It’s a holiday season tradition! Here, for the 21st year (!), is the list of overhyped and underreported stories of the year. After a year when “fake news” became a thing and a “reality” TV star became president, we can only hope it gets better. Let’s start with the local stories; national and international to follow over the holidays.
2016’s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories
Ed Murray Is Really Doing Things!: Which, like, he is, He puts out press releases. He makes splashy announcments (leaked days in advance to maximize coverage). He proclaims things. He convenes task forces and names czars and declares emergencies. All of this usually happens when somebody else is threatening to do something substantive he can’t take credit for.
The Jungle Needs to be Shut Down Because It’s a Scary Place!: And it’s true – some (not all) of the longtime ad hoc homeless encampment’s residents were pertty hard-edged people with…problems. So those folks – znd all 400 of The Jungle’s residents – were dumped onto city streets with nowhere to go instead. That was after multiple false starts while it became clear that the city was responding to a PR problem, not helping people. (Oh, and that the city’s contract with Union Gospel Mission to help relocate Jungle residents was a sad joke.)
Let’s Have a Riot!: Every time a march breaks out in Seattle – and with Trump’s election, get used to it – you can practically hear the breathless live TV reporters begging for some awesome anarchist-on-store-window or cop-on-little-old-lady action. It demeans police and protesters alike.
Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity or reuniting with pets, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ.
2016’s Most Underreported Local Stories:
Sigh. There’s dozens to choose from:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Seattle’s rapidly growing population has masked an unmistakable demographic trend: the immigrants are younger, whiter, and much, much wealthier than existing residents, many of whom are being forced to leave the city in search of more affordable areas. This wholesale change in the character of who lives here has countless cultural and political implications, but local media has not only mostly ignored the trend, but has been happy to keep on featuring articles that drip with child-like wonder over real estate prices. In general, local outlets have kept right on reporting local development issues like it’s 2000 – or, in the case of the Seattle Times, 1950.
In Ayn Rand We Trust: Regardless of who Seattle’s new residents are, they need services. Utilities, infrastructure repair, transportation, schools, parks, libraries, social services, public safety, and all of the other things governments do. In our region’s case, even though the growth is a direct result of government policies – especially corporate welfare for enormous employers like Amazon and Google – those same policymakers seem to think the free market will take care of everyone’s needs. With the limited exception of light rail, there’s been no significant investment in any of these issues outside special operating levies, opting instead to fund splashy vanity projects like tunnels and streetcars while ignoring basic needs. And even those levies – for housing, parks, libraries, and first responders, among other things – have been wholly inadequate to meet the demand. At some point voters, especially ones new to the area, are going to hit their limit in regressive taxes.
The Obvious Link Between Housing Costs and Homelessness: Seattle’s exploding housing costs have gotten lots of local media attention, as a good thing. So has the steadily worsening homelessness crisis, as a bad thing. But Murray and other city officials who’ve done their best to promote the real estate frenzy work hard to treat the two issues as entirely separate, and media, shamefully, mostly follows suit.
The closing window for progressive politics in Seattle: One of those growth-related trends is that the remarkably progressive tone of this year’s city council likely won’t last. The infusion of money into local politics – and tens of thousands of new, financially comfortable voters – all but guarantees it. We’re already seeing this with the lack of a serious challenger so far to Murray’s 2017 reelection as mayor, despite the widespread criticism he’s drawn on multiple issues from both left and right. That’s a money thing – prospective candidates are concluding they can’t raise enough of it to compete with his business community support. There’s a lot more of this coming.
State and local governments have sabotaged pot legalization: Colorado, which passed a legalization initiative on the same day in 3013 as Washington state, had its retail weed system up and running in early 2014. Meanwhile, our state’s drug warrior-dominated Liquor Control Board issued only 21 retail permits for the entire state, vastly less than demand, and has repeatedly delayed even those permits. Countless local governments tried at every turn to block implementation as well. And medical marijuana patients have been brutally sacrificed to the commercial market. Little wonder the black market for pot continues to thrive. That wasn’t supposed to happen with legalization.
Olympia is heading for a train wreck for the ages: The state legislature punted again on education funding in 2016, opting to “solve” its ongoing contempt of the state supreme court by, incredibly, agreeing to convene a task force to study the problem. This year’s elections, which kept tax-hostile Republicans in charge of the state senate, will simply perpetuate that problem.
But if congressional Republicans nad the cabinet members nominated so far by President-Elect Donald Trump are to be believed, much worse is coming. Repeal of the Affordble Care Act without any alternative would force hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians out of AppleCare, and often out of health insurance entirely, unless the state can replace that federal funding. It’d also be a disaster for health care providers. Republicans are also vowing to privatize Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile, federal education funding looks like it will be tied to charter school funding requirements that would be unconstitutional under state law, and federal housing money also looks to be on the chopping block. Ditto for environmental protection and a host of other departments.
Olympia will be asked to pay for all of these things. It can’t. Instead, it will be forced to make some impossible choices, and those choices will come with a death toll.
Ditto for the City of Seattle: Seattle’s problem isn’t tax-averse politicians. It’s that, as noted above, the limited taxing options allowed by state law – mostly property, B&O, and sales taxes – are already closed to maxxed out in terms of what many individuals can afford. So is bonding capacity and Seattle’s ability to pass special levies for ordinary needs.
The impossible choice for local leaders will be between cutting programs brutally, and finding the courage to tax local businesses (especially real estate and big employers) and close tax loopholes, and to tax wealthy local residents at a higher rate than the rest of us rather than simply trying to pile on more regressive sales taxes. The state can’t even fund basic needs; the city can, but instead has largely chosen to fund other things, usually for the direct benefit of developers and major employers.
Seattle Public Schools is already in trouble: Seattle’s troubled school district announced public hearings last month on what items it should cut for a worst-case 2017-18 budget that assumes Olympia will continue to underfund K-12 education – an all-too-likely scenario which would lead to a $75 million shortfall for local public schools.
Did I mention that SPD is still a problem?
2016’s Most Over-Hyped National Stories
Hillary Clinton’s State Department e-mails: “Those damned e-mails” were neither a scandal (much as Clinton’s Republican opponents tried to make it one) nor a story, though the political witchhunt over them was a story – and, with a big assist from the FBI, directly cost Clinton the presidency and the country its future. Meanwhile, the e-mail story that was much, much more important, that little hacking incident with the DNC, got far less attention when it was needed most.
Any scheme, whether by disaffected Republicans or Democrats, to deny Donald Trump first the nomination and then the presidency: That also included Hillary Clinton’s entire campaign, AND the fact that she won the popular vote handily, AND that Trump and congressional Republicans will somehow be slowed down by their lack of a “mandate” in 2017. All of it ompletely missed the political reality of the given moment – but it built up a bunch of fake drama to drive viewership and page clicks, I guess.
Anything involving Donald Trump’s Twitter account or vocal cords: It’s what he DID, not what he said or tweeted, that was important in 2016. (Though that changes in 2017; as President, even his words and social media outbursts could be enough to start World War Three).
Business-as-usual horse race reporting of the presidential election: That including almost any “if the election were today…” polling, which was only deeply irrelevant, but, as it turned out, wrong.
2016’s Most Underreported National Stories:
There were a lot of important underreported national stories this year, but really, these are the ones whose criminally negligent coverage by US corporate media in real time will, decades from now, be cited as hugely historically pivotal. That’s if anyone is still alive in a few decades to remember that the beginning of the end came with a pivotal embrace by US voters of ignorance, economic nihilism, and neo-fascism, an embrace lubricated by the misreporting (or non-reporting) of stories like these:
Hillary Clinton’s establishment allies at the Democratic National Committee: Egged on by millions of enraged Sanders supporters, national political media gave a lot of attention to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her many friends for abusing their supposedly neutral positions to try to block support for Sanders. That was why nearly even primaries and caucuses were rendered moot by Clinton’s overwhelming lead among party insider “superdelegates.”
But what got less attention is that a fringe party outsider like Sanders could get so much traction against Clinton in the first place – as much due to her well-known weaknesses as a candidate as to Sanders’ strengths. A more established progressive Democrat would have beaten Hillary – just as Obama did in 2008. Long before Sanders became a factor, party insiders – including the same clueless DNC morons who couldn’t be bothered to follow up on reports that the Russians were hacking their computers – made sure Hillary would get no such challengers precisely because they knew she couldn’t withstand serious scrutiny as a candidate, but thought she could still beat whichever radical nutjob the Republicans spit up.
That arrogance cost Democrats the White House, and the rest of us a future. Democratic leaders actively discouraged credible candidates, including a sitting vice president in Joe Biden, from running against an uninspiring but well-connected candidate because it was supposedly her turn, or something – and media played right along. These folks bear primary responsibility for letting a narcissistic, sociopathic con man get the most powerful job in the world while his dysfunctional, reality-challenged party now controls every branch of government. Many Americans voters never wanted what is coming, but genuinely didn’t know better. These Democrats did, and media gave them a free pass for their petty, cocooned insider bullshit.
Meanwhile, on the other side, the Republican Party Civil War was over before it even began. The radicals won, largely because the Republicans’ nomination processes, both for Congress and the presidency, were far more democratic than the Democrats’. And credulous media coverage of all of the Republican presidential candidates – even though most of them were so ludicrously inappropriate for the office as to be laughable – normalized Teh Crazee to the extent that a Donald Trump could get elected as a president with no serious vetting and virtually unchecked power.
Speaking of normalizing the unthinkable, the unprecedented Republican strategy of refusing to consider a qualified Supreme Court nominee worked exactly as planned. This means that the same strategy will get rolled out again the next time one party controls the White House and the other controls the Senate. What ought to have been a constitutional crisis, and what should have been reported as such, is instead now the new normal.
National media punditry is all abuzz with speculation about what the newly empowered Republicans in Congress will do in 2017, but there’s no mystery: They told us exactly what they would like to do with Trump (or any other Republican) in the White House. But while Congressional Republicans tried over and over to default on the US debt, repealed Obamacare sixty bazillion times, and vowed to stop taxing the rich, bomb anyone they could, abolish the social safety net and all regulations of corporate America, kill The Gayz and put a bible in every classroom, the same media mandarins basically ignored them or laughed at them rather than taking them seriously. At the risk of Godwin blah blah, they didn’t take Hitler’s explicit plans seriously back in the day, either.
Well beyond his “temperment,” Trump is the first president in US history to have no previous public sservice experience at all. Even political neophytes like Dwight Eisenhauer had spent a lifeime in military service. After a generation of ideologues claiming that “running government like a business” is somehow a good idea, it was media’s job to point out that government and transnational companies like Trump’s have very different missions from government at any level, and leading them requires radically different skillsets. A corporate leader can pick and choose whose business he wants, and can basically ignore anyone else. There are names for political leaders who try to do that; they start with “fascist” and get worse.
Trump is also the first major party nominee in modern US history to likely be indictable on multiple wholly unrelated types of felonious crimes, most of which went badly underreported, from allegations of endless fraudulent tax schemes to mob connections to financial improprieties to illegal foreign dealings to tax fraud to alleged rape and sexual assault to incitement to riot. And sadly, that doesn’t include being a racist xenophobic bully, which is still entirely legal. Even now, as Trump’s multiple foreign conflicts of interest and allegiances to Russia come under question, media has somehow forgotten that buried in last year’s Panama Papers scandal of mostly foreign high end money laundering, were numerous details of Trump campaign guru Paul Manafort’s financial ties with Russian billionaires and crime bosses. Trump’s past is dripping with this stuff, and his profile for decades has been one of an extremely wealthy con artist whose primary victims are the people he gets to front him money, time and again. Does the American public know or care? And if not, why not?
Of course, there was also the matter that, as Trump famously (and correctly) noted, he could walk down a Manhattan street and shoot someone and most of his followers wouldn’t care. But who are those followers? That was largely misreported, too. The core of Trump’s support wasn’t either racist rednecks (the liberal caricature) or laid off steel workers (the even more idiotic Beltway Pundit caricature) – those jobs had mostly disappeared by 1980. Polling data consistently showed that Trump’s base was largely older suburban white guys without a lot of education but relatively financially comfortable. They were mad as hell – about immigrants, about non-whites, about their children’s and grandchildren’s futures – but they were neither hillbillies nor working stiffs. The media profiles were simply wrong.
A lot of things about Trump’s ascent to power have been unprecedented but given a veneer of normalcy, mostly out of inertia and institutional respect, by a lazy media. Most critically of late, Trump’s appointments as president-elect – which I’ll profile in depth shortly in a separate piece – are an unprecedented mix of billionaires, fringe zealots, Russiaphiles and incompetents united only by their complete lack of relevant experience for the jobs they would try to fill. It’s been hard to single out a particularly outrageous appointment because almost all of them have been outrageous – but that trend simply mustn’t be mentioned in polite media circles.
Climate change rudely ignores domestic US politics: The Trump cabal has already been quoted, redolent of the worst moments of George W. Bush, that they can say whatever they like because “we create our own reality.” Nature begs to differ. After yet another year of record heat and drought, wildfires across the US West, ocean acidification, more unprecedented extreme weather events, and endless scientific announcements that climate change is going to be worse than we thought and is proceeding at rates faster than our previous worst-case scenarios, the United States went and had a presidential election in which climate change – America’s biggest economic threat, biggest domestic policy threat, and biggest foreign policy threat – was literally never mentioned. And US voters elected a president and party that is more than happy to triple-mortgage the future livability of our biosphere for quarterly oil profits. Climate change has already passed the point of irreversibility; now it’s a only question of whether humanity can mitigate enough of the damage in time to survive. If nails get hammered into a planet-sized coffin in the forest, does anybody hear them?
What the United States government, which governs the country that remains the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, isn’t doing to respond to this crisis isn’t just a crime against humanity. It’s a crime against the entire biosphere, one of unprecedented scope and depravity. If our country in this era isn’t remembered with universal revulsion in the future, it will only be because humanity is extinct.
The Republican Party has lost touch with reality: The unprecedented use of bald-faced, easily refuted, and endlessly repeated lies by high-profile Republican leaders and every single one of its 4,623 presidential candidates has become normal – and even on the rare occasions when mainstream media calls BS on the lies, nobody cares. The inmates are now running the asylum that is now the modern Republican Party. The coming year is going to be dangerous and surreal.
2016’s Most Over-Hyped International Stories
The one exception to American media’s disinterest in the world’s other six billion people comes when there’s a major terrorist attack in Israel or a NATO country. If that same terror attack, however, comes in a country enjoying the fruits of Pax Americana (Afghanistan, Iraq), or anywhere in the remaining, irrelevant world (Africa, say, or Asia – one of those places), it’s a non-story. And even when such attacks are covered, usually because they’re in Europe, good luck finding any context.
Since there is no longer any international news reporting in most US media, about all we’re left with is sports. Which meant, this past year, the Summer Olympics. Should we successfully avoid WWIII, the 2018 World Cup in Qatar will be next up.
2016’s Most Underreported International Stories:
The intentional US strategy in Syria this past year was to encourage a stalemate that would weaken both sides/ That has, as an inevitable result, been a prime factor in the enormous death toll, the humanitarian crisis (and both the neo-fascist and the terrorist backlash in Europe), and a new proxy war with Russia. And, of course, ISIL itself came into existence as a direct result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the CIA’s desire circa 2007 to gin up the terrorist threat in Iraq to stem flagging US public support for that fiasco. But you’d never know about the American fingerprints all over this crisis from American media.
That new proxy war with Russia also included a vast expansion of US military bases and activity in a ring surrounding Russia, from the North Pacific to Central Asia to Turkey and Eastern Europe – a context entirely missing from “Russia hacked us! How dare they!” stories.
Israel’s unprecedented “settler” expansion is not only grossly illegal, but far more controversial in Israel itself than in the US, which has been helping to both bankroll and provide bipartisan political cover for Israel’s explicitly genocidal.operation.
The intentional Israeli policy of blockading Palestinians enough to keep them desperate, but not dying en masse, is a direct model for the destructive balancing game Obama has been playing in Syria – and the once-unthinkable Israeli policy of foreign assassinations is now standard US policy, too. The US will likely be an international human rights pariah under Trump, but he’ll only be building on Obama’s war crimes, just as Obama built on Bush’s.
Trump’s election, as well as 2016’s Brexit vote, are both part of an internationally coordinated movement of far-right, openly racist/nationalist advances in Western democracies, a movement largely taking its cues from Moscow, not Washington. Proxies for President-Elect Trump have already quietly been meeting with far-right neo-fascist and white supremacist party leaders in Europe, who in turn are getting much of their financial backing from Moscow. Trump is part of a very dangerous game, and he’s a prominent pawn in it, but not a player.
Afghanistan is a total, but forgotten, clusterfuck: The national army of Afghanistan is the Taliban. Green on blue attacks are so frequent now that no one knows who’s a loyal member of the Afghan National Army and who’s a Taliban infiltrator. Meanwhile, aerial drone attacks have alienated most of the countryside, which never supported the corrupt, American-imposed puppet government in Kabul in the first place. That government is collapsing from its own corruption and greed now that the American military is supposedly in a “non-combat” role.
Police States R Us: While the US and its media, with ample justification, demonized the authoritarian governments of Syria and North Korea, it paid almost no attention to the steadily more authoritarian governments of Turkey, Egypt and South Korea – the bigger nearby regional powers, to which the US continues to give massive amounts of military assistance despite our pro-democratic rhetoric.
And, on that cheerful note, get out and make your own news in 2017. If this compilation suggests anything, it’s that we can’t rely on corporate media to push for change, or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll have to do both ourselves.