AUSTIN, Texas -- What we need in this country -- along with a disaster relief agency -- is a Media Accountability Day. One precious day out of the entire year when everyone in the news media stops reporting on what's wrong with everyone else and devotes a complete 24-hour news cycle to looking at our own failures. How's that for a great idea?

My colleagues, of course, are persuaded that every day is Pick on the Media Day. Every day, the right wing accuses us of liberal bias and the liberals accuse us of right-wing or corporate bias -- so who needs more of this?

I have long been persuaded that the news media collectively will be sent to hell not for our sins of commission, but our sins of omission. The real scandal in the media is not bias, it is laziness. Laziness and bad news judgment. Our failure is what we miss, what we fail to cover, what we let slip by, what we don't give enough attention to -- because, after all, we have to cover Jennifer and Brad, and Scott and Laci, and Whosit who disappeared in Aruba without whom the world can scarce carry on.

Happily, the perfect news peg, as we say in the biz, for Media Accountability Day already exists -- it's Project Censored's annual release of the 10 biggest stories ignored or under-covered by mainstream media. Project Censored is based at Sonoma State University, with both faculty and students involved in its preparation.

Of course, the stories are not actually "censored" by any authority, but they do not receive enough attention to enter the public's consciousness, usually because corporate media tend to underreport stories about corporate misdeeds and government abuses.

The No. 1 pick by Project Censored this year should more than make the media the blink -- it is a much-needed deep whiff of ammonia smelling salts for the comatose: Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate Open Government.

Gene Roberts, a great news editor, says we tend to miss the stories that seep and creep, the ones whose effects are cumulative, not abrupt. This administration has drastically changed the rules on Freedom of Information Act requests; has changed laws that restrict public access to federal records, mostly by expanding the national security classification; operates in secret under the Patriot Act; and consistently refuses to provide information to Congress and the Government Accountability Office. The cumulative total effect is horrifying.

No. 2: Iraq Coverage -- faulted for failure to report the results of the two battles for Fallujah and the civilian death toll. The civilian death toll story is hard to get -- accurate numbers nowhere -- but the humanitarian disaster in Fallujah comes with impeccable sources.

No. 3: Distorted Election Coverage. Faulting the study that caused most of the corporate media to dismiss the discrepancy between exit polls and the vote tally; and the still-contentious question of whether the vote in Ohio needed closer examination. [Editor's note: The Free Press was cited as a shining light in this category.]

No. 4: Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In. It's another seep 'n' creep story, where the cumulative effect should send us all shrieking into the streets -- the Patriot Act, the quiet resurrection of the MATRIX program, the REAL ID Act, which passed without debate as an amendment to an emergency spending bill funding troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

No. 5: United States Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia. Oops. Ugh.

No. 6: The Real Oil for Food Scam. The oil-for-food story was rotten with political motives from the beginning -- the right used it to belabor the United Nations. The part that got little attention here was the extent to which we, the United States, were part of the scam. Harper's magazine deserves credit for its December 2004 story, "The UN is Us: Exposing Saddam Hussein's Silent Partner."

No. 7: Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood. That a lot of journalists are getting killed in Iraq is indisputable. I work with the Committee to Protect Journalists and am by no means persuaded we are targeted by anyone other than terrorists. However, Project Censored honors stories about military policies that could improve the situation of those journalists who risk their lives.

No. 8: Iraqi Farmers Threatened by Bremer's Mandates. It's part of the untold story of the disastrous effort to make Iraq into a neo-con's free-market dream. Order 81 issued by Paul Bremer "made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to reuse seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law." Iraqi farmers were forced away from traditional methods to a system of patented seeds, where they can't grow crops without paying a licensing fee to an American corporation.

No. 9: Iran's New Oil Trade System Challenges U.S. Currency. The effects of Iran's switching from dollars to Euros in oil trading.

No. 10: Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy. A classic case of a story not unreported but underreported -- a practice so environmentally irresponsible it makes your hair hurt to think about it.

Most journalists manage to find a quibble or two with Project Censored's list every year, but mostly we just stand there and nod, yep, missed that one, and that one and ...

But here's a wonderful fact about daily journalism -- we don't ever have to get it all right, because we get a new chance every day.

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