging behind." (BdeP)
Changing the Face of Neighborhood Politics
Missoula's new city charter, approved by voters in 1996, mandated the establishment of neighborhood councils, envisioned as town meeting-style forums. While the idea sounded democratic, critics feared the councils would be a boondoggle. Some doubted they could be formed at all.
Indeed, it took awhile. The city hired Linda and Judy Smith, sisters active in progressive politics, to organize the councils; the two-for-one-hire raised eyebrows among conservatives. Then, the Smiths faced the daunting task of attracting ordinary citizens to yet another meeting on Missoula's packed public docket.
Finally, though, some councils burst into life. In the last six months, the new neighborhood bodies have weighed in on issues ranging from the proposed downtown baseball park to the future of the University area's Freddy's building to a Northside development plan still on the drawing board.
Even as the more active councils seemed to deliver on the city charter's promise, however, they ran into a problem: What to do with the neighborhood associations that have already been in place for decades in many parts of Missoula? The older associations had no official standing with the city and lacked the councils' all-inclusive openness. But in some cases, the associations enjoyed decades of power and boasted impressive records for getting things done.
While some associations-in the Rattlesnake and Northside, for example-have essentially merged, others have not gone so quietly. The venerable, powerful University Homeowners Association, for example, is fighting ferociously to prevent a bakery and pizza place from taking over the old Freddy's building on Helen. The neighborhood council, on the other hand, approved the change by a vast majority.
As that and other situations play out, the Smiths' contract is due to expire, and it's uncertain whether the city council will extend it, or, indeed, provide any funding for neighborhood councils at all. (ZD)
The Eco-tainment of Public Lands
Montanans' resentment toward the federal government may have saved them from becoming guinea pigs in a recent fee project, but environmentalists worry that Montana, or any state for that matter, may not escape the commercialization of public lands.
Approximately 100 test sites across the country were chosen as a part of the government's fee experiment, which requires recreationists to pay to use public lands. If the project is successful, it will be implemented nationwide.
"The people in Montana, I would suggest, would go ape-shit if asked to pay fees to go hiking," says Scott Silver, executive director of the Oregon-based grassroots organization Wild Wilderness. "The government focused on places that do not have the same mentality, places where there would be acceptance of the fees."
As a result, there are now lands managed with public funds, which citizens still have to pay to gain access to. A site in Oregon requires users to pay $3 a day or $30 a year for hiking. Another requires a $75 a year permit for use of hot springs. Thankfully, Montana and Northern Idaho have escaped the project.
However, environmental groups suggest that the fee project embarks upon a much larger project to privatize, commercialize and industrialize public lands. "When you promote recreation for revenue-generation's sake, you get a heck of a lot of development on public lands," Silver says. "There is a trend toward creating more attractions-like visitor centers and golf courses."
If the fee project becomes official, sites that do not make enough money in fees may become perfect candidates for privatization. "If a facility is deemed a failure by the government because it isn't generating fees, it's a way for private companies to take over," Silver says.
So far, Montanans don't need to worry about private companies buying up Forest Service land for eco-tourist traps. However, if the government considers the fee program successful, Montana may be forced to accept the "eco-tainment" of public lands. (BW)
The Flathead Water War
For the past five years, Bernie Azure worked as a reporter for the Flathead Reservation's Char Koosta News, and he reckons there are several reasons why reporters around Western Montana don't cover tribal water issues adequately: The subject is complicated, perceived as boring and involves sources that are often reluctant to speak on the record.
"[Reporters] write the passions of those they can get to be interviewed, and it can be too mushy," he explains.
Two recent stories involving power struggles over Flathead-area water have made limited appearances in local media, despite their far-reaching effects on those who live there.
In 1995 the tribe was given authority over water control standards by the Environmental Protection Agency, contingent upon the tribe proving that it was professionally capable of overseeing such an endeavor.
But soon after the tribe met the criteria, the State of Montana sued to overturn the decision, even though tribal water quality standards were identical to those used by the state at the time. In October 1998, the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear the state's appeal, and control remains with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Last week, Representative Rick Hill sponsored federal legislation to usurp management of the reservation's irrigation systems from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and assign it to mostly non-native irrigators. Azure says its unlikely the legislation will pass, as similar pieces sponsored by Senator Conrad Burns and former Representative Ron Marlenee have failed in the past.
Azure points out that water is a huge issue in the West, and he warns that all the different components of water politics, including quality, irrigation and access, could take decades to resolve.
Thanks to a number of treaties and federal doctrines, he adds, there is legal precedent for upholding the tribal control of water. But he believes that the struggle between natives and non-natives living on the Flathead Reservation, played out through battles over things like irrigation, is as old as European colonization itself, and he doesn't expect it to go away.
"It's still a battle of survival and dominance," he says. (SS)