What We Missed in '08 : Tell Me More Host Michel Martin reflects on important stories in 2008 that, regrettably, didn't make it to the 'Tell Me More' airwaves.
NPR logo What We Missed in '08

What We Missed in '08

It's the last few days of the year. My thanks as always to those who worked over the holiday break so I and others could take that break — and I don't just mean in this newsroom, but also patrolling the streets and keeping watch in the fire houses and command centers and air traffic control towers and diplomatic posts and military bases around the world; not to mention standing by in the emergency rooms, and the emergency hotlines, and even the grocery store and gas stations, doing everything that needs to be done while the rest of us enjoy our families.

So, whether you wear a uniform or not, whatever you do, thank you for doing it, and thank you for being there.

And that made me think about what we're doing, and it even made me look ahead to the next year. For some reason, instead of making a list of the resolutions we all say we're going to make (we'll have more on that later this week), I keep coming back to stories I think we missed — not because I want to pick at old sores or embarrass anybody (least of all me), but because maybe in a way this is a resolution.

It's a way of saying I was listening, even if it didn't always seem like it.

First of all, I wish we had covered Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday celebration in London on July 18. Not because I wasn't invited but because of the occasion, which he used to mark the formation of a group called The Elders. That group has already lent its moral authority to bringing attention to the ongoing disaster that is Zimbabwe.

I can tell you why we didn't cover Mandela's birthday: we couldn't find a great guest who was invited to the festivities, and who was available when we are on the air. But I still regret it. Mandela is one of the great men of the age and, indeed, with so much appalling news coming out of Africa, might it have been .

I also think we could have done better by the phenomenon that was Hillary Clinton (now, in my defense it seems to me that she didn't know she was a phenomenon until kind of late in the game, either), but I still think we were late to pick up on the fact that she, like Barack Obama, had become more than just another candidate. Rather, Clinton's candidacy came to represent the hopes and dreams of a group of people who don't always feel they have been seen and heard.

Who is in that group and why they feel that way is something we can argue about, but I think in the end there was something very powerful there and we only scratched the surface. I don't think I really understood it, frankly, until the Democratic convention in Denver, when I saw people just sobbing and sobbing when she came to the floor to suspend the roll call. I wonder if I will ever see anything like that again.

Ironically, I think we did a better job of covering Sarah Palin. In part, because she was newer on the national stage, we were more attentive to — and she was in some ways more willing to discuss (although not, sadly, with us) — things like how she organizes her family life, and what her faith commitments are.

I think there is a very great deal more to say about the role of women in public life. This year has made me think harder about how, and what we are missing.

A trickier call for me are the stories of Luis Ramirez, Marcello Lucero, and Jose O. Sucuzhanay. These are three Latino men who were all murdered this year in what law enforcement authorities called hate crimes. They were all attacked in essentially random street assaults — the first in Pennsylvania, the second two in New York. But authorities believe each man was targeted because he is (or, sadly was) Latino. Witnesses, for example, all said that ethnic slurs were uttered at the time of the attacks, and in the Lucero case authorities received information that the alleged assailants intentionally set out to "get a Mexican." Lucero is Ecuadoran.

Of the three murders, we covered the Lucero case when it happened back in November. (Sucuzhaney died earlier this month.)

Latino leaders have been arguing for months that there is a rise in hate crimes directed at Latinos, and federal statistics seem to bear that out. Some Latino leaders argue that this phenomenon is due to anti-immigrant rhetoric.

My question: how much coverage is the right amount?

In each case, either arrests have been made or the authorities are clearly on the case. So the issue is not one of authorities failing to take the crimes seriously. Then what is the story? That certain communities believe themselves to be under attack? That they are? ... And by whom?

I asked myself similar questions last year after two serious crimes got a lot of regional, but not national attention. They were stories in which whites were the victims and blacks the perpetrators — one in Knoxville, Tenn., the other in Baltimore. In each case, some loud voices argued that the crimes were hate crimes. In Baltimore authorities agreed but not in Knoxville. We covered one and not the other; and while every life is indeed precious, I am still not sure exactly what metric is the right one to determine when a sotry like that becomes something that deserves our collective attention and when it's a tragic, but individual, occurence.

Finally, Native American Heritage month got short shrift this year, I am sad to say. Yes, the election sucked up a lot of oxygen and, yes, we had two or three good pieces that did make it to the airwaves. But that's not enough. The heritage months are a great opportunity to showcase newsmakers and artists and ideas, who otherwise would not grab headlines. And since that's a big part of why we are here, I am telling myself — and letting you listen — that we'll have to do better next year.

Happy New Year.