Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories

+ Say what you want about the American press, but no topics are really off-limits; if there's a real tale to be told, it will appear somewhere, somehow in the mainstream or alternative media. But critics such as Project Censored, FAIR, and the Monitor complain that some very important stories are "censored" -- usually meaning that the rest of the media mostly ignores it.

A classic example occurred April 26, when the front page of The New York Times featured a scandalous story -- that the Petroleum Institute and several giant oil corporations were about to spend millions on a disinformation campaign about global warming. Their goal: To keep the U.S. from signing the Kyoto treaty -- last December's international agreement to cut air pollution caused by things like... well, petroleum.

Before exploring Big Oil's plans to lie to the American people, one other point about the journalism of this story deserves notice. The plot was uncovered by the National Environmental Trust, which handed copies of all incriminating documents over to The Times. (The group's press release contains copies of these oil company memos.) This is also part of modern journalism's shame: The press increasingly relies upon non-profit organizations to do their work for them, delivering completed stories -- often with expensive original research.

As the the National Environmental Trust observes, the campaign to discredit global warming was similar to the tobacco industry's efforts to claim there was no link between smoking and cancer. The oil industry planned to:

  • Set up a "Global Climate Science Data Center," and persuade the media, legislators and the public that it is an objective source of information
  • "Identify, recruit, and train" a core group of five previously independent scientists
  • Set up a new front group to put industry propaganda in the hands of school- children and their teachers, under the name "Science Education Task Group"
  • Give out grant money "for advocacy on climate science" and for "research contracts that may be deemed appropriate"
  • Plant a story questioning climate science with ABC correspondent John Stossel or another national TV journalist

One of the groups prominent in the scheme was The Marshall Institute, a right-wing think tank that originally pushed Reagan's "Star Wars." More recently, they've become a prominent voice disputing global warming -- but in newspaper op-eds, not in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The institute is funded in large part by Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire who's the deep pockets behind much of the anti-Clinton rhetoric, particularly the supposed White House murders of Vincent Foster and Ron Brown.

Much of the Marshall Institute's credentials comes from its chairman, Frederick Seitz, former president of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the 1960s, and recipient of other honors. Under his signature, the "Petition Project" -- which doesn't mention his affiliation with the Marshall Institute -- is currently doing a mass- mailing to anyone it can find that has at least a B.S. degree. Recipients are invited to sign a reply card agreeing with vague, undocumented claims ("... there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects..."). Along with the reply card is an 8-page article, deceptively formatted to look like it came from the prestigious, peer-reviewed NAS journal. Last month, the Academy took the unusual step of disassociating itself from the fake report, according to The Times.

Also in late April, Royal Dutch Shell -- the world's largest publicly traded oil company -- pulled out of the phony industry group promoting the scheme. Citing "irreconcilable differences" with Exxon, Chevron, and other charter members of the American Petroleum Institute, the company joins giant British Petroleum in support of the Kyoto Treaty.

And on April 29, the Exxon stockholder's meeting turned surprisingly controversial when almost five percent voted against the company's policy on global warming. That may not seem like a stampede, but it sent the corporation into a tizzy. Exxon tried a variety of parlimentary tricks to stop the vote and urged shareholders to vote in their favor, insisting there is no "scientific certainty on climate change." In a forceful argument opposing Exxon, an attorney representing shareholders wrote, "We start with the premise that the whole world is not crazy," noting that "virtually every nation in the world (168 nations) signed a treaty in Kyoto aimed at reducing greenhouse gases in order to slow global warming."

Surely most readers would agree that a story like this deserves headlines. But let's do a quick wrapup of sources for this 404 item: The original article about the disinformation conspiracy appeared in The Times, but fewer than a handful of papers nationwide even printed summaries. Details about Royal Dutch Shell came from a small item in a Duluth, Minnesota newspaper, and reports of the Exxon shareholder's meeting appeared in the business pages Washington Post. In- depth background about Seitz and his group came from sources easily available via the Internet. Although these are all strands of the same story, no article knitted them together.

When The Times story was "censored," the press also overlooked these other parts of the saga. As a result, few noticed that the propoganda efforts were part of a bigger, even more important story: The waning power of one of the world's oldest and most powerful cartels. (April 30, 1998)

+ A Colombian tribal chief who has vowed to lead 5,000 followers in a mass suicide if oil companies begin drilling in his ancestral homeland was among those winning a $25,000 Goldman Environmental Prize on April 20.

Berita KuwarU'wa of Colombia, who is also known as Roberto Cobaria, has led his U'wa people in a battle against Occidental Petroleum Corp's plans to begin drilling in northeastern Colombia.

They insist that Occidental's plan to exploit the potentially rich territory overlapping U'wa lands will destroy their culture, and have threatened to jump off a cliff if the drilling plan continues.

For the U'wa, he says, oil represents the lifeblood of the Earth, and taking it amounts to matricide. "The U'wa territory is sacred. The U'wa culture has no price," KuwarU'wa said.

A few days later, seven people were arrested during Earth Day protests in front of the Los Angeles headquarters of the Occidental Petroleum. "The U'wa must not be forced to choose between suicide and genocide," said Lucy Braham of the Action Resource Center. "We want Oxy to respect the U'wa and walk away from this potentially catastrophic project."

Protesters chained themselves in the lobby to a 23-foot long metal pipe, which stretched through the front doors to the sidewalk, where blood dribbled down the company's front steps. (May 1, 1998)

+ Germans were stunned last month when a pro-Nazi political party won 13 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt state elections, making it the best ever performance of an extreme right-wing party since WWII.

The German state, located just west of Berlin and formerly in the Eastern bloc, officially has over 22 percent unemployment. Most feel that the real figure is closer to half, and even higher than that for youths. Unemployment and hatred of non- Germans were the central theme of the pro-Nazi German Peoples Union (DVU), whose candidates campaigned with slogans like "Foreigner Bandits Get Out" and "German Money For German Jobs." Funded by multimillionaire publisher Gerhard Frey, the DVU's anti- foreigner, anti-Semitic, anti-gay hate message blanketed the area, with pamphlets for every household, wall posters throughout the state and even leaflets dropped from aircraft.

The main politicial party in Germany, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats, narrowly avoided a third place finish, beating the ex-communist party by merely two percent. With a national election coming in September, Kohl's party is borrowing anti-foreigner rhetoric from the right; at a political rally in the state following the vote, Kohl delivered a law- and- order speech linking foreigners to crime.

Watchdog group Germany Alert notes that Kohl is blamed by most for the current unemployment problems. He had promised the East prosperity when he manipulated annexation of former East Germany in 1990, but a near-zero jobless rate soared as high as 30 percent over the past years. And with the unemployment has come a huge burden on western German taxpayers, who are tired of paying for the East's woes.

Noting that up to thirty percent of voters under thirty years old voted for the pro-Nazis, Germany Alert compared the youth vote to the emergence of Adolf Hitler's National Socialists in 1928. Then, like now, youthful energies of the pro-Nazi movement became attractive to large numbers of people tired of being ruined by economic and social disaster.

Jewish leader Ignatz Bubis expressed concern to a reporter from the London Independent. "If the democratic parties leave things as they are what could emerge in the next two, three or five years could be very dangerous," he said. (May 1, 1998)

+ Besides the Bear Lincoln case, the Monitor has also followed a long-running search for justice by Natives in Canada. In brief: Members of a small tribe were protesting for the return of a sacred burial ground in 1995 when an Ontario police sniper shot and killed one of the protesters. Last year the officer was found guilty of criminal negligence; the judge ruled that he had knowingly shot an unarmed man and that the officer and collagues had "fabricated" a coverup story. But only briefly did Natives feel that justice was served; the cop was punished with only community service. (You can learn more from our most recent update, or a longer background article about the trial.)

On April 3, Stoney Point Natives took another slap from the Canadian justice system when a jail sentence was given to a protester who acted courageously during that 1995 clash with police.

Warren Anthony George, 25, is hailed a hero by his people for driving his car at police to try and stop them from beating a Native man. His car struck five officers while braking, and the greatest injury caused by the collision was a sprained ankle. But in February, the judge found him guilty of causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon -- his car. (In that same ruling, the judge greatly angered Natives by saying the protesters were responsible for all violence that night, including the shooting death of their unarmed friend.)

At April's hearing, the judge sentenced George to six months in jail. He also imposed a two-year driving ban and a 10-year firearms ban to follow George's sentence. In an emotionally charged moment, George's stepmother leaped from the gallery and tried to stop police from taking George into custody. She was eventually calmed by George's lawyer, relatives and police.

Outside the court, several Natives voiced their disbelief at the court's rejection of a community sentence for the soft-spoken George. Most noted bitterly that the police sniper found guilty last year during that same clash only received a community sentence of two years . Natives also noted that George, like the police sniper, did not have a previous criminal record. George is now out on bail pending appeals of both his conviction and sentence.

Meanwhile, an Ontario civilian watchdog agency is still investigating the police beating of Cecil Bernard George from that same night. Ontario officers tapped for interviews have been far from cooperative with investigators. (April 30, 1998)

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