Ten top stories buried by the mainstream press in 2000
by Gabriel Roth
THE STOCK MARKET went down, then up, then down again. Survivor's ratings
went up, and up, and up. And the mainstream media never averted their gaze,
afraid to miss a single bump or dip.
Meanwhile, out of the frame, two trends remained constant in 2000: big
corporations and the government continued to put profits first and people
second -- and people continued to fight back. But you wouldn't know that if you
got your information exclusively from daily papers and TV news.
Some of the stories you missed: the bombing of the Chinese embassy in the
former Yugoslavia may not have been an accident. The United States could have
stopped genocide in Rwanda. An independent study found that genetically
modified foods cause serious health problems in rats. And multinational
companies are fighting to privatize and commodify the world's water supply.
Those stories are all on Project Censored's Web site (www.projectcensored.org),
which features the 25th annual list of the year's most underreported news
stories. Project Censored is a media-studies program, based at Sonoma State
University, whose members comb alternative weeklies, trade newsletters,
scientific journals, and activist magazines to ferret out the big stories that
didn't appear anywhere else.
Censorship in the United States is a slippery thing. No government agency
blacks out offending phrases before they can appear in the New York Times --
although for a brief period in 1999, Army propaganda specialists worked at
CNN, according to one of the stories on the Project Censored list.
But two important factors prevent mainstream news outlets from covering tough
stories. First, papers end up reflecting the politics of their owners, whose
wishes trickle down from the publisher to the editor-in-chief to the national
and metro editors to the reporters -- who know very well what kind of stories
will get on the front page and what kind will get hacked to pieces and buried
on page A13. Second, shrinking budgets mean fewer reporters have to cover more
stories in less time. Without the time or resources to pursue a lengthy
investigation, they rely more and more on press releases and publicists -- on
the official cover stories of the corporate and government establishment.
So even if the stories on this year's list received some coverage in a few
daily papers, none of them got the ongoing attention they deserved. They
weren't blacked out because they were poorly reported: many of the stories on
past years' lists have turned out to be major scoops. Most were thoroughly
documented; most were written by credible journalists.
"It's becoming increasingly easy to find stories," project director Peter
Phillips says. "As the media becomes more and more consolidated and
corporatized, it all starts to look the same." (For a different take on Project
Censored's work, see "Project Censored censors the news -- again," below.)
Following are Project Censored's top 10 stories for 2000, with URLs for the
stories themselves (when available) and for more information.
1) WORLD BANK AND MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS SEEK TO PRIVATIZE WATER
More than one billion people lack access to fresh drinking water, according to
the United Nations -- and that number is expected to double in the next 10
years. World water consumption is growing more than twice as fast as the
For human beings this is a crisis. For corporations, though, it's an
opportunity. The world's biggest companies increasingly see water as the
world's largest untapped commodity. They're moving to take over local water
supplies in the name of profit. When municipal water services are privatized,
rates double or triple, quality standards drop, and customers who can't pay are
cut off. And governments are lining up to help. Every year public officials
from all over the world convene with big-business leaders and World Bank
representatives at meetings of the World Water Council, a water think tank
dominated by commercial interests.
The corporations involved aren't shy about their plans. In Vandana Shiva's
story in Canadian Dimension magazine, Monsanto's Robert Farley described
his company's strategy this way: "Since water is as central to food production
as seed is, and without water life is not possible, Monsanto is now trying to
establish its control over water."
But the privatizers don't always have an easy time of it. In 1999, Bechtel
Group took over the public water system in Cochabamba, Bolivia, with the help
of the World Bank. The company immediately doubled water rates. Bolivians
didn't take this lying down. Last year, general strikes repeatedly brought the
city to a standstill. The government ultimately conceded and nullified
Cochabamba's water war was one of the most significant victories yet for the
opponents of corporate-driven globalization. Yet most US coverage came from the
Associated Press's Peter McFarren, whose stories uncritically accepted the
government's characterization of the protesters as drug traffickers. McFarren
resigned from the wire service when it came out that he was actively lobbying
the Bolivian Congress in support of a commercial proposal, from which he stood
to benefit financially, to ship Bolivian water to Chile. Although it wasn't
mentioned by Project Censored, the McFarren conflict of interest was first
reported by the Narco News Bulletin
Maude Barlow, Prime, July 10, 2000 (www.ifg.org/bgsummary.html);
Pratap Chatterjee, San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 31, 2000
(www.sfbg.com/News/34/35/bech1.html); Vandana Shiva, Canadian
Dimension, February 2000 (www.purefood.org/Monsanto/waterfish.cfm);
Jim Shultz, Canadian Dimension, February 2000
(www.democracyctr.org/onlinenews/water.html), In These Times, May 15,
2000, This, July/August 2000; Daniel Zoll, San Francisco Bay
Guardian, May 31, 2000 (www.sfbg.com/News/34/35/bech2.html).
Mainstream coverage: Toronto Globe and Mail, San Jose Mercury
News, San Francisco Examiner, Toronto Star.
More info: the Blue Planet Project
2) OSHA FAILS TO PROTECT US WORKERS
Terry Feeny lost three of his fingers molding wheel rims at a Titan Wheel
International factory in Saltville, Virginia. He was a skilled mechanic, but he
had never been trained to use the rim-molding machine, which had no safety
guard and a missing stop button.
Compared to some other Titan workers, Feeny was lucky. Don Baysinger was a tire
builder at the company's plant in Des Moines, Iowa. He was pinned between two
tire-tread machines for more than 20 minutes. His chest was crushed, and he
died two days later.
Employees at Titan plants across the country are steadily racking up a shocking
record of injuries and deaths. The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) is charged with protecting workers from such accidents
and ensuring that workplaces are safe. Christopher D. Cook's Progressive
story surveys the problems at Titan plants around the country and asks: what's
OSHA doing about it? The answer: not much.
On-the-job accidents kill 6000 workers every year, and 10 times as many die
from diseases acquired at work. But the federal and state agencies charged with
protecting the country's 102 million workers employ just 2300
OSHA fared worse than ever under the supposedly worker-friendly Clinton
administration. Clinton's OSHA made fewer workplace inspections and reduced or
dismissed more fines than any other, according to a 1999 Public Citizen
The government certainly didn't do much for Terry Feeny, Don Baysinger, or
their co-workers. Virginia's OSHA didn't inspect the Titan plant until months
after Feeny lost his fingers. Inspectors blamed the faulty machinery, and fined
the company a paltry $2250. Feeny himself was laid off; the company ended his
workers' compensation less than five months later. Iowa's OSHA found that
machinery was also at fault in Baysinger's death and levied a fine of $20,000.
Two years after the incident, Titan finally agreed to pay half that.
Christopher D. Cook, the Progressive, February 2000
(www.progressive.org/cook0200.htm). Cook is now city editor at the Bay
More info: Public Citizen report, "Reinventing OSHA"
3) US ARMY PSYCHOLOGICAL-OPERATIONS PERSONNEL WORKED AT CNN
In 1999, as NATO's war in Kosovo was ending, five interns went to work at CNN's
Atlanta headquarters. These interns weren't college students looking to pad
their résumés -- they were United States Army propaganda
The troops were members of the Third Psychological Operations Battalion,
charged with spreading "selected information" to the public. And working at the
world's largest news network, they had a chance to do just that. "They worked
as regular employees of CNN," an army spokesperson told Abe de Vries, a
reporter for the reputable Dutch newspaper Trouw (see www.emperors-clothes.com/articles/devries/psyops2.htm). "Conceivably they
would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the
production of news."
It's not clear what the agents actually did at the network. CNN executives, who
knew about the soldiers' visit, insist they didn't make any journalistic
decisions or write any news copy. But the Army, at least, considered the
internships a great success. At a military symposium early last year,
psychological-operations ("psyops") specialist Christopher St. John described
the CNN mission as a textbook example of military-media cooperation, according
to Le monde du renseignement, a French newsletter covering intelligence
CNN's coverage of the war in Kosovo was criticized for oversimplifying the
issues, ignoring objections to the war, and uncritically parroting NATO
officials. As de Vries wrote, the real question about the soldiers' tenure as
journalists is this: "Did the military learn from the TV people how to hold
viewers' attention? Or did the psyops people teach CNN how to help the U.S.
government garner political support?" Probably both.
Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, February 16, 2000, and March 1,
Foreign coverage: Trouw
Japan Economic Newswire, Le monde du renseignement (France), the
Mainstream coverage: National Public Radio, Tampa Tribune, TV Guide.
4) DID THE US DELIBERATELY BOMB THE CHINESE EMBASSY IN BELGRADE?
On May 7, 1999, US planes bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. President
Clinton called the bombing "a tragic mistake," the result of faulty maps
provided by US intelligence services.
That was good enough for the American media, but it wasn't good enough for
their overseas counterparts. Working together, reporters from the London
Observer and Copenhagen's Politiken found US and NATO government
and military sources who told a different story. One official at the National
Imagery and Mapping Agency, perhaps piqued at the assertion that his agency had
botched its job, called the faulty-map story "a damned lie."
In fact, according to these high-ranking sources, NATO deliberately targeted
the Chinese embassy, which was serving as a rebroadcast station for the
After the Observer broke the story, the Associated Press wire service
picked it up, but few major papers ran it. The Washington Post gave it
90 words in an international-news-briefs section, under the headline, NATO
DENIES STORY ON EMBASSY BOMBING. The New York Times didn't mention it at
all. When the press-watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting asked the
Times why it ignored the story, the paper's foreign editor described the
Observer's piece as "not terribly well-sourced, by our standards at
"It sounds like the Times might be holding out for a named official
source," FAIR's Seth Ackerman told In These Times, "which is a standard
of evidence that the Times likes to apply in cases where they would
rather not report the story at all."
Seth Ackerman, In These Times, June 26, 2000
(www.inthesetimes.com/ackerman2415.html); Joel Bleifuss, In These
Times, December 12, 1999; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting staff report,
February 9, 2000 (www.fair.org/activism/china-response2.html); Yoichi Shimatsu,
Pacific News Service, October 20, 1999.
Foreign coverage: the Observer (UK), Politiken (Denmark), the
Glasgow Herald (Scotland), the Scotsman (Scotland), South
China Morning Post, the Times (UK).
5) US TAXPAYERS UNDERWRITE GLOBAL NUCLEAR-POWER-PLANT SALES
The people of the United States don't want nuclear power anymore. Not a
single nuke plant has been built in this country since the 1979 meltdown at
Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island. What's the industry to do?
Go abroad, of course. American power companies are bringing
nuclear power to the Third World -- with a lot of help from the US taxpayer.
The Export-Import Bank, a little-known government agency, provides loans,
insurance, and other subsidies to foreign governments that want a nuclear
plant. Between 1959 and 1993, the bank spent $7.7 billion to sell
American-made reactors abroad, typically by financing their purchase by
cash-strapped developing-world governments. With almost no oversight, the bank
directs taxpayer dollars toward irresponsible and inefficient projects, few of
which could ever pass domestic safety standards. While the US government has
given in to public pressure and stopped pushing nuclear power at home, it's
happy to send it overseas to keep US contractors afloat.
In Turkey, Ex-Im approved a preliminary loan in support of Westinghouse's
$3.2 billion Akkuyu plant, on a site near an active fault line. Last
summer, in response to a groundswell of opposition to the plant, the Turkish
government finally declared it too expensive and too dangerous -- despite
lobbying on Westinghouse's behalf by then-vice-president Al Gore.
In the Czech Republic the bank backed a $300 million loan for the Temelin
plant, which European nuclear authorities have deemed dangerous and
unnecessary. Nearly a billion dollars over budget, the plant went live last
year, sparking massive international protests.
There's a simple reason you won't see this story on the TV news. CBS is owned
by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric -- both of which build nuclear
plants with the Ex-Im Bank's help.
In February of this year President George W. Bush announced that he hoped to
cut the bank's budget by 25 percent.
Ken Silverstein and Ian Urbina, the Progressive, March 2000.
6) INTERNATIONAL REPORT BLAMES US AND OTHERS FOR GENOCIDE IN RWANDA
In March 1998, President Clinton visited Rwanda and apologized for the West's
failure to act to stop the 1994 genocide there. Clinton blamed that failure on
ignorance: he and other Western leaders, he said, "did not fully appreciate the
depth and speed with which you had been engulfed by this unimaginable
Last year, a report by a distinguished panel convened by the Organization for
African Unity concluded that Clinton knew exactly what was happening in Rwanda
(see www.oau-oua.org/document/ipep/ipep.htm). Information from US intelligence
agencies, the State Department, and UN forces in Rwanda warned of the massacres
before they had begun.
The UN must intervene in genocide under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention. But
Clinton and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, stymied that
intervention. "At every stage," the report says, "Albright could be found
tossing up roadblocks to speedy decisions for effective action."
"President Clinton insists that his failure was a function of ignorance," the
report states. "The facts show, however, that the American government knew
precisely what was happening . . . but domestic politics took
priority over the lives of helpless Africans." In other words, Clinton lied --
and, as David Corn points out, "lying about genocide is a bit more outrageous
than lying about sex."
David Corn, AlterNet, July 25, 2000 www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=9494); Ellen Ray, CovertAction Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2000.
7) INDEPENDENT STUDY POINTS TO DANGERS OF GENETICALLY ALTERED FOODS
In 1998, a scientist named Árpád Pusztai appeared on British
television to discuss some of his research (see
www.freenetpages.co.uk/hp/A.Pusztai). Within weeks the Scottish research
institute where he worked had sacked him, disbanded his team, and confiscated
Pusztai's crime was to question the safety of transgenic food -- foods that are
bioengineered to include genes from other species. His research indicated that
rats fed transgenic potatoes suffered from damaged immune systems and stunted
growth. His was the first independent study to examine the effects of
bioengineered food on mammals; previous work of this kind had all been
sponsored by biotech firms. It later came out that Pusztai's former employers
had taken a substantial grant from biotech giant Monsanto.
The Lancet, Britain's most prestigious medical journal, published a
peer-reviewed paper by Pusztai in the fall of 1999. That study went further
than the last: it suggested that the health problems observed in rats might be
caused not by the genetically added chemicals, but by the process of genetic
engineering itself. It's possible that the problems Pusztai found are limited
to a single variety of potato -- but it's also possible they're common to every
transgenic organism, including many of the foods in our supermarkets.
Joel Bleifuss, In These Times, January 10, 2000; Karen Charman,
Extra!, May/June 2000; Ben Lilliston, Multinational Monitor,
Foreign coverage: wide coverage in England, including the
Independent, the Herald, the Irish Times, the
Guardian, and the Times.
Mainstream coverage: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.
More info: Genetic Engineering and Intellectual Property Rights
Resource Center (www.sustain.org/biotech).
8) DRUG COMPANIES INFLUENCE DOCTORS AND HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS TO PUSH
In 1999, more than 130 million prescriptions were written for depression
and other mental-health disorders at a total cost of $8.58 billion.
Some patients were eager to take the medications. Others needed a bit more
That's why drug companies contribute to the National Alliance for the Mentally
Ill (NAMI). That association, which calls itself a grassroots organization,
pushes a program called "assertive community treatment," in which program
workers, backed up by court orders, visit patients' homes daily and watch as
they take their medicine.
NAMI never disclosed its drug-company funding -- but Mother Jones
researchers found $11.72 million in industry contributions to the
group in two and a half years. The largest single donor: Eli Lilly and Company,
which manufactures Prozac.
And there's reason to wonder whether some psychoactive drugs are even
safe, let alone effective. Responding to AIDS activists and drug companies, the
Food and Drug Administration has dramatically sped up the drug-approval process
over the past decade. And once a drug is on the market, the FDA's process for
monitoring its safety is underfunded and unreliable.
Barry Duncan, Scott Miller, and Jacqueline Sparks, Networker,
March/April 2000; David Oaks, Dendron, Spring 2000
Pomper, Washington Monthly, May 12, 2000; Ken Silverstein, Mother
Jones, November/December 1999.
More info: www.MindFreedom.org, www.NARPA.org, or
9) EPA PLANS TO PIPE POSSIBLY RADIOACTIVE WASTE THROUGH DENVER'S SEWAGE
Between 1950 and 1980, millions of gallons of industrial waste were dumped into
the Lowry landfill near Denver, Colorado. The Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) declared the landfill a Superfund site in 1984. The groundwater there may
contain plutonium, one of the deadliest substances on the planet. What to do
Here's the EPA's suggestion: pipe it through the Denver sewage system, then use
it to fertilize crops in Colorado's farmland.
According to a 1991 report by the very companies that polluted the site, the
landfill contains radioactive waste at levels up to 10,000 times greater than
average levels at Boulder's notorious Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant. (The
EPA insists there's no plutonium at Lowry.)
Denver's sewage is used as fertilizer. If there's plutonium running
through Denver's sewage system, it will be used to fertilize wheat for human
consumption -- and we may wind up eating radioactive pancakes.
Colorado's two biggest papers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain
News, formed a joint operating agreement last year. Neither covered the
plutonium issue much -- perhaps because both papers were among the corporations
that dumped toxic waste into Lowry.
Will Fantle, the Progressive, May 2000.
10) SILICON VALLEY USES IMMIGRANT ENGINEERS TO KEEP SALARIES LOW
To make up for supposed shortages of skilled labor, the high-tech industry
brings engineers to California from India and the Philippines under an
immigration program known as H1-B. Under the program's terms, the companies
serve as sponsors for their immigrant employees -- and that gives employers
power over their workers' immigration status. If workers file a complaint --
or, heaven forbid, seek to organize a union -- they can be deported
Employers have wasted no time taking advantage of this power. Some workers say
they've had paychecks withheld; others have been forced to work long hours and
weekends without overtime compensation. And thanks to labor laws that exempt
contract workers from ordinary workplace protections, the industry has quashed
any attempts at collective action by engineers.
Despite its brutal consequences for workers, the program is popular with both
Republicans and Democrats, who enjoy the tech industry's substantial campaign
contributions. In early October, Congress overwhelmingly passed an
industry-backed proposal to increase the number of H1-B visas granted each
David Bacon, Labor Notes, September 2000; Washington Free
Press, July/August 2000.
Mainstream media coverage: San Francisco Chronicle.
Gabriel Roth is a senior editor at the San Francisco Bay
Guardian, where this piece originally ran.