Which part of "emergency manager" doesn't she understand: How did it happen? When a new water supply was used for the city of Flint, why wasn't the water treated with standard anti-corrosion chemicals?
That's one of the basic questions which remains unanswered concerning this debacle.
Last week, we showed you some of Professor Marc Edwards' thoughts on the subject, as told to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. When he testified last Wednesday, the Virginia Tech expert described horrific behavior:
EDWARDS (2/3/16): I have said repeatedly that the primary blame for this rests with a few people at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, without question. But in terms of other people in the state, those core professionals misled them throughout this whole thing.On the whole, "the blame lies with these three or four employees who were actively misleading everyone," Edwards said. For more detailed excerpts from Edwards' testimony, just click here.
I think it probably started innocently. I think someone forgot to follow the law [about corrosion control], but they ignored warning sign after warning sign...And gradually, step by step, they just felt like they were covering this up. There's no question about it.
You read the e-mails. They were— They lied in writing to the EPA, and it was only after [Flint parent Lee-Anne Walters] figured out that they were not using corrosion control that they started this new story that we don't know if we have to have corrosion control. So I think the written record is quite clear on this.
Are Edwards' basic impressions correct? That remains to be seen. But in that passage, he describes a grievous initial error turning into a massive cover-up. To the extent that he is right, he's describing horrific conduct.
Over the weekend, the journalism about this matter also turned horrific. It's no longer just the Maddow Show which is making a joke of the basic reporting. In our view, the New York Times and the Washington Post are now doing horrific work too.
In our view, these big newspaper are making no effort to present the most basic information concerning events in Flint. In place of important information, they seem to be chasing other values—the easy-to-understand values of narrative, drama, excitement, pathos, story-line, human interest.
How horrible is the basic work? Tomorrow, we'll start to look at the front-page reporting which emerged at the Post and the Times this weekend. For today, let's consider Amy Chozick's pathetic attempt, in this morning's Times, to report the basic facts about what happened in Flint.
In this morning's New York Times, Chozick penned a news report about yesterday's visit to Flint by Hillary Clinton. In the following passage, she tried to explain the way this debacle started:
CHOZICK (2/8/16): The water contamination in Flint, which has led to increased levels of lead in the blood of some children, began when the city switched to a cheaper source of water, which turned out to be so corrosive that it caused lead from the city’s old pipes to leach into the water.That basically isn't what happened. Did the new, "cheaper source of water" actually "turn out to be so corrosive that it caused lead from the city’s old pipes to leach into the water?"
Not exactly, no! In fact, the new source of water only caused that leaching of lead because, for reasons which haven't been explained in any definitive way, it wasn't treated with standard anti-corrosion chemicals, as is required by law.
The new water went untreated! Incredibly, Chozick doesn't mention this basic part of the story at any point in her account of these events.
A bit later in her report, Chozick commits a much more egregious howler. What follows is truly horrific work. Reporting this bad is hard to believe—except from Chozick, that is:
CHOZICK: On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, attacked Democrats for what he called “an absolute outrage,” drawing comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. “Both cities have been governed with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades,” Mr. Cruz said.Truly, that's astounding.
But some on the left, including Mrs. Clinton’s opponent for the presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have laid blame on Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, after emails showed his administration was dismissive of early complaints about the water.
Last month, two of Mrs. Clinton’s senior campaign aides traveled here to meet with Mayor Karen Weaver to ask how Mrs. Clinton could exert pressure to deal with the water problems and their aftermath. Mrs. Clinton then spoke at length about the Flint water crisis in the Jan. 17 Democratic debate in South Carolina.
It's true that Democrats are criticizing Snyder for the way his administration reacted to early complaints. But that omits the major problem with Cruz's presentation, and the major reason for Democratic complaints about Snyder.
Duh! Democrats are blaming Snyder for this debacle because the city of Flint was operating under an emergency manager—an emergency manager appointed by Snyder—at the time of the key decisions which produced the current mess!
There was no one-party Democratic control of Flint at the time of the shift in water supply. To all intents and purposes, it was Governor Snyder's Republican Party which was wholly or almost wholly in charge in Flint.
The city of Flint was under control of a Republican-appointed emergency manager! The omission of that basic fact represents astounding journalistic incompetence. That said, it's a type of incompetence Chozick has been patenting in the past year at the post-journalistic New York Times.
In her account of these events, Chozick omits all mention of the emergency manager! In her account, she leaves Ted Cruz's portrait in place. That portrait suggests that a bunch of Democrats made the decisions in question.
That impression is incorrect—unless you're reading the Times.
In even a slightly rational world, it would be hard to believe that a major reporter, along with her editors, could publish such a groaning account of the basic facts. But Chozick does this sort of thing in much the way other folk breathe.
Were the several Snyder-appointed emergency managers primarily at fault in the chain of events which produced the ongoing debacle? That remains to be seen. When Edwards spoke to the House committee, he testified that the "primary blame" rests with a handful of state employees who failed to follow environmental law, then began lying about their error as part of a cover-up.
That may or may not be correct.
How did this debacle occur? That remains to be seen. But Chozick's report is stunning for its degree of incompetence. As a journalist, she can easily be compared to the grossly incompetent state officials on whom Edwards placed "primary blame" fore what happened in Flint. But this sort of thing is now par for the course at the New York Times.
Tomorrow, we'll start to look at some front-page reports in the Times and the Washington Post about the Flint debacle. Drama, pathos, human interest? These are the post-journalistic products these upper-class papers now peddle.
How about context and perspective? How about basic information?
Crackers, proles and rummies, please! Those are the journalistic values of a bygone age.
Tomorrow: If it's information you want, consult the opinion columns