Independent media’s coverage this past year has informed the public through an ongoing pandemic and worsening climate catastrophes. Outlets and individuals have diligently tracked the overlapping actions of governments and corporations as misinformation muddled the online ecosystem.
To celebrate some of the best producers of independent media throughout 2021, nominations have opened for the 14th annual Izzy Award. PCIM will again grant this honor — named after legendary journalist I. F. “Izzy” Stone — for outstanding achievement in independent media. To learn more about this year’s award and submit nominations, read more here.
And as news cycles spin on through the new year, here are some of the key stories to track into 2022.
COVID-19: Misinformation, Variants, and Vaccines
Throughout 2021, the coronavirus continued to spread and mutate, with total reported deaths reaching over 5.4 million. The Delta variant, first discovered in late 2020, prompted new lockdowns and spread quickly in unvaccinated populations globally. The Omicron variant was discovered in November and has since spread at record speeds, again straining the supply of tests.
The U.S.’s vaccination rate sits at around 62%. This percentage remains disappointingly low, considering that wealthy nations, including the U.S., have hoarded doses and blocked patent waivers for vaccines in poorer countries.
Right-wing misinformation campaigns have continued to target vaccines and knowledge of COVID-19. Fox News, Ben Shapiro, and OANN have bashed the vaccine, contributing to a partisan divide in vaccination rates.
Amid the disinformation, government agencies have struggled to communicate proper guidance and prevention strategies — a recent ad from the Centers of Disease Control played on the crippling cost of medical care in the U.S. to spur Americans to get vaccinated.
As climate devastation continued, 2021 saw proportionally minor responses from global powers, corporations, and the media.
On August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its sixth assessment on climate change. The report, authored by 234 scientists from 66 countries, stated plainly that humans have already significantly “warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” contributing to extreme weather events including “heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones.” These effects and more will exacerbate if carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate or intensify.
Neither the IPCC’s press release nor its 42-page policymakers summary included the term “fossil fuels” — an omission that exemplified a lack of government and corporate accountability for inaction this year. Media in many cases failed to communicate the existential threat of global warming and the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26) accomplished little progress with the document that 197 nations signed.
U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan
At the end of August, the Biden administration moved to fully withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The U.S.-backed Afghan government quickly collapsed and the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, regained control.
The U.S.’s failure to ensure a smooth pullout left innocent Afghans in danger, and led to the deaths of many at the Kabul airport, where the American-led evacuation took place.
The withdrawal of troops still amounted to a step towards ending America’s “forever wars,” which well-documented reports show have been perpetuated by several incompetent administrations that lied to the American people about their military involvements. Mainstream media outlets had the chance to remind readers of this deceitful history, but in many cases unleashed criticism on Biden for ordering the evacuation.
September 11 coincided with the removal of soldiers from Afghanistan, bringing into question the immense human and economic costs of the past 20 years.
January 6 Insurrection
On January 6, 2021, a mob of loyalists to former president Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol building after he delivered an incendiary speech that falsely claimed the 2020 election, and its ongoing certification in the Capitol, was fraudulent. Trump has continued to espouse this “Big Lie” concerning election integrity, in some cases driving a wedge between his supporters and the rest of the Republican party.
After Senate Republicans filibustered to block a bill to create an independent commission to investigate the attack, the House established a select committee to lead a probe. At the first congressional hearing to investigate the insurrection on July 27, four police officers who defended the building recounted the harrowing violence they endured defending lawmakers.
The January 6 committee has so far worked slowly to uncover details of the attack, and expects an interim report in summer 2022.
Political Corruption and Corporate Greed
Several investigations revealed misdeeds among big business, world governments, and the wealthy this year, including by Facebook, American billionaires, NSO Group, and U.S. officials.
Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group sells Pegasus software to government clients, who purportedly use the technology to combat terrorism and surveil suspects. But an investigation named The Pegasus Project revealed that the primary targets of NSO Group’s government customers were not suspected criminals, but journalists, activists, lawyers, and politicians.
Another leak of records, known as the Pandora Papers, came from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which exposed the corrupt offshore dealings of world leaders and politicians in 91 countries and territories. The documents show many powerful figures benefit from this system while their governments ignore “a global stream of illicit money that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations.”
An investigation published by ProPublica found that American billionaires, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, have been paying little to no income tax for years.
Whistleblower and former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen released thousands of pages of Facebook’s internal documents, known as “The Facebook Papers,” to various media outlets in October, revealing and confirming many troubling details about the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. These findings consistently showed how the company disregarded accuracy of information and public health for profit.
As media looks to the new year, it empowers consumers and producers of news to remember the stories — such as U.S. administrations’ military incompetence, or global corruption, tax evasion, and surveillance — that a rapid news cycle swiftly leaves behind.