Scene still from "Test Tube Tomato"

Top 5 investigative videos of the week: Test tube tomatoes

From genetically engineered produce to lucha libre wrestling, a look at the finest docs YouTube has to offer


Amanda Pike
July 14, 2013 8:00PM (UTC)

The I Files The last week brought a range of striking online videos, from increasingly violent clashes in Egypt to the discovery of rare footage showing FDR in his wheelchair. The survivors of the decade-long Cleveland kidnapping spoke out on camera for the first time, and Yasiin Bey, the actor and rapper better known as Mos Def, underwent the same force-feeding procedure as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in a disturbing and much-debated act of protest.

This week’s top investigative picks were culled from a variety of news outlets across the Web. Some questions examined in these stories:

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• What does an education get you these days?
• Why did Osama bin Laden wear a cowboy hat?
• Why aren’t tomatoes tastier?

For more kernels of wisdom wrapped up in well-crafted and entertaining stories from around the world, subscribe to The I Files.

The I Files is a 100 percent nongenetically engineered news source.

“The bin Laden Report,” Al-Jazeera

“You are so cheap … we can buy you with a visa … or even with a dinner.”

These are the words of a U.S. intelligence officer to a chief of Pakistan’s intelligence service, just one of the jarring quotes from the just-leaked Abbottabad Commission report published by Al-Jazeera earlier this week after it was suppressed by the Pakistani government.

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The report is a scathing indictment of the “gross incompetence” and “collective failures” of Pakistan’s government and military that allowed Osama bin Laden to live in the country undetected for almost a decade. The commission also interviewed bin Laden’s family to piece together the first portrait of his life on the run.

This series of four short videos highlights some of the commission’s most egregious findings and offers a glimpse of what the American raid looked like from the perspective of those in the crosshairs.

If you want to delve into details, like the fact that bin Laden wore a cowboy hat to avoid detection from above, or relive the moment when a Pakistani police officer pulled over bin Laden’s car but failed to recognize him, Al-Jazeera has published the commission’s full report online. However, you might be out of luck if you reside in Pakistan: The country reportedly has blocked Al-Jazeera’s website.

“Education Education,” Weijun Chen for Why Poverty?

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As the U.S. Senate debated student loan rates this week, I was reminded of this video from the stellar Why Poverty? series that looks at the commodification of higher education in China, where a single exam determines a student’s future.

The documentary alternates between the story of Wang Pan, an impoverished student from rural China who did poorly on the all-important gaokao exam and now must figure out how to pay for an expensive private college, and tutor Wang Zhenxiang, who travels the country trying to persuade students to enroll at his overpriced and ethically dubious private university.

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The tutor exhibits a mixture of scorn, amusement and self-loathing as he freely admits that the school he pitches is essentially worthless and his victims are those who can least afford to pay in the first place.

“Look at me,” he scoffs. “I am a qualified graphic designer but have to travel around selling a scam. What hope is there for the kids that I recruit?”

You watch with dread as the tutor’s journey takes him inexorably closer to Wang Pan’s village, where her parents are trying desperately to scrounge together the money to fund what they see as her only chance for a better life.

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“Families would sell their cows and pigs, even their houses,” says the tutor, whose oily sales pitch includes doctored slides of a library and classrooms that don’t exist. “That’s the price of an education.”

“Egypt: Epidemic of Sexual Violence,” Human Rights Watch

“I couldn’t even speak, I couldn’t cry help. I was just screaming.”

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Beyond the deadly clashes and political uncertainty in Egypt, one aspect of the latest upheaval has been overlooked in some news reports: a sharp rise in the number of sexual assaults. Over the first four days of the protests that led to the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, there were at least 91 attacks, many of them gang rapes, according to Human Rights Watch.

This video offers a firsthand account from women who were attacked while protesting earlier this year. They now are speaking out to confront an ingrained culture of impunity that often blames the victim.

One activist warns that the new government must begin not only to hold perpetrators accountable, but also to re-examine fundamental perceptions promulgated in the media, schools and religious institutions, “otherwise, we’ll have victims of sexual harassment again and again.”

“Test Tube Tomato,” The New York Times’ “Retro Report”

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Broccoli was all over the news this week, thanks to President Barack Obama’s claim that it’s his favorite food. (Perhaps he remembered the incensed reaction from broccoli growers after President George H.W. Bush announced that he hated broccoli so much he had banned it from Air Force One?)

This installment of The New York Times’ “Retro Report” series looks at an even more controversial piece of produce, examining the history of the first genetically engineered food approved for sale in the U.S. – the Flavr Savr tomato.

In the mid-1990s, a group of scientists figured out how to essentially turn off the gene that makes a tomato squishy. The new so-called “super tomato” stayed ripe longer and supposedly was tastier. “Test Tube Tomato” traces the course of the ill-fated fruit, which is no longer available.

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The patents for the Flavr Savr eventually were sold to Monsanto, a company that makes billions using the same technology with a different strategy: It develops things that farmers want to plant, rather than things that give consumers a better experience.

Today’s industrial-grown tomatoes are harvested for yield rather than taste. Maybe that’s why Obama went with broccoli?

“Border Patrol Body Slam,” Kevin Gordon for The New York Times’ Op-Docs

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The title pretty much says it all.

“Border Patrol Body Slam” looks at the sport of lucha libre wrestling, profiling a fighter who has galvanized an enthusiastic following by fighting opponents who take on the role of a very particular villain – U.S. border agents.

This excerpt from Kevin Gordon’s film-in-progress portrays a battle between good and evil in which the Mexican migrant finally gets to be the good guy. The wrestler portraying the hero, who goes by the nomme de wrestling “Blue Demon Jr.,” says that for some Mexicans living in the U.S., these bouts are “the cheapest therapy that exists.”

“If you are not a ‘legal’ person, you can’t stand up for yourself. You do not have a way for your voice to be heard,” he explains. “And here, they can scream and scream and get everything out.”

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Amanda Pike

Amanda Pike is the producer for The I Files, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. The I Files selects and showcases the best investigative videos from around the Web and across the world. Major contributors include CIR, The New York Times, BBC, ABC, Al-Jazeera, Vice TV and the Investigative News Network. You can follow Amanda on Twitter: @AmandaHPike.

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