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December 26, 2012

A year of hope and fear

Each year, as we did last month, we bring you Project Censored’s top 10 stories largely missed by the mainstream media. I have neither the time nor the stomach to analyze which stories were under-reported. As the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Cheves wrote to a critic more than four years ago, “Please refrain from gloating as we cough up blood. Real folks are losing their jobs right now because of business changes in the media. Some of them have families to support.”

That hasn’t changed. The plight of journalism, a national tragedy, continues to diminish our democracy. Institutional memory is lost as senior scribes are terminated or bought out. Editors are overwhelmed. Watchdogs are reduced to fetching where bean-counters deem digging too expensive, too speculative. We must seek skeletons more wisely and rely more on citizens to tell us where bodies are buried or — better yet — throw us some bones.

But good news came in late October. Ed Hart and his wife, Gaylee Gillim, issued a $250,000 challenge to Louisville Public Media: match that sum to pioneer the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. The unit (a managing editor and four reporters) would be a dynamo of consequential stories. That’s why it’s among the best news of year. Donors who believe that great journalism grows smart cities will help launch this bold enterprise.

Some of the worst local news of the year — a surge of HIV among young persons — went unreported because “available data would not be complete enough to spot trends in the last few months,” according to a Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman. But a social worker confirms an alarming proliferation of new patients between the ages of 18 and 25.

The spike parallels a nationwide trend that worries researchers with the Centers for Disease Control: About 25 percent of the 50,000 new infections in the U.S. each year afflict persons aged 13 to 24.

Last month on “PBS News Hour,” Science magazine reporter Jon Cohen attributed the rise to a lack of education, inaccessibility to condoms in rural areas, the density of the virus in major cities, youthful risk-taking and alcohol use.

Researchers point to another popular substance among youth. “Given the relatively high prevalence of crystal meth use among people living with HIV and among men who have sex with men, there is great concern that this drug is fueling the HIV epidemic,” according to JournalWATCH (jwatch.org). The CDC notes, “Methamphetamine users may exchange sex for money or drugs, creating another risk factor …”

The hidden costs are staggering. The CDC estimates the lifelong cost of treatment for an infected youth in the range of $400,000.

The most important stories are about health, safety, who we are, how we live, love, learn, change, age and die. And the most menacing threats lurk beneath surface news coverage. They emerge, suddenly, to traumatize. We ignore inconvenient and cruel truths.

This was the year that many scientists stopped disputing the phenomenon of climate change and started discussing its severity. Now they’re debating whether it’s too late to reverse global warming. Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, days before the presidential election, was a scathing audit of the candidates’ omissions.

“Compassionate conservatism,” a popular slogan of the Reagan era, was seldom heard as it became fashionable for the über rich to bash the powerless poor as entitled parasites. Likewise, meaningful acts to regulate assault weapons were absent from the campaign clamor. Another school massacre made us question whether Newtown is the new norm — and our priorities.

State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-34, addressed our skewed priorities in one of the best rants of the year during a July 9 panel discussion of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight”: “We were happy to vote for $10 million to build a road to watch a car race … $250 million for the YUM! Center (so we could buy basketball tickets), about $100 million for the Horse Park (so the rich people could go and watch horses run). Why can’t we help our middle class and poorest-of-the-poor get health care? I think it’s obscene and just obnoxious that we don’t do that.”

Time is the ultimate arbiter of all priorities. They define who we are. As Gandhi famously said, “A great nation is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

Be it resolved. And a happy, healthy, safe new year to all. 

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