404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories
Our first April 404 report on the Kosovo media war showed bias from the start, as wild rumors of Serb concentration camps and "rape hotels" were uncritically reported. Our follow-up the next month on White House PR found officials -- particularly Clinton -- escalating the rhetoric by comparing Milosevic to Hitler and suggesting that a Holocaust was at hand. And these were just examples of the most outrageous hyperbole; to find more analysis, we now provide an index of our Kosovo war coverage, which includes over sixty articles on topics ignored by the mainstream American press.
Repeating military and government propaganda was just half the equation, however. Besides demonizing the Serbs with Pentagon/ NATO exaggerations and lies, the American press also ignored stories reported in European media that disputed this simplistic good guy- bad guy version of events. Purposely excluding the other side of the story like that is a journalist's cardinal sin. Why did it happen? In that April 404 report, we pondered two reasons. In times of war (declared or not), the U.S. media always rushes to salute the military. A more cynical view was that the press pushed this story to recover an audience lost when the Clinton impeachment abruptly fizzled.
Since mainstream American media coverage was so homogeneous, the rare occasions when a network or paper broke ranks was notable in itself. On July 1, House intelligence committee chairman Porter Goss of Florida, a Republican critical of the war, announced that Serb crimes were greatly exaggerated. "Yes, there were atrocities. But no, they don't measure up to the advance billing," he said. There was no a scorched-earth destruction of crops and livestock; many Kosovo Albanians were certainly missing or in hiding, but only a fraction of the 600,000 that Clinton announced in May; and the claim of 100 thousand Kosovo Albanian men killed was at least ten times too high. Perhaps most interesting about those statements was that only USA Today and NBC Evening News mentioned this story, which was certainly humiliating to NATO. It was completely ignored by the rest of the major media including the Washington Post, and New York Times, even though there was no breaking news on July 1 to dominate their respective "Crisis in Kosovo" and "Crisis in the Balkans" special sections.
It's valuable to examine closely The New York Times coverage, which has been particularly shameful. Their one-sided emphasis on the plight of the Kosovar Albanians has been astonishing -- surely the newspaper has led the world's media in the number of pictures of weeping and distraught victims of the Serbs. It's puzzling; rarely does the "newspaper of record" pay so much persistent attention to human misery. Contrast the Times' wallowing in Balkan pathos with their duck-in, duck-out coverage of recent African famines and civil wars, or particularly their indifferent coverage of last year's revolution in Indonesia. As we documented in a special 404 report on Indonesia media coverage, the Times downplayed one of the most dramatic events of our decade, as a million or more citizens stormed the capitol and threw out a great tyrant.
Since the end of the war, misinformation still abounds in every Times article; of the estimated 200,000 Serbs living in Kosovo at the end of the war, the paper stated on July 25 that 80,000 have fled. UN refugee officials have said that the number is exactly twice that, and those that remain are mostly being sheltered by priests in Serbian Orthodox monasteries or guarded by KFOR troops.
But the most outrageous example of Times bias is its perverse coverage of the KLA. In a gushing Sunday, June 13 Times Magazine profile, the terrorist group is presented as a gutsy but rag-tag group of volunteers from around the world gathered to fight for their homeland -- the anti-fascist WWII Abraham Lincoln brigade reborn, perhaps. In this rose- colored view of the group, there's no hint of KLA involvement with shadowy financiers, arms traffickers and the global drug trade. To date, the NY Times has made only a single passing reference to the links between the KLA and international heroin smuggling, which was documented in our April feature, "Kosovo 'Freedom Fighters' Financed by Drug Money, CIA." Yet these shady connections are frequently mentioned in articles on the KLA that appear in the European press.
In light of staggering number of recent atrocities against Kosovar Serbs, it will be interesting to see how long The Times can continue painting their picture of the noble KLA freedom fighter. The Times appeared hard pressed to keep the KLA out of the story of the recent massacre of 14 Serb farmers, mentioning little beyond a statement that the group denies involvement. (A July 27 Times editorial made the slight concession that "Some of the violence may be coming from rogue elements of the Kosovo Liberation Army.") Meanwhile, other American media has recently well- documented the KLA's campaign of terror. "The Serbs have a choice: leave or be killed," a 21-year-old KLA fighter told USA Today. "We have every right to do what we want to them. No one is going to stop us. No one is going to tell us we can't." (July 31, 1999)
Shoot thy neighbor It sounds like an incident from the worst of the Jim Crow era: An unarmed black man is fatally shot in his own backyard by the white guy next door -- who walks away from the crime, punished with 10 years of probation by an all-white jury. And did we mention that the white neighbor was a cop who patrolled his yard with a gun and a can of beer? It all happened in a Houston, Texas suburb, and was reported only in the Houston Chronicle.
Events began in 1996, about a year after African-American Richard Davis and his family moved next door to Derrick Iozzio, a 14-year veteran of the Houston Police. At first, all was neighborly: their children attended the same school and played together. But once Davis complained about Iozzio's dogs, matters quickly began spiraling downward.
What developed was a feud between of titanic scale. Davis called the Houston police to lodge complaints about Iozzio, who called county law enforcement dozens of times with charges against Davis. The cop allegedly told Davis, "I'm going to take care of you and your family." Davis supposedly pointed his finger at Iozzio and said, "I am going to put you in your grave." Davis also allegedly stared at Iozzio's daughter in a way that frightened her.
It gets much worse, but it must be first understood that Richard Davis had a spotty background and could have been mentally ill. Among his complaints against the Iozzio family were claims that they were stealing armadillos and raccoons from a zoo and making them "tear up" his back yard. Davis had also racked up charges in recent years that included assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Iozzio and the neighborhood mobilized against Davis, keeping records of his coming and going, even noting when the lights were on in his house. Davis told Iozzio that two men were "coming to get him," then arranged for a couple of guys that were unaware of the feud to knock on his door. Iozzio set out a bullet-riddled target of a man's profile. Iozzio began walking around his property in civilian clothes wearing his 9mm police pistol in a holster while toting a beer.
A justice of the peace court ruled that Davis had threatened Iozzio, and a few days later, Davis was convicted of violating the order. Davis and the county prosecutor made a deal that charges would be dropped if he moved after the end of the school year. The Iozzio family responded by posting a sign in the yard, counting down their days before Davis had to leave.
But on March 23, 1997, Iozzio killed his black neighbor. His defense was this: as he was taking out the garbage, Iozzio heard a noise from near his patio. With his ever-handy police pistol, he fired five times in self-defense because he thought that Davis was armed and coming over the fence at him. Prosecutors countered that Davis was a 46 year-old man that weighed 300 pounds -- hardly the sort to vault the 6-foot fence that separated their property. Evidence also showed that Iozzio was above Davis and firing downward when his bullets hit Davis on his own property, striking him three times, including once directly in the face.
Assistant District Attorney Paula Storts told jurors that Iozzio's lawyers were "throwing mud on Richard Davis so you'll believe it was fear that drove Derrick Iozzio. Instead, it was anger." The jury deliberated almost a full day before convicting Iozzio of murder, according to the Houston Chronicle, but decided on probation after only a couple of hours.
Why were there no people of color on the jury? Iozzio's lawyer told the Chronicle that blacks were struck from the group of 60 prospective jurors for legitimate reasons -- including unwillingness to consider probation as punishment for murder.
When the terms of Iozzio's probation were set a few days later, the courtroom was filled with protesters. Iozzio, who is now working at a golf course, was ordered to perform the 600 hours of community service at the rate of 10 hours a week. "Oh, man," he said. "That's pitiful! Is that it? He gets nothing more?" Said a man in the audience. "You got away with murder!" another man yelled at Iozzio.
A crime victims' advocacy group later called for Texas law to be changed to prevent juries from giving probation to convicted murderers. Texas judges are already prevented from handing down probation sentences in homicides. (July 28, 1999)
Journalist Beats Police Entrapment Rap In a closely watched case, gay San Francisco journalist Bruce Mirken finally found vindication on July 7th, when a California Superior Court dismissed the felony charge of attempted molestation brought against him. The charges were the result of an Internet sting operation in which a Sacramento Police Officer, posing as a thirteen-year-old boy named "Anthony," posted a message on an Internet message board in attempt to catch online pedophiles.
Mirken, winner of 11 journalism awards and whose work frequently appears in daily and weekly newspapers as well as gay and lesbian media across the country, insisted all along that he was researching an investigative story about troubled gay youth when he began communicating with the fictional Anthony. "I've got a long history of writing about and advocating for gay and lesbian and bisexual young people, and that's precisely what I was trying to do here," Mirken told the San Francisco Examiner. "I saw an ad that was somewhat ambiguous and potentially troubling, and looked like a kid who potentially might be getting himself into trouble. I wanted to talk to him and see what was going on and see if this might be a story."
The prosecutors went ahead with the case, despite the fact that Mirken went to meet Anthony with a pen and notebook, and not the sexual paraphanalia and motel key that had been requested. The prosecutor argued that Mirken showed predatory intent because he made a two hour drive and had about $90 in cash. Dozens of activists and journalists were lined up to testify in Mirken's defense had the trial continued, including at least three gay youths that he had counseled in recent years.
Asked if he will continue seeking out interviews with gay youth, Mirken told the gay newspaper Bay Windows, "I'll be more cautious. I'm certainly not going to go out of my way to look for trouble again. As far as I'm concerned this was an act of cyber terrorism... It would be really interesting to see somebody do a serious analysis of what police agencies are doing, and what statistics they are finding."
As to Sacramento Police Detective Scott Maldonado who engaged him, Mirken told the newspaper, "On the [Internet discussion forum] he placed some messages to real kids. You wonder what the hell he said to them. This guy wasn't looking to protect kids, he was looking to carve another notch on his goddamn holster."
Mirken was clearly happy with the result, but he told Alternet that he was deeply disturbed by the coverage of the trial by the Sacramento Bee, which was skewed and frequently left out details that might have given readers a more balanced view of the case. (Ironically, just a few months before Mirken was entangled in these events, the Bee printed an essay by him on the topic of gay bashing.) When the judge threw the case out, Bee columnist Wayne Wilson reacted with surprise and disappointment, according to Alternet.
Stories appearing under Wilson's byline both before and after the court hearing certainly appear to demonstrate bias. Before the hearing, his article asked rhetorically, "Should a person be prosecuted criminally for attempting a lewd act on an undercover officer who is impersonating a 14-year-old boy?" It would have been more accurate to question the attempt to prosecute Mirken for a "lewd act," considering that the Mirken never proposed or attempted physical contact with a fictional child. After the hearing, Wilson mentioned in passing "...lurid photos and pornographic e-mail messages found on deleted files in Mirken's computer..." The Bee reporter neglected to add that a court had ruled months earlier that the materials didn't apply to this case and couldn't be used by the prosecution. Wilson also stoops to a cheap trick: Encountering seven of the dismissed jurors in the hallway, he quotes one of them saying, "We all assumed he had pleaded guilty." There's no way to know, of course, whether this juror was really speaking for this group of seven, much less the complete jury.
In contrast to the poor reporting by the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Examiner gave readers a well-balanced presentation of a case that indeed had some uncomfortable angles: "Transcripts of the conversations, which took place mostly on America Online, show a consistent pattern. Anthony brings up sex, repeatedly. Mirken responds with questions, or deflects the conversation to other topics, or says the two should meet before deciding anything -- but he never rules out sex, goes along with many of the innuendoes and even jokes about the boy's mother finding them in bed."
In truth, Mirken probably did violate ethical standards by not revealing up front that he was a journalist. While there are good reasons for a reporter to do an undercover investigation, it's hard to justify unless the story involves wrongdoing. And while his advocacy journalism on behalf of youth is certainly admirable, it's difficult to argue that concealing his profession was the only way he could have done his research. (July 16, 1999 Alternet wire service staff contributed to this item)
Yes, we're still serious journalists, honestly The Wall Street press made a fuss earlier this month when the online Salon magazine offered its IPO via a chancy Dutch Auction. But afterwards attention waned; as the Alternet wire noted, it was likely because the media now expects insiders to rake off million$ after an over-hyped Internet company goes public.
But the Salon IPO was actually a success story -- of sorts. It raised $40 million on the back of an Internet news magazine, albeit one with a high burn rate and no conceivable future profitability. The conventional wisdom dictates that Salon must want someone to buy their brand name so that the investors can cash out. True or no, Salon can't continue its present tack for long before it will have to trim its sails, even with the $40 mill.
To keep the viewers peeking in the Salon, the web site has enthusiastically tilted toward the joy of sex and celeb hoopla. Along with scads of recent JFK Jr. material, Salon now has a series called: "Nancy Chan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl." Other recent Salon offerings include:
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