Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

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

+ Coming plagues   For years, medical researchers have warned that antibiotics are becoming less effective, and that physicians are finding themselves unable to save some patients. A Monitor article in August reported that vancomycin -- the last antibiotic that still worked against almost any bacteria -- was now failing to cure some kinds of infections.

The cause of the problem is that our "wonder drugs" created wonder bugs, bacteria resistant to penicillin and its cousins. Improper use of antibiotics for colds and stuffy noses was part of the problem; so was addition of antibiotics to animal feed, which quickly fattens chicks and piglets. All this was worrisome enough when the resistant bacteria mainly caused pneumonia and staph, illnesses that weren't casually spread. But now added to the list of untreatable disease comes tuberculosis and the Black Death.

The Black Death -- also known as bubonic plague -- killed one European out of three in the 14th century. About 1,500 cases are still found worldwide every year; although it often starts with fleas on rats, it became a mass killer because it also spreads when sick people cough.

According to an article in the December issue of England's New Scientist magazine, last year researchers found plague bacteria in Madagascar carrying five different antibiotic resistance genes. There's only a single vaccine that kills plague, but there's a 50-50 chance that it won't work for you. Worse, it must be administrated within 18 hours of infection -- pretty hard to do if a few million people all face the life-threatening risk at once.

If Black Death wasn't enough, ponder the reemergence of tuberculosis, which the remarkable Doctors Without Borders (Medicins sans Frontiers) and other groups have dubbed "Ebola with wings."

According to a joint statement by the groups, multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is skyrocketing in Russia, and that it's only a matter of time before this incurable form of the airborne disease becomes a health threat worldwide.

Blame for this global pandemic-in-waiting lies squarely with the West, which hasn't supplied urgently needed medical aid. Russian TB patients must pay for their own drugs even in state-run hospitals, according to the watchdog groups. Few can afford the expensive daily regimen of four different antibiotics for six months, so most discontinue medication when symptoms subside. When treatment is incomplete, patients easily develop incurable MDR-TB.

Public Health Research Institute quotes Newsday, which aquired an unreleased memo from Russian Ministry of the Interior. TB cases are predicted to increase by 5,000 percent by the year 2000, which means about 1 out of 5 Russians will probably have tuberculosis. And if that doesn't scare you, consider that those figures don't include Russian prisoners, where incidents of TB are thought to be 40 times higher. (December 17, 1998)

+ The Pacific Lumber Democrat   Since the bulk of our readers live in places like Potomac MD, Danbury CT, Boulder, CO, and Berkeley CA (welcome, new subscribers Jan, Scott, Rachel, Peter, and David) we need to periodically explain this "Santa Rosa Press Democrat" that's often mentioned in our pages. Briefly: The largest daily between San Francisco and the Oregon border, the Press Democrat -- or PD, as it's usually called -- is owned by the New York Times, but is also a fairly typical example of the unbalanced and complacent journalism often found in mid-sized city newspapers, particularly when there's no competition. If there was a motto enscribed on the PD masthead, it'd be, "Don't rock the boat," or maybe, "We protect our powerful friends." (By contrast, the Monitor would quote dearly departed Jessica Mitford: "You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.")

Over the years, several Monitor editorials and analysis articles have pointed out bias and false reporting in the PD. In the case of the murder trial of Bear Lincoln, the PD became cheerleaders for the prosecution, relentlessly painting the Native man as a certain cop-killer. Besides ignoring wholesale chunks of the trial that showed that Lincoln's innocence, the Press Democrat also skipped evidence that suggested a rather ugly little police conspiracy.

There was also last year's astounding example of the newspaper ignoring the collapse of Columbia/HCA, which became the business scandal of 1997. For more than four months, as other newspapers were writing front page stories about the FBI kicking down office doors of the nation's largest hospital chain, the PD ignored the news completely. Say -- do you think their editorial decision had anything to do with those expensive, full-page ads that Columbia purchased from the PD around the same time?

In the Monitor archives are many other case studies of PD bias, but this item concerns just their spin favoring the Pacific Lumber Company. Recently they've ignored criminal charges that could be brought against the logging firm in the death of Earth First! activist David Chain, just as in 1990 (and since) there was a PD news blackout raising serious questions of possible timber industry links to the attempted murder of Earth First! activist Judi Bari. This month, the PD again demonstrated its bias for Pacific Lumber by hiding important facts from its readers.

At issue is the company's Habitat Conservation Plan, which is a key part of the Headwaters Forest buyout. The Plan is required to show that Pacific Lumber has guidelines for sensible logging in the 210,000 acres of forest surrounding the new Headwaters preserve. If the Plan isn't in place by March, the whole controversial deal could fall apart. (An excellent analysis of the Plan can be found at the Environmental Protection Information Center web site, and you can download the complete Plan directly from Pacific Lumber.)

According to a new report, the Plan is an environmental disaster. If allowed to continue, Pacific Lumber could cause the extinction of the threatened coho salmon by destroying vital streams. Their planned logging will also foul the drinking water of area residents and increase the number of disasterous mudslides, such as the one that destroyed the town of Stafford on New Year's Day, 1997.

Environmentalists have made these claims before, but the real news in the report is that taxpayers will have to pay for future Pacific Lumber's damage, such as the lawsuits brought by Stafford residents that lost their homes in the landslide. The Headwaters deal gives the company a "no surprises" clause that protects it from liability for any "cumulative impacts" caused by logging.

The PD article that appeared Dec. 3 drew heavily from an Associated Press story, as did a version that appeared in the SF Examiner the day before. The original AP story was short (about 500 words) and contained some factual error and omissions, which were corrected in both papers. The Examiner added several paragraphs of material not found in the AP story, but the Press Democrat -- which is the "paper of record" for this entire area, and has covered Headwaters far more than any other media -- did little more than fix errors and rehash some of the background. It raises serious questions: Does the PD's scant coverage of the important report show laziness, indifference, or bias?

Compare the Examiner and PD articles side- by- side and these are some of the striking differences:

  • The report's author is Dr. Leslie M. Reid, but you don't know much about her from the basic AP or Press Democrat story, where she's identified only as a "U.S. Forest Service scientist." From the Examiner, we also learn that she's a top scientist in her field, an expert on logging erosion who has worked with fisheries biologists for two decades. That story even begins: "A respected federal scientist says..."

  • The PD only repeats one short quote from the report, which is copied from the AP story: "Over-logged hillsides would 'increase flood frequency thus increasing damage to downstream properties and infrastructure, destroying salmon redds (spawning grounds) and newly hatched fry, and increasing rates of downstream bank erosion and stream-side landsliding.'"

    By contrast, the Examiner offers four paragraphs of quotes from the report, including one describing future taxpayer liability. The Examiner also devoted three paragraphs to residents concerned about current logging: "Our domestic water supply has been ruined," said Ralph Kraus, a 40-year Eureka resident.

  • Anyone reading the the Examiner that day couldn't miss the story: It was on the front page. By contrast, the PD version was buried on page B3, amid staff-written stories about a conviencence store robbery and plans for a new church.

  • Both the Examiner and PD repeat about the same ad hominem criticism of the author from Pacific Lumber president John Campbell. Dr. Reid, he says, "...appears to have abandoned her scientific objectivity."

    Beyond that, PD reporter Mike Geniella unearthed some old snipes against the researcher which apparently had not appeared before in print: "...Campbell noted that earlier this year state forestry officials questioned Reid's ability to conduct a fair assessment of the issues. Campbell said there are 'equally eminent' scientists who have expressed support for the company's long-range plan." This snippet is the only original information contributed by the PD.

In summary: The SF Examiner presented the story as a major new development in the controversial Headwaters deal; the PD treated it as throw-away news, unworthy of even a brief staff-written story. A critical reader is also left to wonder if PD editors didn't understand the important taxpayer- liability clause, or whether they intentionally chose to conceal this vital information from their readers.

Whatever the intentions of the Press Democrat staff, the story served Pacific Lumber better than its subscribers. With the company's logging currently shut down by the state for repeated and gross violations, taxpayers might realize that they're likely going to be paying quite a bit for the company's environmental destruction, once that "no excuses" loophole is in effect. And the timber company certainly has motive to discredit Dr. Reid and her report: Pacific Lumber is locked in negotiations with the government over the Plan, and things may not be going well for the loggers. Exactly two weeks after these stories appeared, discussions collapsed and the company walked out, complaining the government was trying to put them out of business. (December 26, 1998)

+ Creative letter editing at NY Times   A quick and unsolicited plug: Anyone interested in an impartial and unbiased press should join FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), the oldest and best media watchdog group. Besides producing the excellent bi-monthly Extra! magazine and Counterspin radio show, they also distribute a weekly update via e-mail. Like these 404 reports, those update often contain important stories that the mainstream press shuns.

Currently, they're exploring connections between Senator Trent Lott and the white supremacist "Council of Conservative Citizens," but most stories describe forms of media bias. In a recent example, they described what happened when New York Times reader Jeff Gustafson wrote to the newspaper concerning the toll on the Iraqi population exacted by the current sanctions.

Gustafson wrote a letter to the Times, citing a 1997 UNICEF report that found that 90,000 people were dying each year as a result of the sanctions.

The Times letters department called Gustafson back, asking for a citation for his figures. He pointed them to a UNICEF website as well as references to the same reports in various issues of the New York Times itself.

But when Gustafson's letter appeared in the Times on November 5, it included words that Gustafson never wrote: "According to Iraqi officials, half a million children have died since the Persian Gulf war in 1991 for reasons that are related to the economic sanctions."

Why did the Times alter his letter, changing the source to one that most readers will find far less credible? Gustafson says one explanation the New York Times gave was that the "Iraqi official" numbers were more readily supported by other Times reporting. One might argue that the Times' letters page should be open to information that the Times hasn't chosen to report, but in fact the paper has cited UNICEF reports on Iraq on a number of occasions...

Norma Sosa, the editor of the Times' letters section, was unwilling to discuss the issue with FAIR. Sosa explained that the editing process was not open to "outside inspection," and said of the letters: "This is a dead issue." (December 24, 1998)

+ Latest on CIA, Vatican, Mafia scandal   Last week Italian authorities exhumed the body of Roberto Calvi, and as usual, the U.S. press scarcely took note of this new development in Europe's greatest postwar scandal. Who was Calvi, you ask? Briefly: As Chairman of Italy's largest privately-owned bank, Calvi secretly helped both the Vatican and CIA funnel money to guerilla and anti-communist groups. Shortly after it was discovered that $1.3 billion was missing from his bank in 1982, he was found hanged under a London bridge . (For more details, read our April 404 report about the man they called "God's banker.") Also involved in Calvi's swindle was Licio Gelli, who funded postwar fascists around the world, and who was the subject of another 404 item.

The reason for the new exhumation -- the fourth since his burial -- is because Italy is now seeking evidence that might convict four members of the Mafia with conspiracy to murder Calvi. Even more interesting, this new avenue of investigation leads directly to a Mafia - Vatican connection.

Using testimony gathered from Mafia informers, the prosecution's theory goes something like this: Calvi was funding those covert operations by lending them cash from his money-laundering operation for the Mob. Although much of that money was eventually found stashed in Vatican Bank accounts, Calvi was in big trouble with La Cosa Nostra, who weren't pleased that their money was gone and their banker was about to be interrogated by police.

Placed under house arrest as bank auditors began pouring over the books, Calvi turns to Flavio Carboni for help. Carboni, described as either mafioso or a middleman for the Mafia's "financial director," allegedly led the banker to his dramatic death. He convinced Calvi to use a fake passport and escape to England, where he could ask London's Mob boss, Francesco "Frankie the Strangler" Di Carlo, for help. But instead of giving Calvi a cool billion to bail out those massive fraudulent loans, Di Carlo allegedly had him strangled. (Di Carlo later confessed to police that the Mob killed the banker, but the executioner convieniently died in a car bombing the following year.)

With the body on one of Italy's leading banke's swinging under Blackfriars Bridge and his pockets bulging with weighty bricks -- plus $10,700 in cash -- English and Italian police were mystified: Was this a murder or suicide? Back in Calvi's hotel room were enough barbituates to kill him several times over.

Then there was also the question of Calvi's missing briefcase. Flavio Carboni -- who admits helping the banker flee to England -- is discovered to have sold it to a Czech bishop, who purchased it with money from the Vatican Bank. This secret deal becomes known after Carboni is arrested, and bishop Pavel Hnilica tells police that he bought the contents of the dead man's briefcase only because he thought that they would clear the Vatican Bank of shame. The papers in that briefcase, by the way, have since disappeared, but it is believed that they linked the Mafia money laundering scheme directly to Vatican Bank director Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (now retired and never prosecuted).

Authorities hope the new exhumation of Calvi will show that he was strangled before he died, which might provide evidence that can be used to convict Carboni and the others. Calvi's son endorses this view, and told the press: "The Magliana Band [of the Rome Mafia] was the military arm of those who were opposed to my father," he said. "My father's death delayed the start of Italy's anti -corruption drive by about 12 years. His death sent out a clear message. Whoever was capable of shedding light on the ties between politics, business and organized crime decided it was better to remain silent."

With Calvi tied to so many secret deals between the Vatican, the CIA, ultra-right organizations, and the Mob, others think it's not that simple. Calvi's lawyer was quoted: "If the whole thing comes out it'll be enough to start the third world war." (December 20, 1998)

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