Nov 1 2000

Free Speech Since Seattle

Law enforcement's attacks on activists--and journalists--increasing

Over the last year, political street protests have made a resurgence in the U.S., with high-profile demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, in Washington, D.C. against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, in Philadelphia at the Republican National Convention and in Los Angeles at the Democratic National Convention. With them has come another, more ominous resurgence—in law enforcement’s violations of civil lib­erties, in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate citizens from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. Law enforcement’s strategy appears to be to squelch the rising tide of activism, employing unconstitutional tactics […]

Nov 1 2000

The Press and the Patriarchy

Understatement marks coverage of the Taliban's gender apartheid

Amnesty International has declared the entire female population of Afghanistan to be prisoners of conscience. When the Taliban, a fanatical militia based in North West Pakistan, seized control of the capitol Kabul in 1996, they expelled girls from schools, fired women from their jobs and forced women to wear a head-to-toe burqa, which leaves only a small mesh-covered opening through which to see. Patriarchal zealots who now control 90 percent of the nation’s territory, the Taliban banned women from leaving their homes without a male relative, denied them admittance to most hospitals and treatment by male doctors. With some tiny […]

Nov 1 2000

Surplus Shell Game

Pundits bent on fiscal discipline define away the surplus

In a presidential election campaign allegedly focusing on meaty debates over public policy, the king of all policy questions is how to use the $4.6 trillion in projected government budget surpluses. Despite the daunting complexity the media like to attribute to fiscal issues, the budget question basically comes down to three choices: Expected surplus tax revenue can either be reduced by cutting taxes, spent on government programs, or used to retire outstanding bonds to pay down government debt. Ever since the big tax cuts of the early ’80s led to ballooning budget deficits, corporate America has tended to prefer “fiscal […]

Nov 1 2000

Populist Rhetoric Unpopular with the Pundits

Press finds Gore's 'obsolete jargon' hard to swallow

This year, the normal rhythms of post-election punditry were disrupted by all the talk of dimpled chads and canvassing boards. But echoing the pre-election refrain, one message did emerge from the muffled Monday-morning quarterbacking: Al Gore’s campaign ran too far to the left. It’s a familiar charge, one that’s repeated every time a Democrat loses the presidential race. (See Extra!, 9/92.) Joe Klein, who writes about politics for the New Yorker, posited just before election day (11/6/00) that Gore’s poll numbers were suffering from “the populist rhetoric that has marked his campaign.” Klein did not offer an explanation of how […]

Nov 1 2000

Holes in the Coverage

What's left out of reporting on missile defense

Even as skepticism over the proposed $60 billion national missile defense (NMD) system emerges in the headlines, the general assumption continues to be that sooner or later missile defenses will work. Just days after President Clinton’s decision to defer a decision on deployment to the next administration, the New York Times (9/4/00) was quick to promote theater missile defenses, or what they called “lesser-known antimissile weapons.” The article claims that the theater systems have been “extensively tested,” but fails to mention the results of those tests, which have been neither extensive nor successful. The PAC-3 system has achieved three intercepts […]

Nov 1 2000

Raving Junk

Few outlets dissent from the latest teen-drug hysterias

1980: The Washington Post‘s front-page profile (9/28/80) of “Jimmy,” a black eight-year-old junkie, ignited pandemonium. Mayor Marion Barry ordered police and teachers to inspect children’s arms for needle holes. Despite a $10,000 reward and intensive searches, neither Jimmy nor any other child addict was found. “Jimmy” did not exist, Post reporter Janet Cooke later confessed. 1996: Trainspotting panic erupted. In a story that would shame the National Enquirer, USA Today (7/19/96) declared “smoking or snorting smack is as commonplace as beer for the younger generation.” Rolling Stone (5/30/96) branded Seattle “junkie town.” Citing anecdotes, the article blamed Seattle’s tripling in […]

Nov 1 2000

West Nile Attack

Media foment fear of virus and obscure pesticide concerns

With the emergence of the West Nile Virus in New York and several other Eastern states, media coverage of pesticide issues has sunk to a dangerous new low. The outbreak, the first in the Western Hemisphere, began in New York City last year and has triggered a massive spraying campaign that has significantly increased pesticide exposures to more than 15 million people in the New York metropolitan area, surrounding counties and communities between Boston and Maryland. Most media reports have painted a picture of a galloping mosquito-borne killer virus that can only be stopped by blanketing areas with pesticides where […]

Nov 1 2000

A Right, Not a Favor

Coverage of Disability Act misses historical shift

Despite some limitations, the 10-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an historic call for an end to barriers facing this country’s 50 million disabled people in nearly every arena of life. But major news outlets present the ADA as mainly a regulatory issue affecting private businesses, rather than a human rights issue facing society as a whole. There are articles celebrating advances like curb cuts and wheelchair-accessible buildings. But the Act’s “costs” to business are a constant in news coverage, along with a pronounced subcurrent of concerns about purported “abuse” of the law and out-of-control litigiousness: Driving up insurance […]