Democrats troubled by "sitting duck presidents!"

THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2021

CNN seems to make a mistake: In fairness, everybody makes mistakes, if that's what we're discussing here.

Mistakes are going to happen! That said, we turned on CNN during the 11 A.M. Eastern hour.  Nancy Pelosi was being interviewed—and the CNN chyron said this:

PELOSI: NOT TRYING TRUMP FOR INSURRECTION INCITEMENT WOULD AMOUNT TO "GET OUT OF JAIL FREE" CARD FOR SITTING DUCK PRESIDENTS

That's what the chyron said! 

We don't know what Pelosi had said—the interview was almost over. But we assume the chyron meant to refer to Donald J. Trump (remember him?) as a recent lame duck president.

In the subsequent discussion, pundits debated when Pelosi would send the recent impeachment of Trump over to the Senate. When she does, we Dems will begin conducting our trial of The Inka Who's No Longer There.  

Most likely, the Inka will end up being acquitted, creating a bad talking-point. That outcome seems especially likely because of our team's second plan—our plan to let fifty Democratic senators rule that the other party's most popular pol won't be allowed to run for the White House next time. 

National unity, here we come! That will make perfect sense to the others!

Was it a bad idea to impeach Trump again? Not necessarily, no. Once you let a crackpot like Trump get into the White House, there may be no sane way out.

That said, how did Trump ever get to the White House in the first place? Some members of the pundit guild are beginning to try to puzzle that question out.

Karen Attiah takes a shot in today's Washington Post. Her headline is promising but, in our view, it's all downhill from there:

The media had a role to play in the rise of Trump. It’s time to hold ourselves accountable.

The mainstream press corps' role in the rise of Trump goes back a great many years. That said, Attiah's reasoning strikes us as several steps past hopeless, with a few "links to nowhere" thrown in. 

In fairness, this guild has never been amazingly sharp. Also, they now have several favorite new toys, around which they shape all pronouncements.

People in the other towns believe the craziest things. Over here, in the streets of Our Town, we're victims to prevailing mandated scripts concerning gender and race.

In many instances, these scripts are the only tools or toys our upper-end pundits possess. At long last, we expect to begin discussing this daunting topic at the start of next week.

First, let's put all future "sitting ducks" on notice! That's what the CNN chyron said. In fairness, we all make mistakes.


CHILDREN OF FLINT: Semi-postponed, if just for one day!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2021

Joe Biden and Limbaugh instead: On this one somewhat happier day, we hate to return to the question under review:

How much harm has been done to the good, decent children of Flint?

We'll push our discussion back one day, For today, we'll focus briefly on Joe Biden and Rush Limbaugh instead.

Yesterday, a bit before noon, Biden became the American president. He then delivered his inaugural address. We'll note a few things he said.

We'll note this part of his speech as we start. The president's highlighted statement is accurate, but it's also remarkably limited:

BIDEN (1/20/21): Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth.

Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders—leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation—to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.

"There is truth and there are lies," the new president said. 

Each part of that statement is accurate. But the overall statement is remarkably limited, and it invites us to fail in a daunting task, a task the new president urges.

Concerning the existence of truth, Boise is the capital of Idaho; two plus two does make four. These are clear examples of "truth." There's plenty of truth in the world.

There are also plenty of lies. But as people have understood until recently, there are also a wide array of misstatements which aren't, or may not be, lies.

There are false statements made in good faith. Such errors are made all the time.

There are also misleading statements which are technically accurate. There are ironic statements, perhaps even jokes, where the speaker's intention may be misunderstood. 

There are pleasing narratives, Storylines, which distort our wider vision. And, as people once understood, it's often very hard to know if some other person is lying.

In recent years, we liberals have loved to accuse the others of lies. In doing so, we create debates we can't hope to win. In the process, we tend to heighten the tribal divisions Biden has said we should end.

In truth, the new president's highlighted statement was strikingly simplistic. That said, it fits a simple-minded view of the world we have adopted, here in Our Town,very much as our own.

The new president went on to say that there are "lies told for power and for profit." Undoubtedly, that statement is true, and it leads us toward Rush Limbaugh.

In this morning's New York Times, Jeremy Peters reports some recent remarks by Limbaugh. In fact, the remarks were made yesterday afternoon. Here's part of Peters' report:

PETERS (1/21/21): Rush Limbaugh, broadcasting his weekday radio show a few miles from the Palm Beach retreat where Mr. Trump is spending the first days of his post-presidency, told his millions of listeners on Wednesday that the inauguration of Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did not make them the rightful winners of the election.

“They have not legitimately won yet,” Mr. Limbaugh said, noting that he would be on “thin ice” for making such a claim. He then gave his listeners a false and inflated vote total for Mr. Trump and predicted the Democratic victories would be “fleeting.”

“I think they know, with 74 million, maybe 80 million people who didn’t vote for Joe Biden, there is no way they can honestly say to themselves that they represent the power base in the country,” Mr. Limbaugh said.

Biden and Harris "have not legitimately won yet,” Limbaugh is quoted saying. From there, Peters' account of what Limbaugh said gets a little bit fuzzy.

According to official totals, 74.2 million people voted for Trump. We're not sure why Peters says that Limbaugh gave "a false vote total for trump."

 According to the leading authority, almost three million additional votes went to candidates other than Biden. That moves the total who didn't vote for Biden closer to 89 million. 

That said, why hasn't Biden "legitimately won?" Did Limbaugh try to support his claim? 

Peters never attempts to explain. What follows was somewhat clearer:

PETERS (continuing directly): On One America News, viewers saw a lengthy documentary-style segment called “Trump: Legacy of a Patriot” instead of the inauguration. One of the network’s commentators, Pearson Sharp, provided the voice-over and offered only flattering words about the former president while he leveled false claims about voter fraud.

Mr. Sharp repeated many of the discredited excuses that have formed the alternate version of events that Mr. Trump and his followers are using to explain his loss. The host claimed, for instance, that Mr. Trump couldn’t have been defeated because he won the bellwether state of Ohio and carried so many more counties than Mr. Biden did. “And yet somehow we’re still expected to believe that Joe Biden got more votes than any president in history,” Mr. Sharp said.

Did OAN's Preston Sharp (actual name!) actually make those ridiculous (paraphrased) claims? Did he really say that Candidate Biden couldn't have won because Candidate Trump won Ohio?

Did he really say that Biden must have lost because Trump won more counties, presumably nationwide? Those would be transcendently stupid claims. Sadly, though, we know of no reason to doubt that Sharp (real name!) may have made them.

This sort of thing has been going on roughly forever. Utterly ridiculous claims have been broadcast for many years. Along the way, these ridiculous claims have been tied to oodles of profit. 

As has become abundantly clear, many people believe such absurd misstatements. For roughly the past twenty years, we've said this about that:

When people like Limbaugh and Hannity broadcast such claims, it should be treated as front-page news. Today, the New York Times placed Peters' report deep inside, on page B4. 

For the record, when people believe and repeat such claims, they're emitting absurd misstatements. But unless we've decided to change the English language, such people are not "telling lies."

In recent years, the children who live in the streets of Our Town have been eager to change the language. Because we're almost as dumb as the others, we seem to think that accusing people of "lies" is more effective and accurate, in some undisclosed way, than accusing them of having made "absurd / unsupported misstatements."

That's how childish we've turned out to be over here in Our Town! And since the L-bomb is a fairly obvious "fighting word," it seems to us that we harm our own interests when we play the tribal game in this pleasing way.

The statement by Biden posted above is, in a word, simple-minded. It's true that the world is full of "lies." But as Hamlet thoughtfully said, "There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

The world isn't just truth and lies. It's also damn-fool stupidity and gross self-regard, each of which is widely observed here in the streets of Our Town.

We end with a second statement about Biden's speech, and with a statement about Rachel Maddow and the children of Flint:

The president went on make these remarks. They shape the key message of his address. We agree with every word:

BIDEN: I understand that many Americans view the future with some fear and trepidation...

But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you do, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility.

As my mom would say just for a moment, stand in their shoes. Because here’s the thing about life. There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days when you need a hand, there are other days when we’re called to lend a hand.

Biden suggested at several points that we must learn to stand in the others' shoes as we seek to rebuild our national unity. At each juncture, it seemed to us that those in Our Town might hear that as advice delivered to the others, not to us right here in Our Town.

In Their Town, many people believe the things they hear from Limbaugh and OAN. Over here, in the streets of Our Town, we seem to trust Rachel Maddow.

What happened to the "poisoned" children of Flint? We return to that question tomorrow.

Coming tomorrow:  Kevin Drum's statistics. Also, what The New Yorker said

 

An earlier, highly instructive inaugural address!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2021

Lincoln, discussing both sides: This morning, we stumbled upon C-Span 3 as it re-aired the tape from February 2020 in which Harold Holzer discussed Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address.

At one point, Holzer says this was "the powerhouse moment" in Lincoln's address, "the moment that Frederick Douglass would admire most:"

Yet if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, still it must be said:

"The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

According to Holzer, Frederick Douglass "believed that was the greatest line he ever heard in an American speech." Holzer describes Douglass praising Lincoln for that passage at a White House reception later that day.

Almost everything in that address strikes us as other-worldly. We first read the text of the address on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, on a day-long field trip to Washington sites with a group of Baltimore fifth-grade kids in the mid-1970s.

We well remember the shock we felt when we read what Lincoln had said. We were amazed to think that any person had ever said any such thing in public. 

Luckily, we have a photograph of ourselves with [NAME WITHHELD], then a mere fifth grader, as we posed before the Gettysburg Address on the opposite wall of the memorial. (We dug it out this morning.) 

Lincoln had been sent here from Mars, we remember thinking that day after we'd read the text of the second inaugural address. For the full text, click here.

We humans! In truth, we don't really know where we are or what we're doing there. Occasionally, one of the "great souls" may show up and make unusual statements.

President Lincoln was describing the size of the nation's offense. In the wider context of the address, he was explicitly saying this:

Our side did this too.

Later, he said he knew that, as a general rule, people don't like such assessments.

Anthropologists keep telling us that we humans aren't wired to see things that way. We were happy to stumble on the C-Span tape on this extremely new morning. 


CHILDREN OF FLINT: Novelizing the children of Flint!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2021

Managers and misdemeanors: How badly have the children of Flint been harmed by their city's water crisis?

We'll try to assess that question tomorrow. For today, we'll start with a news report in last Thursday's New York Times.

The report was written by Julie Bosman. In print editions, it appeared on page A23. (The next day, the Times published a front-page report on the same topic.)

As of Thursday morning, the topic involved a set of indictments which were about to appear. Principal headline included, this first report started like this:

Ex-Governor of Michigan Charged With Neglect in Flint Water Crisis

Rick Snyder, the former governor of Michigan who oversaw the state when a water crisis devastated the city of Flint, has been charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, according to court records.

The charges are misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Prosecutors in Michigan will report their findings in a wide-ranging investigation into the water crisis on Thursday, officials said, a long-awaited announcement that is also expected to include charges against several other officials and top advisers to Mr. Snyder.

The findings will be announced by Dana Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, Fadwa Hammoud, the state’s solicitor general, and Kym L. Worthy, Wayne County’s top prosecutor.

So began Thursday's report. On Friday morning, now on the front page, Gray and Bosman's fuller report started like this:

GRAY AND BOSMAN (1/15/21): After a criminal investigation that stretched close to two years, prosecutors in Michigan on Thursday announced 41 counts—34 felonies and seven misdemeanors—against nine officials who once worked in the highest echelons of state government. Along with the former governor were his trusted advisers, top medical officials and two emergency managers who had been tasked with guiding Flint out of financial distress.

Nine officials had been charged with a total of 41 counts. Included were 34 felony charges. 

As they continued, Gray and Bosman described the nature of the charges against the former governor. For whatever it may be worth, we were struck, as we'd been the previous day, by the relative leniency of those charges, which haven't yet been tried and haven't yet gone to a jury:

GRAY AND BOSMAN: Others said they were relieved to see that Mr. Snyder, a former businessman who left office in 2019, was among those who were criminally charged.

In an indictment, prosecutors said that Mr. Snyder, who was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, had failed to check the “performance, condition and administration” of his staff and neglected his duty to protect the public from harm. Brian Lennon, a lawyer for Mr. Snyder, said that the former governor was not guilty of the charges and called the investigation “an outrageous political persecution.” Mr. Snyder is a Republican; the investigation was led by the Michigan attorney general’s office, held by a Democrat.

If Mr. Snyder is convicted, the charges are punishable by imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Snyder has been charged with two misdemeanors. It sounds like he's been charged with failing to keep track of the behavior of staff.

If convicted, Snyder could face a fine of as much as $1,000, without any jail time. For whatever it may be worth, we were struck by the relative leniency of these historic charges.

Did Governor Snyder do something wrong during the water crisis? Should he have been charged? Should he have been charged in the way he was?

At this point, we can't answer your questions, for the reasons suggested above. 

That said, the analysts quickly steeled themselves for what was sure to come. And sure enough! Rachel Maddow opened her Thursday night TV show with a 26-minute monologue, the first twenty minutes of which were devoted to these new criminal charges.

By Saturday, we had steeled ourselves. Through the miracle of On Demand, we sat and watched the tape of Thursday evening's program.

Readers, sure enough! The word "misdemeanor" was never spoken as Maddow engaged in the practice we've long described as "the novelization of news."

Maddow led with the hard-hitting language we quoted in yesterday's report. We'll return to that language tomorrow when we ponder the most important question here:

        How much harm has been done to the good, decent children of Flint?

For today, we'll offer these notes concerning the novelization of news, a staple of corporate press culture:

When we liberals watched the Maddow show last Thursday night, we never heard the word "misdemeanor." During the twenty-minute soliloquy, we were never told that, if convicted, Snyder was facing a maximum fine of $1,000, with no prison time required.

When Maddow discusses criminal charges lodged against certain types of miscreants, she loves to detail the length of the possible prison terms. She does so even when everyone knows that no such penalties will ever be delivered.

That silly practice is part of the novelization of news. So too with Maddow's failure to mention the somewhat surprising leniency of the charges facing Snyder—a man who could face a $1,000 fine, though only of course "if convicted."

Good lord! Even if Snyder is convicted, we may not see him in chains!

During her twenty-minute presentation, Maddow failed to mention several other points. These points involve her wonderfully idealistic love of democracy and the democratic process, a love affair she stressed all through her performance.

The water crisis in Flint occurred when the city was laboring under control of an "emergency manager." Maddow's histrionics are at their water-logged best when she discusses this practice. 

As usual, the histrionics were general last Thursday night. She railed against the emergency manager laws during which the water crisis occurred.

Maddow stressed all aspects of such laws which could be laid on Snyder's head. She failed to mention the fact that emergency manager laws exist in something like twenty other states, and that emergency managers had been installed in various Michigan cities under two previous governors, including one well-known and highly capable Democrat.

Do such facts matter in any way with respect to the new criminal charges? Actually no, they don't.

Presumably, we will learn, perhaps at trial, whether those 34 felony charges are justified. If officials engaged in serious criminal conduct, there is no point in talking about what may have happened in other settings or in previous instances.

That said, Maddow staged one of her trademark high-minded rants during her program's first twenty minutes. Since a great deal of her ranting was directed against Republican use of emergency manager laws, it seems to us she she could have found time to offer a bit of perspective or context.

This is especially true since Maddow's novelization fashioned the use of these laws in Michigan as part of an obvious racist sweep by Republican officials. We waited in vain to hear the name of Jennifer Granholm, the two-term governor who preceded Snyder's two-term reign.

At this site, we regard Granholm as one of the brightest Democratic officials of the past generation. (We base this on her performance as an occasional TV analyst.)

At present, Granholm is poised to serve as President Biden's secretary of energy. Earlier in her career, she served one term as Michigan's attorney general, then served as governor of the state from 2003 through 2011.

During her two terms as governor, Granholm appointed emergency managers in six different locales. We list them for you here:

Emergency managers appointed by Granholm:
Highland Park, Michigan: March 2005, April 2009
Three Oaks Village, Michigan: December 2008
Detroit Public Schools: March 2009
Ecorse, Michigan: October 2009
Pontiac, Michigan: April 2010
Benton Harbor, Michigan: April 2010

As readers may recall, the situation in Benton Harbor was a special trigger for Maddow. She launched reports on Benton Harbor so crazily misleading that a Michigan columnist who stressed her family's love for Rachel published a stinging column chastising Maddow for her conduct.

In response, Rachel chuckled and clowned her way through an on-air semi-acknowledgement semi-correction. If memory serves, she never got around to explaining why someone as smart and sensible as  Governor Granholm would have taken so blatantly racist an action as to appoint an emergency manager there in the first place.

Such questions remained unexplained here in the streets of Our Town. We're left with our favorite pulp fiction.

What actually happened in the case of the Flint water crisis? Ideally, the prosecution of those 34 felony charges will give the world a fuller understanding.

Along the way, the good decent people who live in Our Town may be subjected to more of Maddow's novelizations. Tomorrow, we'll start to discuss the most important reason why this foolishness matters.

As we noted yesterday, last Thursday's novelization involved the use of thrilling language about the way the children of Flint have been "poisoned" by Flint's water crisis "in a way unlikely ever to be undone." (We're employing the famous language of the Brown decision.)

Actually, Maddow said the effects of the "mass poisoning" will never be undone. As we've noted in the past, Maddow loves to drop the P-bomb when her novels take us to Flint.

What happens to the children of Flint is the key issue here. That said, the decent people who live in Our Town are also harmed by these endless novelizations.

According to major anthropologists, novelization of this type is very much bred in the bone. We humans are wired to produce such tribal narrations, or so we've routinely been told.

That said, who has been harming the children of Flint? Could a certain (unwitting) cable news star be one such (unwitting) agent?

Tomorrow: Disappearing Drum


Discernment and its discontents!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2021

The lack of human discernment: Has the problem caused by the lack of human discernment ever been quite so clear, Pizzagate and QAnon-wise?

On today's front page, the New York Times reports some of this lack of discernment.  Sabrina Tavernise focuses on some regular people over there on the pro-Trump side:

TAVERNISE (1/18/21): Theda Kasner, 83, a retired medical worker from Marshfield, Wis., who was originally interviewed for a New York Times polling story before the election, has been in an R.V. park in Weslaco, Texas, near the border with Mexico, since December. She is spending the winter there with her husband...

[...]

When asked about the violence at the [Capitol building] riot, Ms. Kasner repeated the common conspiracy theory that antifa had infiltrated the crowd. These days, she is finding herself increasingly confused in a sea of information, much of it false.

She had heard on a video she was sent on Facebook that in the Biden administration, children could be taken away from their parents. “I am in a total state of, I don’t know what is happening,” Ms. Kasner said.

“I simply cannot fathom what my country is becoming,” she said, saying that she had been sitting in her home in tears.

In fairness, Kasner is 83. That said, Tavernise also quotes a 43-year-old man from Colorado: 

TAVERNISE: For Mr. Scheerer, the fuel truck driver in Colorado, the multiple catastrophes of the past year—the coronavirus, the economic disruption that came with it, the political fear across the country—all fused into a kind of looming threat. The lockdowns infuriated him. He sees mask mandates not as public health but public control. Both, he believed, were signs of a coming tyranny. 

[...]

“It’s way more than just being some kind of a Trump fanatic,” he said. He said he saw himself as “a guy up on the wall of a city seeing the enemy coming, and ringing the alarm bell.”

Force, he said, is only a last resort.

“Are you OK with internment camps if you refuse to wear a mask or take a vaccination?” he asked. “I believe in a world where force has to be used to stop evil or the wrong act.”

Scheerer has apparently heard, and apparently believes, that people who refuse to be vaccinated will end up in internment camps under a President Biden.

The rise of round-the-clock dis- and misinformation is eating away at our nation's unavoidable lack of human discernment. And no, this problem isn't limited to the "little people."

We recently had the misfortune to read this discouraging New York Times essay about Josh Hawley's kooky intellectual war with the deeply dangerous fourth-century theologian Pelagius. "Highly educated" graduates of Stanford and Yale Law School believe the most damn-fool things!

(To read Hawley's graduation address about Pelagius, you can just click here. Be prepared to come face-to-face with the endless supply of the lack of human discernment.)

Regular people don't know what to think; crackpots like Hawley don't seem to know how. But the vast breakdown in human discernment isn't limited to the people found Over There, be they humble or exalted.

These breakdowns are quite widespread right here in the streets of Our Town. For our money, the examples are more numerous, and more depressing, with each passing day.

For today, we'll send you to Vanessa Friedman's latest hiss-spitting attack on Melania Trump's wardrobe selections down through the past five years. 

Friedman wrote it, the New York Times ran it. We humans have to be out of our minds to traffic in bullshit like this. 

Then too, there are the unexplained flips among Our Town's intellectual leaders. Yesterday morning, on Morning Joe, Mika was bitterly attacking Sheryl Sandberg. Three years ago, Mika was among the masses who stood in line to recite the scripts about Facebook's feminist icon, praising her for her obvious spectacular human greatness.

We also read Peter Beinart's air-filled rumination in the New York Times concerning political courage. What follows makes perfect sense, except for the fact that it doesn't:

BEINART (1/16/21): Courage cannot be explained by a single variable. Politicians whose communities have suffered disproportionately from government tyranny may show disproportionate bravery in opposing it. Mr. Romney, like the Arizona Republican Jeff Flake—whose opposition to Mr. Trump likely ended his senatorial career—belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was once persecuted on American soil. In the fevered days after Sept. 11, the only member of Congress to oppose authorizing the “war on terror” was a Black woman, Barbara Lee.

But during that era, too, ambition undermined political courage, and stature fortified it. John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, Democratic senators who went on to run for president in 2004, voted for the Iraq war.

By contrast, Mr. Kerry’s Massachusetts colleague, Ted Kennedy, who had been elected to the Senate in 1962, voted against it...

There's more, but we'd like to hold onto our lunch. Consider:

For starters, Beinart forgot to say that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden also "voted for the war," to the extent that anyone did. 

(Senators voted on the so-called "war resolution," not on the war itself. The resolution was aggressively sold as the way to avoid a war. We described it as the worst vote in Senate history, but it wasn't "a vote on the war" in the traditional sense.) 

That said, the courageous Romney also supported the war, despite his Mormon difference! And while he was sharing his plu-pompous thoughts, Beinart forgot to mention another fact:

Peter Beinart actively supported the war in Iraq! Here's one of his tweets on the subject:

I supported the Iraq War. A mentor died in it. My sister-in-law left her toddler to serve in it. I wrote 2 books grappling w/ how I got it so wrong. I never thought people like Bolton + Netanyahu could pull off a campaign of lies like that again. They have...

Beinart supported the war himself! Presumably, he did so from the noblest of motives, unlike the cowardly pols whose motives he decries in an essay so faux and so absurd it could only have appeared in the routinely ridiculous Times.

Trust us! It gets worse—much, much worse—over here in the streets of Our Town. 

Over in the other towns, the little people are often extremely poorly informed. Here in Our Town, our elites are quite routinely full of the world's hottest and dumbest air, and the rest of us rarely notice.

Human discernment is widely AWOL. The state of play among us humans is horrible all the way down.


CHILDREN OF FLINT: "The mass poisoning of every kid in Flint!"

TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2021

"It's something you don't grow out of:" We'll start with something that doesn't matter, except to the extent that it does.

It appears on page A1 of this morning's New York Times. Essentially, it serves as a headline atop a highly significant news report. This is what it says:

       2,048 deaths were reported on Jan. 4 alone.

In print editions, that slightly peculiar statement is cast in the role of a virtual headline atop a highly visible front-page news report. 

The report, by Amy Harmon and three others, concerns an extremely significant topic—the rapidly increasing number of deaths in the United States from Covid-19.  

It's possible that the number of deaths will continue to grow until vaccination reins it in. The strange thing about the number in that virtual headline is the fact that the number's so small.

According to that semi-headline, 2,048 Covid deaths were reported "on Jan. 4 alone." Based on that construction, a reader might think that 2,048 was a strikingly large number of deaths for one single day.

In fact, the 7-day average on January 4 was-—according to the New York Times' daily data—2,656 reported deaths per day. In fact, the number of reported deaths on January 4 was substantially lower than the daily average which prevailed at that time.

The 7-day average has continued to climb, almost to this very day. Consider:

After yesterday's reporting was done, the 7-day average stood at a truly horrible 3,225 reported deaths per day. On the tiniest of bright sides, that average was actually lower than the average had been the day before.

In fact, within the Times data, the 7-day average reached its highest point on January 12, when it stood at 3,352 reported deaths per day. Since then, the average has been nosing down. This may represent a change for the better, or it may be a type of statistical glitch.

Reporting on the number of daily deaths has been all over the ballpark. We've noted the way major stars like Jake Tapper and Rachel Maddow seem to cherry-pick the numbers they report, always finding ways to present the largest possible number of deaths.

This morning, on page A1, the Times went in the other direction. At a glance, the paper seemed to suggest that 2,048 reported deaths would be a terrible number for a single day. 

In fact, our failing nation has a long way to go to get back down to any such number of daily deaths! Just over two thousand deaths per day? One can only wish!

Why did the Times choose to go with that particular number and with that particular date? Presumably, because the human interest stories they wanted to tell track to that particular date. With apologies to the family in question, today's report starts like this:

HARMON ET AL (1/19/21): It was 3 a.m. when Latraile Williams was startled from her sleep in her family’s Gainesville, Fla., home with a phone call. The voice on the other end, the doctor, sounded urgent, his words coming in slow bursts. Her husband of 23 years had very little time left. “Dear God,” she began to pray. “Dear God, give me strength.”

Ten minutes later, she received a second call. It was too late.

Her husband, Stacey Williams, a beloved youth football coach and father of five, had died from complications of Covid-19. All that was left was for her to replay the cellphone video that he had made from his hospital bed.

The late Stacey Williams, a good, decent person, lost his life on January 4. "On [that] one single day...Mr. Williams was among more than 2,000 Americans with the virus to die," the Times reports, making a statistical claim which is almost surely though not necessarily correct.

Across the country, how many people died on Covid-19 on January 4? We know of no way to answer that question. As with most other data sets, the New York Times data set reports that 2,048 Covid deaths were reported on that day, not that 2,048 Covid deaths actually occurred.

Such distinctions are routinely lost in the haze as the nation's major news orgs stress human interest Covid stories while underplaying the explanation of basic facts. 

This morning, the Times report doesn't explain the distinction between "reported" and "occurred." Beyond that, it leads with a daily number which actually seems to understate the number of Covid deaths now occurring on a daily basis—to the extent that we can know what that number actually is.

Nothing turns on the number the New York Times chose to feature. For the record, here are a few 7-day averages as the death rate has grown like Topsy over the past few months:

Reported Covid deaths per day, 7-day averages
November 1: 825
December 1: 1,541
January 1: 2,513
January 16: 3,319

We're using the New York Times data. Click here, scroll down to "New reported deaths per day."

The growth in those numbers has been obscene since November 1. In the past few days, the number has begun to nose down, although we don't know why. 

As a general matter, news orgs prefer to go with human interest first. Explanations and basic statistics will possibly tend to lag.

In the past several months, the rise in reported deaths per day has been obscene. We were struck by the (possibly somewhat) misleading number on page A1 today.

In a somewhat similar way, we were struck by several things Rachel Maddow said last Thursday night. Also, by quite a few things which didn't get said that night.

Maddow was talking about the past, and possibly current, water crisis in Flint. Since she was imagining some of the others going to jail, she was at her happiest.

Maddow tends to cherry-pick and embellish the nation's Covid death counts. Last Thursday night, in the first twenty minutes of a 26-minute opening monologue, she chose to make exciting remarks about the children of Flint.

She started by referring to "Flint, Michigan's lead poisoning disaster—that man-made disaster when Rick Snyder's state government poisoned an entire city with lead." 

"An entire city" had been poisoned, Maddow excitingly said. As for Snyder, he was "the man who ran the government that flipped the switch that pushed the button to poison Flint."

(We can't give you a link. Perhaps for obvious reasons, MSNBC no longer prepares public transcripts.)

Earlier that day, Snyder had been charged with two misdemeanors for his alleged role in the water crisis. In twenty minutes, the word "misdemeanor" never crossed Maddow's lips. Nor did she ever mention the penalty Snyder could face.

Along the way, she did make the statements shown below. Statements like these affect the future of the children of Flint:

MADDOW (1/14/21): That disastrous water switch, and the refusal to listen to the people of Flint about its consequences, led to the mass poisoning of every kid in the city of Flint—the mass poisoning of the people of that city. Thousands of kids who will live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of having been poisoned by lead early in their life—having lead exposure in their drinking water when they're kids.

It's something you don't grow out of. It's something for which there is no magic antidote.

The mass poisoning was now specific to "every kid in the city of Flint," the grand inquisitor said. Flint's kids will never grow out of what happened, they and their parents were told.

We aren't fans of Maddow's work at this particular site. We regard her as a victim of celebrity and corporate wealth—as an example of what can easily happen when the rewards are too damn high at profit-based, corporate "news orgs."

As a general matter, the children of Flint won't have to deal with the problems of wealth and fame. But what about Maddow's excited claims on this particular night?

How accurate were her claims about the mass "poisoning" of the children of Flint? How accurate were her gloomy suggestions about their ruined futures?

Beyond that, how many elementary facts had the cable star failed to state? How many statistics were swept down the drain as she went with her thrilling oration?

Who has been harming the children of Flint? On the assumption that such children matter, we'll discuss that key question all week.

Tomorrow:  The disappeared