For information concerning Flint, please read an opinion column: How should people understand the situation in Flint?
Many questions remain unanswered. Indeed, most questions remain unasked, unaddressed. Here are a few examples:
How serious are health effects likely to be for the children of Flint? How do rates of exposure to lead in Flint compare to rates in other communities?
Also this: How do rates of exposure in Flint compare to nationwide rates over the past fifty years? Questions like these might help us assess the level of harm which has been done in Flint.
Questions like these aren't being addressed in our major newspapers. Questions like these aren't being addressed on the Rachel Maddow Show, whose host likes to pat herself on the back for allegedly making Flint a national topic.
On Maddow, it has largely been narrative all the way down—and the narrative has been politically partisan. The most basic types of information have barely been allowed to intrude.
On the Maddow Show, Flint is sold as an AMERICAN DISASTER, the "mass poisoning of an entire town." Beyond that, the disaster was caused by a perfect villain—Michigan governor Rick Snyder.
Viewers don't need to know more than that. Information can go hang; it's been story-line all the way down!
Ironically, a familiar old pattern emerged last week with respect to the situation in Flint. That peculiar old pattern looks something like this:
If it's information you want, you must read an opinion column!
In this case, the column was that of Nicholas Kristof in Sunday's New York Times. The column was full of the type of information you aren't being given by Maddow, or by the news divisions of the Times or the Post.
Should Flint be understood as an AMERICAN DISASTER—presumably, as an unusual outlier? Kristof seemed to say that the answer is no—but then, he added some basic information to the politically partisan, bathos-based story-line Maddow has been peddling.
Early on, Kristof said this:
KRISTOF (2/7/16): [L]ead poisoning goes far beyond Flint, and in many parts of America seems to be even worse.Are Kristof's data accurate? If so, an obvious question arises:
“Lead in Flint is the tip of the iceberg,” notes Dr. Richard J. Jackson, former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flint is a teachable moment for America.”
In Flint, 4.9 percent of children tested for lead turned out to have elevated levels. That’s inexcusable. But in 2014 in New York State outside of New York City, the figure was 6.7 percent. In Pennsylvania, 8.5 percent. On the west side of Detroit, one-fifth of the children tested in 2014 had lead poisoning. In Iowa for 2012, the most recent year available, an astonishing 32 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels. (I calculated most of these numbers from C.D.C. data.)
If Flint is an AMERICAN DISASTER, what are we supposed to call the state of Iowa, where Kristof says the statewide exposure rate is roughly nine times that of Flint? (At present, the exposure level in Flint in back down in the general range of 3.5 percent.)
What about the city of Detroit, whose exposure rate is more than five times that of Flint? How should we think about that?
Kristof's column was the latest source of this type of context. Before it appeared, other articles had appeared, noting that exposure rates are much higher in many other areas than they are in Flint. For two examples, see last Friday's report.
None of this information has been allowed to intrude on the spotless story-line being churned by Maddow's spotless, corporate cable, multimillionaire celebrity mind. For years, we've told you that Rachel Maddow just isn't obsessively honest. Her disgraceful handling of this topic has become an ugly case in point.
Kristof and those who came before him help us see an awkward fact. Despite the giant bungling which led to the situation in Flint, there seems to be nothing especially shocking, within the modern American context, about that city's rate of exposure.
Despite this fact, Maddow continues to rant and rail about the "mass poisoning" of the children of Flint. She says nothing about the children in Allentown, Pa., where the exposure rate is six times that of Flint. She says nothing about the children of Iowa, a state at which she has directed reams of time-wasting nonsense of late.
She'll tell you about the Hawkeye State's polls, but not about its even more "mass poisoned" children!
Kristof's column offered the type of information which start to give us perspective and context. A letter in today's Washington Post takes matters one step further.
The letter is from Joseph Cotruvo, director of the EPA’s drinking water standards division from 1976 to 1990. In speaking up for his former agency Cotruvo offers some historical context. More significantly, he starts to poke at the most important question of all:
How serious are the health effects likely to be in Flint? (And in Iowa, and in Allentown, and in all the other places Maddow refuses to mention.) We were especially struck by the second passage we've highlighted in this excerpt from Cotruvo's letter:
COTRUVO (2/9/16): The EPA has taken some flak for its regional office’s inaction. But the EPA should get credit for the major nationwide reduction in lead exposure when it eliminated leaded gasoline, the dominant source of lead exposure, years ago. The average lead blood level for children was 16 micrograms per deciliter in 1976.Maddow viewers may be surprised to learn that "the EPA has taken some flak for its regional office's inaction" during the mess in Flint. Maddow has studiously avoided this fact during her utterly phony "coverage" of this topic.
A recent report from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services indicated that 3.4 percent of the child blood measurements in Flint were greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter, and 0.6 percent were greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that fewer than 2.5 percent of U.S. children between ages 1 and 5 exceed 5 micrograms, its reference level. It recommends medical treatment at 45 micrograms per deciliter.
Instead, she has tended to play the EPA as a hero, with Snyder cast as the story's sole villain. Indeed, he's the one who "mass poisoned an entire town," according to the terms of Maddow's morality play.
Cotruvo's letter provides some striking historical context. In 1976, he says, "the average lead blood level for children was 16 micrograms per deciliter." Presumably, that would mean that something like half of American children had lead levels above 16 micrograms per deciliter at that time.
Today, those children are in their 40s. You may know some people like that.
In 1976, something like half of American children had lead levels above 16 micrograms per deciliter. By way of contrast, in modern-day, "mass-poisoned" Flint, the exposure rate topped out at 4.9 percent of children having lead levels above five micrograms per deciliter—and five is less than 16!
By all accounts, we don't want anyone displaying such rates of exposure. That said, this historical information creates a bit of perspective as we try to figure out how big a DISASTER this situation actually is.
So how about it? How big a disaster is the AMERICAN DISASTER which is now being peddled, for profit and fun, by Maddow and her corporate owners? In other words, how bad are the health effects likely to be in Flint?
Maddow has made exactly zero attempt to answer that ultimate question. Neither have the news divisions of the Washington Post and the New York Times.
So far, we've barely seen anyone try to explain how bad the health effects are likely to be. But as we read Cotruvo's letter, we were struck by this assertion:
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention...recommends medical treatment at 45 micrograms per deciliter."
Say what? According to Cotruvo, well under one percent of Flint's kids are testing above 10 micrograms per deciliter. Meanwhile. the CDC "recommends medical treatment at 45 micrograms per deciliter?"
A cynic would say that this situation sounds less like an AMERICAN DISASTER all the time. Having said that, let's quickly add this:
It's time for the horrible Maddow to do some real reporting. It wouldn't hurt if the Times and the Post did some reporting too, even in this post-Dowd era.
Here's what the horrific Maddow should report, preferably speaking to qualified experts rather than to the inside of her own unstable head:
What are the health effects likely to be for the children in Flint? How bad are the health effects likely to be at the blood lead levels which seem to have recorded?
We ask for an obvious reason:
Maddow keeps telling the people of Flint that they've been "mass poisoned." This makes for a very good partisan narrative if you're happily seeking the head of your latest partisan villain.
It also makes an extremely scary claim for the parents and children of Flint.
History teaches us a very important lesson. Unbalanced people like Rachel Maddow will do many things for the fame and the dough, and perhaps in the need to persuade themselves of their internal worth. Starting tomorrow night—tonight is reserved for Granite State speculation and clowning—Maddow should try to provide some real information about those real children's actual lives.
Maddow has been playing an ugly game with the lives of the children of Flint. It's been partisan narrative all the way down, with script and bathos and partisan pleasure in place of information.
Just for a night or two, Maddow should drop her clowning and her hero posture and try to present information. She might even have Professor Edwards as a guest, something she seems to have been avoiding.
(Warning! Edwards is very, very negative about the EPA. He seems to think that Snyder was lied to at some point. These unfortunate heresies could complicate our tribe's preferred story-line.)
How will those actual children in Flint actually be affected? In our view, it's time for Maddow to drop her revolting hero pose and do some actual work.
In theory, she's paid her $7 million per year to develop real information. Our question:
Will this deeply entitled cable monster ever get off her corporate-fueled asp?
Tomorrow: Recent pseudo-reporting about Flint in the Post and the Times