BREAKING: At long last, the Times gets it right!

MONDAY, JULY 23, 2018

Rachel Maddow, Kevin Drum and the children and parents of Flint:
For starters, the New York Times should be saluted for what it has done.

On the other hand, a person must ask why it took so long. Also, why today's report appears in the form of an op-ed column, not as a front-page news report or as an analysis piece.

Today's report concerns blood lead levels in Flint. It provides the types of information which Kevin Drum offered all along, with the whole journalistic world refusing to watch.

Today's column is written by a pair of professors. "Flint Kids Were Not Poisoned," their hard-copy headline declares.

Wait a minute! Flint's kids weren't poisoned? Their belated report starts like this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (7/23/18): Flint Kids Were Not 'Poisoned'

Words are toxic, too.
Labeling Flint’s children as “poisoned,” as many journalists and activists have done since the city’s water was found to be contaminated with lead in 2014, unjustly stigmatizes their generation.

Let’s be clear. It’s unacceptable that any child was exposed to drinking water with elevated lead concentrations. We know that lead is a powerful neurotoxicant, that there is no safe level, that the very young are particularly vulnerable and that long-term exposure to low to moderate levels of lead is associated with decreased I.Q.s and other cognitive and behavioral problems, including criminal behavior.

But there is no reason to expect that what happened for a year and a half in Flint will inevitably lead to such effects. The casual use of the word “poisoned,” which suggests that the affected children are irreparably brain-damaged, is grossly inaccurate. In a city that already battles high poverty and crime rates, this is particularly problematic.
Children in Flint weren't "poisoned," the two professors write. They complain about the way many journalists have used that poisonous term.

Language like that can be toxic, they say. Then they start providing the type of information Drum offered again and again:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH (continuing directly): In the mid-1970s, the average American child under the age of 5 had a blood lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter. The good news is that by 2014 it had fallen dramatically, to 0.84 micrograms per deciliter, largely because of the banning of lead in paint and the phaseout of lead in gasoline, among other measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers a blood lead level in children of 5 micrograms per deciliter and higher to be a “reference level.” This measure is intended to identify children at higher risk and set off communitywide prevention activities.

It does not suggest that a child needs medical treatment. In fact, the C.D.C. recommends medical treatment only for blood lead levels at or above 45 micrograms per deciliter. Not a single child in Flint tested this high. This was a surprise for several visiting celebrities, who requested a visit to the “lead ward” of Hurley Children’s Hospital.

Nonetheless, the reference level has been misinterpreted by laypeople—and even public health officials—as a poisoning threshold.
Oof! As they take a shot at the celebrities who tend to infest and infect our own tribe, the professors start to put the unfortunate events in Flint into a wider perspective. Most importantly, they start replacing the hysteria and the propaganda with information and facts.

Drum presented this type of information again and again and again. But as we've long told you, it's virtually impossible to inject information into the modern American discourse.

Our discourse runs on narrative, excitement and propaganda, almost never on facts. So it was with the information Drum presented again and again, to virtually no effect.

As they continue, Gomez and Dietrich present the types of basic information which were disappeared during the height of this episode. For example, consider this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: After Flint’s water was switched from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River, the annual percentage of Flint children whose blood lead levels surpassed the reference level did increase—but only from 2.2 percent to 3.7 percent. One of us, Dr. Gómez, along with fellow researchers, reported these findings in a study in the June issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, which raised questions about how risks and statistics have been communicated regarding this issue.


For comparison, consider the fact that just 20 years ago, nearly 45 percent of young children in Michigan had blood lead levels above the current reference level. If we are to be consistent in the labeling of Flint children as “poisoned,” what are we to make of the average American who was a child in the 1970s or earlier? Answer: He has been poisoned and is brain-damaged. And poisoned with lead levels far above, and for a greater period, than those observed in Flint.
According to the professors, the percentage of kids above the current "reference level" was massively higher just twenty years ago. This is the kind of information Drum presented again and again, putting a type of hysteria into a wider perspective.

We may feel inclined to say that what happened in Flint wasn't good. Everybody knows that! The professors stated that point right in paragraph 2.

Here's what else wasn't good: the conduct of people like Rachel Maddow, who yelled "poison" again and again and again, scaring everyone shitless. In this January 2017 report in The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman mentioned, in passing, the way children in Flint were giving up on themselves and their futures, so convinced were they that they had been deeply damaged.

We sent the Stillman excerpt to Drum. He posted yet another report, offering this overview:
DRUM (1/26/17): This is yet another tragedy. Children in Flint had mildly elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream for about a year or two. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but the effects of this are fairly modest. To put it in terms most people will recognize, it means that some children in Flint will lose about one IQ point. Maybe two. That’s a tragedy, but it’s an even bigger tragedy if kids and their parents respond to this by thinking their lives are permanently ruined. The truth is that in nearly all children, the effects will be only barely noticeable.
Eighteen months later, such basic, important information finally reaches the Times. It does so in an expert opinion column, not in a news report or an analysis piece.

Maddow was conducting one of her standard jihads when she scared all those parents and children shitless. She was chasing Michigan governor Rick Snyder, and she didn't have a telephone sex tape she could play again and again, all the while pretending to be embarrassed by what she was doing.

Instead, she yelled poison poison poison poison, scaring everyone shitless. As she did this night after night, she kept withholding the basic information which had animated Drum's reports.

Did Rachel care about those kids? Flint has of course disappeared from her playlist, along with lead in general. The focus of our tribal propaganda has by now moved on.

Rachel has stopped discussing lead. We don't know why she no longer cares because, in today's column, the professors say this:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: [T]he focus on Flint seems to be distracting the public from a far more widespread problem. Although blood lead levels have long been declining nationwide, there remain many trouble spots. Right now in Michigan, 8.8 percent of children in Detroit, 8.1 percent of children in Grand Rapids and an astounding 14 percent of children in Highland Park surpass the C.D.C. reference level. Flint is at 2.4 percent. A comprehensive analysis of blood lead levels across the United States reveals at least eight states with blood lead levels higher than Flint’s were during the water switch.
According to the professors, eight states have higher blood lead levels, on a statewide basis, than Flint did during the water switch! Then too, you have the children of Detroit, Grand Rapids and Highland Park. Why did we scream and yell about Flint while walking away from them?

What happened in Flint wasn't good. It also didn't involve the "poisoning of the entire city of Flint" (12/20/16), the appalling designation Rachel liked to excite us with as she tried to help us learn how to adore her more fully. Beyond that, we offer one final point:

In one of the passages quoted above, the professors call attention to the much higher levels of lead exposure from the 1970s and before. You may recall what they said:
GOMEZ AND DIETRICH: [C]onsider the fact that just 20 years ago, nearly 45 percent of young children in Michigan had blood lead levels above the current reference level. If we are to be consistent in the labeling of Flint children as “poisoned,” what are we to make of the average American who was a child in the 1970s or earlier? Answer: He has been poisoned and is brain-damaged. And poisoned with lead levels far above, and for a greater period, than those observed in Flint.
Warning! When we watch the press corps at work, we often think of those high lead levels from the 1970s and before. Increasingly, we find ourselves wondering if those very high levels of lead exposure help explain the way our "elite" press corps has functioned over the past thirty years.

Kids from earlier decades experienced much higher blood lead levels than the current children of Flint ever did. Are we sure that doesn't explain the behavior of unhinged cable screamers, like the Chris Matthews of the wars against Hillary Clinton and Gore? Are we sure it doesn't explain the existential mess we now find ourselves in?

The Times presented some real information today. Does lead exposure from earlier days explain why this rarely happens?

Tomorrow: Back to the New Orleans schools (postponed from today)


  1. Will action be taken in places like Flint if people use restraint in describing the problem? Does Somerby care more about accuracy in language than lead in water? Can you have progress without arm-waving?

    Somerby never talks about dating between 14 year old girls and adult men now that Moore isn't running, but forced underage marriage is still an issue. Why has he gone silent? Maybe for reasons like Maddow who has moved on to other issues than lead.

    1. Hey Anonymous, don't you think it's ridiculous to suggest that it's not important to "care about accuracy in language" when discussing the media? There's a big difference between "arm-waving" and making shit up. How about accurately reporting issues and giving them the coverage that they warrant rather than hyperbolizing them for political points?

    2. One person's accuracy is another person's hyperbole. Language is like that.

  2. "Flint Kids Were Not Poisoned"

    Well, sadly, some of them probably are still being poisoned (their minds, that is) by Rachel Maddow, Kevin Drum and other priests of your zombie death-cult.

  3. Does lead explain the way our "elite" press corps has functioned over the past thirty years? Does it explain the behavior of unhinged cable screamers?

    It's hard to be sure, but I lean toward YES.

  4. Local municipalities have water districts that publish statistics about what is in their water. Concerned citizens can see this information, as can anyone who moves into a city. It is often on a webpage. If people are concerned, they can bring local attention to the problem, hire an attorney (as occurred with Erin Brokovich), use bottled water or water filters, or move away. That is what public disclosure is for -- to let people make informed decisions about public services and where to live.

    Why then does there need to be a national focus on this stuff? Why is the NY Times or Maddow being remiss if they focus on national issues instead of local ones?

    In the case of Flint, there were issues of race confounding the water quality problem. The public was being deceived and there was local corruption. Also, it was an election year so there was a chance for politicians to demonstrate that they care about people and their problems. That explains why there was national attention paid to Flint over a local issue. None of those conditions is true today. So why should Maddow or the NY Times be spending its time on lead today?

    Wouldn't a better use of their time be shedding light on the changes wrought by the EPA that are negatively affecting the health nationwide? Is Somerby aware of any of that, or does he need Drum to point it out to him?

    1. With a strong desire to type mindlessly, 12:42 PM writes:

      In the case of Flint, there were issues of race confounding the water quality problem. Also, it was an election year... None of those conditions is true today.

      12:42 PM, use a nym so we can skip your crap.

    2. If you judge what is said by who wrote it, you are the one being mindless.

    3. 1:14 PM, I'm not suggesting the 12:42 PM comment is useless because 12:42 PM made it- it stands on its own as drivel. My point is that the time anyone has for reading at the Howler is finite and -unless they have an interest in maladjusted personalities- none of it should be wasted on what the sad cyber stalker 12:42 PM is constantly posting.

    4. Nothing says "anti-establishment" like doing what the Russians wanted and throwing your vote away.

      "1. Speaking in confidence on 9 August 2016, an ethnic Russian associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP discussed the reaction inside his camp, and revised tactics therein resulting from recent negative publicity concerning Moscow's clandestine involvement in the campaign.

      TRUMP's associate reported that the aim of leak- ing the DNC e-mails to WikiLeaks during the Democratic Convention had been to swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP. These voters were perceived as activist and anti-status quo and anti-establishment and in that regard sharing many features with the TRUMP campaign, including a visceral dislike of Hillary CLINTON.
      This objective had been conceived and promoted, inter alia, by TRUMP's foreign policy adviser Carter PAGE who had discussed it directly with the ethnic Russian associate."

      Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

    5. Russia, Russia, Russia- thanks for another lemming's perspective Page Turner. [LINK].

  5. If it's lead, does this mitigate what Somerby said in his first post today: "All that's left is the attempt to explain how our species' instincts, wiring and abilities got us to this point."

    One assumes our species' instincts pre-date lead exposure.

    Should he restate it: "All that's left is the attempt to explain how lead got us to this point."

  6. Classic straw man argument from Somersby. He (and the NYT op ed writers) redefines what "poison" means, then decides that the kids in Flint don't meet their definition. They weren't "poisoned" because other kids in the '70's had even higher levels of lead. By the same logic, those kids in the '70's weren't "poisoned" because kids in Bhopal choked and died when they were poisoned. And those in the vicinity of Chernobyl weren't irradiated because, look how much worse the radiation was at Hiroshima.
    There is a reason that there is no safe level of lead in the water. If a child is subjected to unsafe levels of any chemical in the water, it is reasonable to say that that child has been poisoned.
    Somersby, Gomez, and Deitrich are full of shit.

    1. Mr. Gardner - so, is your argument that literally any amount of lead in drinking water constitutes "poisoning" that should be publicized and acted upon as if it's the highest public-health priority?

  7. According to Gomez and Dietrich:

    "there is no safe level"

    In other words, any amount is unsafe.

    "long-term exposure to low to moderate levels of lead is associated with decreased I.Q.s and other cognitive and behavioral problems, including criminal behavior."

    And this isn't poisoning?

    Furthermore, according to the CDC:
    "CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is committed to the Healthy People 2020 goals of eliminating blood lead levels ≥ 10 µg/dL " (that's 10 micrograms per deciliter).

    "There is no known identified safe BLL. Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health. "

    But let's not call it "poisoning."

    Even though these CDC quotes come from a CDC web page titled "Childhood Lead Poisoning Data, Statistics, and Surveillance."

    1. By your standards, we are all "poisoned". And that still wouldn't explain why we would focus especially on Flint and not on the vast swaths of our country with higher lead exposure than were present during Flint's so-called "water crisis".

    2. Ingesting any amount of lead can be harmful. Lead is a neurotoxin, a poison. The term "lead poisoning" has been used, and still is used by the CDC, to refer to the cumulative effect of lead, even small amounts, in the body. Not everyone shows impairment, and not everyone was exposed at the same levels. The other element of the Flint story was the political malfeasance, causing citizens to be exposed to higher levels of a neurotoxin. In that sense, it can be characterized as deliberate, and as such was an important story.

  8. While Fox is busy covering "scandals" like Obama's birth certificate and Pizzagate, the Flint scandal, while possibly overhyped, was nonetheless based on a real public health issue as a result of real decisions made by politicians who would have liked nothing more than to have had the whole thing swept under the rug.

    1. I know and love real decisions.

  9. The opening here is strange, why does the person who got it wrong (Maddow) get lumped in with the person who got it right (Drum)? Micheal Moore should actually catch real shit for this, as he spread falsehoods on Maddow and Bill Maher.


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