Paper discards city's children: You're right! It's pointless to criticize the New York Times for this kind of "reporting."
Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly—and the life-forms at the New York Times are hard-wired to produce this kind of "reporting." According to future experts with whom we consult, this kind of reporting will continue through the first few days of the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.
We refer to the pseudo-report which sat top the Times front page last Thursday morning. The hysteria was general within that report. In print editions, its four-column headline said this:
A Legacy of Poisoned Water: 'Damaged Kids' Fill Flint's SchoolsFlint, of course, is the city in Michigan which experienced a widely-publicized major water problem starting in 2015. That headline seemed to describe the outcome of this breakdown—and it seemed to describe a major disaster.
Do "damaged kids" now fill Flint's schools? And why do those two key words appear inside quotations marks?
We'll answer your second question below. For now, let's describe the large photograph which ran across four columns at the top of the Times' front page, right above that four-column headline.
Readers, prepare for a good horror story! The kind of story we very much love, especially at this time of year!
The photograph atop the front page showed an adult woman standing arm in arm with a boy who seemed to be ten years old.
The caption ran across four columns. The photo's caption said this:
Nakiya Wakes's son, Jaylon, has had 30 suspensions. "Soon, you're going to have to suspend the whole school system," she said.They're going to have to suspend the whole school system! Whatever has happened inside Flint's schools, it sounds like it was extremely dramatic—extremely dramatic, amazingly so, and very, very bad.
The front-page report, by Erica Green, started, as all such reports apparently must, with an anecdotal account of one particular problem. Quoting a fuller statement by Wakes, Green described the problems Wakes's son has faced in school in the past few years.
That said, one struggling child isn't a whole school system! Meanwhile, Green's lengthy report would do very little to let readers know what's actually happening across the sweep of the Flint public schools.
Green's report is wonderfully scary, but as an attempt at analysis, it's spectacularly incompetent. That said, the report was based on a second wonderfully scary quotation—a scary quotation which was sampled in the headline we've already posted.
The quotation appeared in paragraph 6 of Green's lengthy report. It's very, very, very hard to produce "journalism" which is worse than this:
GREEN (11/7/19): “We have a school district where all that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids, and it’s causing more damage,” said Stephanie Pascal, who has taught in Flint for 23 years.Yes, that's what we read that morning in our hard-copy New York Times. We read an astounding quotation from a veteran teacher in the Flint public schools—and this is what she said:
We have a school district where all that’s left are damaged kids who are being exposed to other damaged kids!What a remarkable thing to say! But also, for present purposes, what a heinous statement to put into print!
The veteran teacher the Times chose to quote may be the world's finest person. That said, the Times committed a heinous act when it put that statement in print.
Surely, everybody understands what will happen because of the Times' exciting decision. That sweeping, irresponsible statement will be repeated again and again, on every playground in Flint.
It will be repeated in every home. It will be repeated until every child in the city of Flint had heard that he or she is damaged goods—damaged goods who's just producing more damage.
Every 10-year-old child is going to hear that. So is every parent.
To the extent that the statement can even be parsed, there is nothing in Green's report which suggests, in any way, that this sweeping statement is actually accurate. But every child who lives in Flint is going to hear it.
Who knows? Perhaps that teacher was having a very bad day when she delivered that deeply destructive statement. Perhaps she doesn't understand the extent of the harm such sweeping statements can cause when they're quoted by a nation's most famous newspaper and sent out into the ether.
That said, what can you say for the New York Times—for the paper which decided to publish that statement? For the paper which decided to insert that statement into a four-column front-page headline, atop a report which should have been written in crayon, given the level of analytical skill it put on display?
Are Flint's schools filled with "damaged kids?" Transitioning away from the type of language more suitable to tales of goblins and ghosts, how much harm may have been caused by the extensive water problem which took place in Flint?
How much damage took place among the city's children? You can search all through the Times report to find a serious attempt to answer that question. You see, that would require competent analysis, and at the Times they have a saying:
Work like that is hard!
How much actual harm may have been done to the children of Flint? In the next few days, we'll try to offer a few of the basic facts which might help a serious person try to answer that question.
We'll be citing past work by Kevin Drum, starting with this cover report in Mother Jones about the effects of exposure to lead.
That report appeared in January 2013, long before the problem in Flint got started. But at his blog for Mother Jones, Drum has offered many posts about the problems in Flint. We'll link to some of those posts too.
To what extent have Flint's kids been harmed? Given the way our upper-end press corps tends to function, the information published by Drum might come as a bit of a surprise.
But at the eternally hapless times, an unnamed editor knew what to do. He or she gave us the kind of scary story we very much seem to enjoy, especially at this time of the year.
The Times used a couple of scary quotes to move the excitement along. In the process, Times readers received the greatest gift—we were gifted with the ability to feel that we actually care.
In the process, we were deceived, as is the lot of this newspaper's readers. On the brighter side, we were almost able to feel that it's still 1619! At the present unsettled time, this is a great tribal joy.
Meanwhile, a statement is being widely repeated by the children of Flint. We're damaged goods, those children are saying.
Times to Flint children: Drop dead!
Tomorrow: Just amazingly dumb, as anybody can see