Albion Monitor

+ Part of the craft of journalism lies in finding the right questions to ask, and sadly, the reporters who interviewed Dr. Stanley Prusiner earlier this month didn't have the knack. Prusiner had just won the Nobel prize for his research on prions, the mysterious proteins linked to "mad cow disease." Is American beef safe? Sure, said the UC/San Francisco researcher -- adding with a grin that he'd celebrated the award with "an excellent steak, medium-rare." But a very important follow-up question wasn't asked: are Americans at risk from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) -- the human form of the disease? The answer is a very frightening yes.

As we reported in June, research shows some pigs in the United States may be infected with a porcine form of the disease which can cause CJD. Worse, evidence suggests that the fatal illness may be more common than we currently know. The disease -- which turns your brain into a spongy mess -- may often be misdiagnosed and thus go unreported. Two studies that examined the brains of Alzheimer's victims found up to 13 percent actually had CJD. The New York-based Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, argued in a paper presented to the USDA, "Since there are over 4 million cases of Alzheimer's disease currently in the United States, if even a small percentage of them turned out to be CJD, there could be a hidden CJD epidemic."

While Dr. Prusiner is certainly right about low risk from infected cattle in this country, there's no guarantee of continued safety. In an April article, Linda Golodner of National Consumers League warned that the USDA doesn't protect consumers from the meat industry. Often the agency sides with big meat packers that are lobbying the US Department of Agriculture to allow the continued processing of back bone, neck bone and, possibly, spinal cord into meat products. (October 22, 1997)

+ You almost have to feel sorry for them; the editorial staff at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat still doesn't seem to understand why so many people are furious about the newspaper's coverage of the Bear Lincoln trial. In an October 12 editorial that flutters between whining and puffery, the editor writes: "Newspapers take their knocks from politicians and political activists...Groups supporting both the prosecution and the defense in the Mendocino County trial of Eugene 'Bear' Lincoln claim that Press Democrat coverage favored the other side... criticism from politicians goes with the territory for newspapers. But then, it isn't a newspaper's job to make politicians happy. Our job is to report the news and let people decide for themselves."

Well, yeah -- but the critic's objections are that the newspaper didn't "report the news and let people decide for themselves." As we painstakingly documented in two editorials, "Drop The Bias, Press Democrat" and "Bitter Victory," the newspaper brazenly omitted whole chunks of the trial -- always evidence or testimony that shed a bad light on law enforcement and proved Lincoln's innocence. There's even another subtle example in this editorial; P-D readers don't know about supposed "pro-defense" bias because they blacked out all coverage of Sheriff Tuso's angry press release, which criticizes their paper. (And also, by the way, raises serious questions about his emotional state.)

For the newspaper to call criticism of its flawed coverage "press bashing" -- the title of its editorial -- is nothing but sophistry. (October 22, 1997)

+ New readers joining us this week from Colorado, Texas, Oregon, and Malaysia may wonder about this "Santa Rosa Press Democrat," and why so many editorials focus upon this regional newspaper. The answer was explained in a summer editorial -- it's similar to other mid-sized dailies around the U.S. and Canada, and thus it serves as foil for our mission: to provide "the news you're missing."

No better example can be found than the October 21 issue, with an admirable half-page editorial on "Nike's Blood Money." The essay, written by David Meggyesy, western director for the National Football League Player's Association, shames Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, Jerry Rice, and other athletes for shilling for the sneaker corporation that uses sweatshop labor.

Nike sweatshops aren't news, of course; we first reported on them in the summer of 1996. What's important here is the ferocity of a commentary that came from the Los Angeles Times. "Girls as young as 13 in Nike factories in these countries work 60 hours per week under slave labor conditions making [up to] $2.25 per day," writes Meggyesy. "...Why do these athletes become jellyfish when it comes to broader issues of social accountability?"

While that's powerful stuff, this same issue of the Press Democrat came with a colorful advertising insert from "Big 5 Sporting Goods." Described in their four-page blurb were ads for 9 different Nike products, plus shoes from other manufacturers tied to sweatshop labor. Presumably, the newspaper feels there's a double standard -- that it's not accountable for pimping the same products it condemns. (October 22, 1997)

+ Give them credit for trying: the New York Times Magazine presented a six-page spread on "Atomic Guinea Pigs" in its August 31, 1997 issue. Here are short descriptions and photos of five men and women that were victims of clandestine radiation experiments conducted by the U.S. government. One was a Washington state inmate; another a Boston schoolboy fed radioactive oatmeal; another a lifeguard at the officer's beach on Bikini Atoll, where he witnessed the first postwar atomic bomb.

However, this sensitive and praiseworthy little feature illustrates another problem with the story of human radiation experiments. Since President Clinton forced disclosure of the military tests in 1994, the media has treated the issue as a Cold War curiosity. Important to remember is that the experiments finally ended during the Reagan years.

Also important to know: those tests were no mad experiments conducted by renegade scientists. As we reported more than two years ago, most were performed by the respected Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. They conducted 93 of the 425 known studies, almost all upon Bay Area residents who were poor, elderly, or helpless. One of the most revolting tests used carbon-14 to determine which of two different aspirin products was absorbed faster by the body. The study found no difference in the rate of the two products. The half-life of carbon-14 is 5,730 years.

Except for the Monitor, no media showed that the tests were systematically conducted in the San Francisco area by the famed University of California institution. Like the Times' short feature, the press then concentrated on the horrific tales of the victims and avoided casting blame -- despite that in another time, another place, such "tests" would be called atrocities. (October 8, 1997)

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