Op-Ed: Adam Johnson: The top 10 under-covered news stories of 2017

U.S. Troops attend a ceremony on Christmas Eve at a U.S. airfield in Bagram, Afghanistan on Dec. 24.
(Rahmat Gul / Associated Press)

There were so many gigantic news events in 2017 that the merely huge, or yooge, got the dog-bites-man treatment. What happened while we were focused on the president’s tweets; the attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act; the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico; the tax bill; and #MeToo? Opinion asked two close observers of the media environment, Adam H. Johnson (from the political left of center) and Sean Davis (from the political right of center), to list the top 10 under-covered stories of the year. Read Johnson’s contribution below and Davis’ here.

1. Disenfranchisement of African American voters

While the outrage took place in 2016, the mainstream media’s indifference to voter suppression was deafening throughout 2017. Investigations by academics and journalists alike have revealed extensive civil rights violations on election day, the culmination of a long-term ploy by Republicans to reduce the number of African American voters through ID laws and other devices.


2. The South Korean peace movement

A sustained anti-war movement in South Korea has been pushing back against the Pentagon’s deployment of the provocative Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile system. Populating their stories with pro-THAAD quotes from defense contractor-funded think tanks and Western warmongers, the U.S. media have mostly ignored the fact that the majority of South Koreans oppose the “defensive” system, including their newly elected president who, this summer, suspended its deployment.

Trump managed to surpass President Obama’s civilian deaths total in the anti-Islamic State campaign just seven months into office.

3. President Trump’s unprecedented non-Russia corruption

Time will tell the extent of President Trump’s connection to Russian officials and how it may or may not have influenced his campaign but — regardless — Trump has led the most nakedly corrupt administration in modern American history, enriching himself, his family and his friends and hiring a Cabinet of political cronies and billionaires. Many journalists have done great work revealing this corruption, but these stories have not turned into full-blown scandals, let alone harmed the president.

4. U.S. helped to starve and bomb Yemen


The U.S. has been fueling, arming and providing political cover to an almost three-year siege of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and other countries. The conflict has caused more than 10,000 civilian deaths and almost 1 million cases of cholera. But the media downplay the U.S. government’s part. For example, two editorials in the Washington Post and a major CBS “60 Minutes” report last month on the bombing and subsequent humanitarian disaster left out the U.S. role entirely.

5. Hate crimes against transgender people

Queer activists, including members of the New Orleans-based BreakOUT, have noted an uptick in violence against the transgender community. A recent Human Rights Watch report documented 102 killings of transgender people since January. Eighty-eight of the victims were transgender women, nearly all of them black or Latina. The report suggested two related causes: poverty, which is 30% higher in the trans community than the population at large, and a lack of legal protections for trans people in general. (Most states having zero laws prohibiting discrimination against trans people.)

6. Trump’s aggression in Iraq and Syria

Despite dubious pledges to reduce America’s involvement overseas during his campaign, Trump has taken the wars in Iraq and Syria and expanded them beyond what even the most cynical analysts predicted. Trump managed to surpass President Obama’s civilian deaths total in the anti-Islamic State campaign just seven months into office.

7. Dark money to seat a right-wing Supreme Court justice


According to MapLight, a single anonymous donor gave $28.5-million to a dark money organization, which, in turn, financed the PR campaign to block Obama’s Supreme Court nominee — Merrick Garland — and seat Neil Gorsuch. In past years this campaign probably would have caused a stir, but in the Trump era of perma-indignation it hardly registered a blip.

8. Rise in deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border

While U.S. media have covered the rise in missing persons in Mexico, it has mostly overlooked the missing person crisis on the border. A USA Today investigation found that immigrant deaths over the last five years have increased between 25% and 300% –– a range that’s vague because, shockingly, local authorities don’t officially count border-crosser deaths. The groups No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derecho Humanos, which are working to document the problem, say that “the known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the U.S.-Mexico border zone marks one of the greatest historical crimes of our day.”

9. Ramping up war in Afghanistan

Other than the fawning over Trump’s use of the Mother of All Bombs on faceless bad guys, the massive increase in U.S. involvement in Afghanistan during the last year has rarely made headlines. The U.S. now has 15,000 troops on the ground — up from 11,000 last year. Additionally, civilians deaths are up 50% since 2016.


10. Protester prosecutions

Despite an uptick in coverage since the trial began three weeks ago, for almost 10 months major U.S. media ignored that the Department of Justice was going after more than 200 inauguration protesters — the vast majority for merely being in the proximity of broken windows — with sentences ranging from 10 to 65 years in federal prison. What would certainly be an outrage if it happened in Russia or Venezuela was met with almost uniform indifference by U.S. media when done stateside.

Adam H. Johnson is a media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and co-host of the Citations Needed podcast

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