Kessler delivers the final count!

MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2021

Rachel and Joy in the clown car: High up on the Washington Post's web site, the final count was being announced this morning.

Glenn Kessler's tabulation was done. High up on the Post's web site, the headline linking to the report said this:

Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims as president. Nearly half came in his final year.

Kessler has made his final count. At the Post's Fact Checker site, his final report starts like this:

KESSLER (1/23/21): He overstated the “carnage” he was inheriting, then later exaggerated his “massive” crowd and claimed, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that it had not rained during his address. He repeated the rain claim the next day, along with the fabricated notion that he held the “all-time record” for appearing on the cover of Time magazine.

And so it went, day after day, week after week, claim after claim, from the most mundane of topics to the most pressing issues.

Over time, Trump unleashed his falsehoods with increasing frequency and ferocity, often by the scores in a single campaign speech or tweetstorm. What began as a relative trickle of misrepresentations, including 10 on his first day and five on the second, built into a torrent through Trump’s final days as he frenetically spread wild theories that the coronavirus pandemic would disappear “like a miracle” and that the presidential election had been stolen—the claim that inspired Trump supporters to attack Congress on Jan. 6 and prompted his second impeachment.

The final tally of Trump’s presidency: 30,573 false or misleading claims—with nearly half coming in his final year.

You'll note that nothing is said about "lies." Kessler has always trafficked in "falsehoods" and "misrepresentations"—in "false or misleading claims." Playing by the antique rules, he almost never refers to such statements as "lies."

In Saturday morning's Free for All, the Post published a pair of letters from readers demanding tougher language. We think that demand, widespread in Our Town, is unwise and self-defeating.

We may return to those letters some day. Today, let's go with this:

This morning, through a string of links, we ended up at Jack Shaffer's account of the way the Biden inauguration was played on CNN and MSNBC. Shaffer offered this account of Rachel and Joy, then backed it up with a link:

SHAFFER (1/21/21): CNN glowed almost as brightly about the event as a state media would have. It accentuated all of Biden’s leading attributes—his modesty; the length of his Capitol experience, where he outlasted some of the building’s marble columns; his Catholic faith; his bounce-back from personal tragedies; his love of country; and so on. Biden’s perfectly fine if pedestrian speech earned instant accolades from Wolf Blitzer, who jibbered that Biden had put “his soul into his first address.” Joe Average, rejected for president by primary voters in previous election years, the guy who said, “you ain’t black,” the fellow who plagiarized, suddenly became a seasoned Caesar and a potential savior.

MSNBC worked from the same script, going gaga for not just Lady Gaga but the whole schmear. At day’s end, Rachel Maddow confessed to having worked her way through an entire box of Kleenex during the festivities and Joy Reid gushed like a partisan about the event. “They gave us fashion. They gave us celebrity. They gave us hope,” Reid said of the “incredible” inauguration. Incredible it was not. In fact, it was very low-fi without the Mall-filling, cheering crowds, the parades and the balls that ordinarily pad the swearing-in.

In our view, Shaffer was pointlessly negative concerning Biden and the inauguration in general. Concerning Rachel and Joy, we thought he might be overstating a bit. 

Then we clicked his link.

What we saw was appalling, obscene, an offense against decent practice. In part, when we clicked that link, we encountered such garbage as this:

MADDOW (1/20/21): I'm with my friends Joy Reid and Lawrence O'Donnell. We've been watching this throughout. 

Joy, let me get your reaction first. I went through half a box of Kleenex, but I made sure I saved one in case you said anything that was also going to make me cry. Because at this point, I'm just a faucet I can't turn off.

The corporate multimillionaire salesperson held up her remaining Kleenex, doing a minor prop act. She never stops discussing herself, never stops selling the car.

(In fairness, all players on this channel are said to be each other's "friends." Rather plainly, this is a scripted part of corporate branding. It's a way of telling us viewers how dumb they think we are.) 

Joy proceeded to clown us rubes in much the way Shaffer described. She started off like this:

REID (continuing directly): No, I'll tell you, I was mostly dancing around and singing along to the extent that I could, that I could keep up with the lyrics...

Her analysis proceeded from there. On the tape, Lawrence politely sits by, pretending this all makes sense.

This is corporate clowning of an undisguised type. There is little serious hope for a nation whose liberals and progressives are willing to tolerate such manifest hustle as this.

What a rogue's gallery of grifters and hustlers this ludicrous channel has assembled! We avoided watching this garbage last Wednesday. Despite some pointlessly sour remarks, Shaffer's link was true.


STARTING TOMORROW: What is truth?

MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2021

And to what extent do we care?: Have we Americans possibly gotten lucky? Have we managed to avoid a predicted surge of Covid infections and deaths?

Yesterday, atop the front page in print editions, a news report in the Washington Post examined that question. Fenit Nirappil started his front-page report as shown:

NIRAPPIL (1/24/21): The United States appears to have avoided the worst-case coronavirus scenarios that officials feared would overwhelm hospitals in the aftermath of Christmas and New Year’s gatherings. But experts caution that the threat from the virus has not diminished and could intensify with the emergence of new variants.

Even as hospitalizations begin to stabilize, they do so from record heights. The country’s hospitals averaged more than 130,000 covid-19 patients a day over seven days this month, far exceeding summer and spring surges. The death toll from cases contracted before and after the holidays will stretch into February. Authorities reported nearly 4,500 deaths Wednesday, a new single-day record.

According to Nirappil, it seems we may have dodged a bullet, though things could still get worse.

A person could say that Nirappil was possibly hedging his bets. For ourselves, we were most struck by the last sentence we've highlighted, in which Nirappil told readers this:

"Authorities reported nearly 4,500 deaths Wednesday, a new single-day record."

Nirappil's statement can be defended as technically accurate. It could also be seen an example of cherry-picking of a familiar kind.

It's true! According to the Washington Post's data set, 4,440 deaths from Covid-19 were reported on Wednesday, January 20. That's almost "nearly 4,500 deaths," though it's closer to 4,400.

Something else in Nirappil's statement is true. Within the Post's data set, that was the highest number of Covid deaths reported for any single day since the pandemic began in March 2020. Inevitably, that may seem like a significant fact.

Then again, other things are true. Wednesday's reported number of deaths had been very high. But as we noted last Friday,  these were the numbers of Covid deaths reported on the three days before that:

Reported deaths from Covid-19:
Sunday, January 17: 2,068
Monday, January 18: 1,418
Tuesday, January 19: 2,166

Wednesday's number was very high. By way of comparison, Monday's number had been very low. And just for the record, these numbers—these numbers of "reported" deaths—followed a three-day holiday weekend, when the reporting anomalies which occur every week tend to be larger than usual.

As he started, Nirappil reported only one number from the previous week. Was that an example of solid reporting? Or was it "cherry-picking?"

There's no ultimate way to answer that question, but Nirappil omitted more information than he chose to include. Meanwhile, here's the way he and/or his editor chose to end his lengthy report:

NIRAPPIL: About 3,900 deaths were reported Friday in the United States, suggesting Wednesday’s peak may not be an anomaly. The seven-day average of deaths in the weeks after Thanksgiving hovered around 2,500.

“We are getting, in some way, numb to the numbers,” said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “The numbers of hospitalizations, cases and death are still incredibly high. Even if we see a pullback, those numbers are still incredibly scary.”

As he closed his lengthy report, Nirappil made a comparison. Plainly, it was a comparison of the apples-to-oranges kind:

Nirappil compared the number of deaths reported on Friday (about 3,900) to the smaller average number in the weeks after Thanksgiving (about 2,500 deaths per day). In doing so, he showed that he knows about the important statistic known as the 7-day rolling average.

What he didn't say was this: 

After Friday's reporting, the 7-day average for the preceding week stood at 3,101 deaths per day. After Saturday's reporting was done, the 7-day average had dropped to 3,084. In other words:

Where the 7-day average once stood at "about 2,500 deaths" per day, it now stands at just over 3,000. That's an apples-to-apples presentation, although it still has its flaws.

There is no perfect way to report the number of Covid deaths. That said, there are plenty of ways to misreport the number of such deaths.

One such way involves the cherry-picking of individual days. To wit:

Even after November's election, Trump spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany would report the (lower) number of deaths reported on some particular weekend day, thereby giving the impression that things just weren't so bad. 

By way of contrast, people like Maddow and Tapper would reliably report the (higher) number of deaths reported on some particular midweek day, thereby pushing viewers' perceptions in the other direction.

No one reported the 7- or 14-day averages, the only respectable way to report such deaths. No one bothered explaining the weekly reporting glitch which drives numbers higher on midweek days, much lower over the weekend.

Nirappil picked the highest number, simply ignored the others. Eventually, he reported the 7-day averages post-Thanksgiving but ignored the 7-day average which obtained as his report went to press.

At present, that average is down by roughly ten percent from where it stood just ten days ago. That may be a holiday-based statistical glitch, or it may suggest that some modest improvement is taking place. 

At any rate, the current average—3,070 Covid deaths per day—is higher than it was at any point during the year 2020. That's a basic statement of fact, with high and low numbers thrown in.

Atop page one, in paragraph 2, Nirappil cited one number—the highest one-day total ever. He didn't mention the lower numbers which had come in the days before.

He didn't work with 7-day averages until the very end of his report. At that time, he offered an apples-to-oranges comparison instead of saying something like this:

"The seven-day average of deaths in the weeks after Thanksgiving hovered around 2,500. Today, the seven-day average stands at just over 3,000 deaths per day, though it may be leveling off."

Even there, the recent holiday weekend may be introducing noise into the statistics. But that point could be mentioned too, and at least you'd now be comparing apples to apples, with a word of caution thrown in.

We were struck by the way Nirappil (and his editor) shot that largest number right to the top of the pile. Cable stars have done that for months, even as McEnany was cherry-picking the smallest single-day numbers.

Nirappil's choice brought a question to mind. It's an anthropological question, and we plan to regard it that way.

Our questions goes like this:

To what extent are we humans wired to care about such entities as accuracy and truth? Enjoyably, we plan to discuss that question this week with respect to some well-known movies.

"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate once asked. Our own question will be somewhat different.

To what extent are we humans wired to care about such entities as accuracy and truth? This week, we'll examine the question with respect to the way major critics have reviewed certain films. Next week, we expect to move on to prevailing questions of gender and race.

Are we wired to care about truth? Or is it Storyline all the way down?

In our view, the answer to this is in no way clear, not even here in Our Town!

Tomorrow: Roger Ebert, Mel Gibson, three stars


Obama's suit, emails and Love Canal too!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 2021

Pepperidge Farm remembers: Margaret Sullivan's latest column for the Washington Post has been getting some play on Fox.

At present, Sullivan is the Washington Post's "media columnist." This follows her earlier stint as the New York Times' public editor.

Sullivan has conducted a long, substantial career. Here's the part of yesterday's piece which some have enjoyed on Fox:

SULLIVAN (1/22/21): The national press—battered by four years of abuse by the president, and by the incompetence and falsehoods of his spokespeople—is in a precarious position. We run the risk of being seduced by an administration that, in many cases, closely reflects our values: multiculturalism, a belief in the principles of liberal democracy, and a kind of wonky idealism. (Cue the “West Wing” theme.)

The commentary from TV broadcasters across the board, all day long, was at times embarrassingly complimentary. Maybe that’s fine for a day or two while everyone takes a few sighs of relief that democracy has survived its stress test.

Watching some of that embarrassing commentary, we were struck by the way TV "news" has almost totally given way to commentary, point of view and opinion, especially on cable.

The opinion in question is generally group opinion. At Fox, it was part of group opinion to cite Sullivan's reference to the embarrassing group opinion  being voiced everywhere else.

We agree with Sullivan on that point—at times, the work was embarrassing. As she continued, though, she brought us right out of our chairs:

SULLIVAN (continuing directly): But soon, I’d guess, another norm will return: the desire to appear combative and to blow things out of proportion to demonstrate toughness. Because journalists pride themselves on being tough and objective, they like to take an adversarial-seeming approach, especially to the party in power or the candidate with whom they most identify. (And, of course, actually holding power to account is the most important job that journalists have. It’s what we’re here for.)

But there’s a difference between truly holding power to account and grandstanding. It’s the latter that gave rise to ridiculous dust-ups like the one over President Barack Obama’s wearing of a tan suit—not to mention the vast and shameful overplaying of the Hillary Clinton email scandal during the 2016 campaign.

Will mainstream journalists soon be blowing things out of proportion at President Biden's expense? We'll guess that this won't happen soon—but we were especially struck by the past examples of mainstream misconduct Sullivan chose to mention.

Question: Did the ridiculous dust-up over Obama's tan suit last longer than an MSM minute? Briefly Googling, we were able to find Vanessa Friedman sadly saying that it was about time that the press corps examined the wardrobes of male politicians as well as the wardrobes of women.

In all candor, we don't recall that ridiculous dust-up amounting to much at the time. By way of contrast, the mainstream press corps spent many months in Campaign 2000 savaging Candidate Gore for his boots, his suits, his polo shirts and the heinous earth tones he wore—a lengthy, deeply ridiculous episode which has been thoroughly disappeared in line with the MSM's code of silence.

That earlier episode went on at great length; it was spectacularly stupid, deeply ugly and, in the end, quite destructive. The code of silence which sent it down the memory hole enabled another destructive mainstream gong-show—the focus on Hillary Clinton's allegedly disturbing emails, the "shameful" press conduct which helped send Donald J. Trump to the White House.

As with the warfare directed at the girly-man Gore's troubling three-button suits, so too with Clinton's emails. The episode was part of a decades-long war against Clinton and Clinton, a mainstream press corps war which played a key role in sending the last two Republican presidents to the White House.

Sullivan will never mention that war; the code of silence forbids it. Also, she herself played an insider role in the war against Gore, dating to her time as editor of her hometown Buffalo News.

We refer to what we'd view as the pivotal episode in the twenty-month War Against Gore. We refer to the invention of the claim, in December 1999, that "Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal."

The claim was invented by the Washington Post and the New York Times. This followed a solid month devoted to the candidate's wardrobe, but also to the ugly and stupid claim that Gore, described as "today's man-woman" (Chris Matthews),  had "hired a woman [Naomi Wolf] to teach him to be a man" (everyone in the press).

The month of November had been devoted to those stupid and ugly and shameful claims. Early in December, Love Canal turned the page. 

"Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!" Deliciously, the invented claim got its start through a blatant misquotation of something Candidate Gore had said to a high school class in New Hampshire.

Even more deliciously, this blatant misquotation was then called to light by those same high schools kids. Deliciously, they had videotaped Gore's remarks to their class, and they made a point of calling attention to the Post/Times misquotation.

Thanks to the high school kids' videotape, everyone was soon able to see that the Post and the Times had flatly misquoted Gore. You'd almost think it would have been a great story:

New Hampshire high school kids take down the Post and the Times!

You'd almost think that would be a great story, but the code of silence within the guild doesn't permit such delights. Inevitably, the inevitable occurred:

Rather than admit their mistake, the Post and the Timed got busy inventing slippery new ways to claim that they'd been right all along. Everyone else agreed to avert their gaze and to play along.

"Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!" This became the reviled candidate's third alleged lie. As such, it completed the rule of three, thus hardening the Storyline which drove the mainstream press corps campaign:

Candidate Gore is the world's biggest liar, just like his boss, Bill Clinton.

In fact, Gore had made the world's most innocuous set of remarks when he spoke to that high school class. His comments involved the discovery of the toxic waste site at Love Canal in upstate New York—a site for which the Buffalo News would have been the local paper of record.

At the time, Sullivan was editor of the Buffalo News, a post she'd held since August. Sadly, the newspaper never spoke up to challenge the deeply destructive, gong-show claims being made by the Post and the Times.

Al Gore had a problem with the truth! The press corps spent the next eleven months describing Gore as the person Donald J. Trump really was. Along with the rest of the guild, Sullivan and the Buffalo News came down on the side of the Post and the Times at the moment of truth. In the process, this invented Storyline hardened and turned to stone.

November of that deeply stupid year had been devoted almost wholly to the candidate's troubling wardrobe. (Brian William kept the lunacy going for several months after that.) Comically, the New York Times published its first correction concerning such matters in June 2012.

At any rate, that's what these idiots did in November 1999. In December, they invented the kill shot.

Sullivan was there on the scene. Today, she remembers Obama's tan suit and that puzzling email flap, forgets what went before. Just for the record, the war against Gore and the war against Hillary were all part of one long, unexplained "forever war" on the part of the upper-end press.

No one will ever ask Sullivan why the News didn't speak up. People are dead all over Iraq because of what the Post and the Times and her own newspaper did.

Why did Sullivan fail to speak? Today, she's a media columnist for the Post. That follows her stint at the Times, and no one will ever ask.

For a history of the Love Canal episode, please visit Chapter 6 at our award-winning companion site, the award-winning How He Got There. Long story short:

A group of principled high school kids embarrassed the Post and the Times. As required by laws of the guild, the students and their embarrassing tape were sent down the memory hole.

This is the way our world really works. In these ways, we're allowed to recall certain events. Everything else disappears.


From Nicolle's lips to Our Town's ears!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2021

Feckless, incompetent, faux: We just saw Nicolle say it, in her most stage-managed manner, to Yamiche Alcindor, one of her favorite reporters and friends:

"More than four thousand people have died [from Covid-19] every day this week."

We checked the numbers at the Washington Post. No one reports the  number of people who died on any given day, but here are the numbers of reported (recorded) deaths so far this week:

Reported deaths from Covid-19
Sunday, January 17: 2,068
Monday, January 18: 1,418
Tuesday, January 19: 2,166
Wednesday, January 20: 4,440
Thursday, January 21: 3,898

Those are the numbers in the Post. Our question:

Does it look like "more than four thousand people have died [from Covid-19] every day this week?" Go ahead! Take a good look!

According to the Post, the 7-day average stood at 3,071 deaths per day after yesterday's tabulation. The numbers at the New York Times will be very similar.

The people you see on Our Town's cable channels are feckless, incompetent, faux. We now make an important point, recalling this morning's report:

Nothing turns on this standard misstatement by cable star Nicolle Wallace. Nothing turned on the similar chain of howlers emitted by her friend Rachel Maddow last night.

Something does turn on Maddow's relentless claims that the children of Flint were exposed to a "mass poisoning" from which they'll never recover. Something does turn on the way Maddow has always failed to discuss any actual data about the lead exposure in Flint and about the degree of harm it has apparently caused.

These are feckless, incompetent people. You aren't allowed to know how many millions of dollars they're paid to keep this up night after night.

Transcripts are no longer available.  It's the same game over at Fox.


CHILDREN OF FLINT: Scaring the children (and parents) well!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2021

Harming the children of Flint: Our current death rate from Covid-19 is an ongoing disaster. 

That said, do we live in "a country with the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth?"

That's what Our Own Rhodes Scholar said early in last evening's program. As she spoke, Covid death rates in several countries looked exactly like this:

Current daily deaths, per million population 
Seven-day averages as of January 18 or 19:
United Kingdom: 18.2
Portugal: 16.2
Germany: 10.5
United States: 9.2

Other countries outstrip us on this measure. We're just offering those. 

Meanwhile, have we suffered the most total deaths to date, adjusted for population? Sorry, but we currently rank number 11 on that measure. Our total deaths per million population are exceeded by Belgium, Italy and the U.K., but also by seven others.

Our figures are bad, but they aren't the worst, once you adjust for population. For whatever reason, that is something Our Own Rhodes Scholar never remembers to do.

Our Own Rhodes Scholars is somewhat willful in matters of this type. In fairness, she may simply be reading copy her staffers have composed. That said, if it weren't for the endless misstatements, would there be any statements on this cable news program at all? 

Later last night, midway through her program, the one-time scholar even said this, speaking to Dr. Ashish Jha:

FORMER SCHOLAR (1/21/21): I have a degree in health policy, believe it or not. I have a background in statistics. I grew up as a kid in the AIDS movement. I was involved as an activist in that movement.

Since they'd been invited to "believe it or not," our analysts ruefully raised their hands for "not!" They adopted that stance because the person once sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar had just finished saying this, with a misleading graphic behind her:

FORMER SCHOLAR: Even now, we can't definitively say exactly how many people died of Covid yesterday. It depends on what source you're consulting. It's somewhere between 42 hundred and 44 hundred, which is the worst of the pandemic and is terrible, but we can't give you a definitive, authoritative number, like from the CDC, because federal government data collection has just been essentially abandoned in terms of trying to come up with any sort of authoritative source.

GRAPHIC BEHIND HER:

NEW COVID DEATHS ON JANUARY 2OTH
Johns Hopkins University 4,229
CDC 4,383
Covid Tracking Project 4,409

Simply put, you can't get dumber than that. In fairness, the former scholar—the one with the background in statistics—was probably reading text prepared by staff, emoting as she went.

As every competent person knows, the numbers which appeared in that graphic were not intended as measures of how many people died of Covid on January 20. We know that because, if you look at the New York Times' corresponding Covid data, you'll find such numbers as these:

New reported deaths per day
Monday, January 18: 1,441
Wednesday, January 20: 4,370

Please note the word "reported" in the heading on that graphic.

As every competent person knows, such numbers record the number of deaths which were "reported" (that is to say, were officially recorded) on some given day. The scholar's ridiculous graphic omitted that one key word. 

Those numbers represent the number of deaths which were formally recorded on some given day. They do not represent the number of deaths which actually occurred on such days. 

As every competent person knows, the daily number drops over every weekend, then rises in midweek as the bureaucratic backlog is addressed. Either that, or 1400 people died this past Monday, with the number of deaths tripling two days later!

Everyone understands these facts except Our Own Rhodes Scholar. For what it's worth, she tends to handle a wide array of statistics in such cavalier ways. (Back in May 2012, her two-day handling of the gender wage gap was a cable news nonpareil, an instant cable news classic.)

The scholar's clownish incompetence doesn't really make a difference when it comes to deaths from Covid-19. According to the New York Times, our nation was averaging 3,055 such deaths per day as of January 20. 

The numbers the scholar presented last night were "close enough for multimillionaire corporate journalistic work" (we're quoting the gods on Olympus). We can't link you to a transcript of the scholar's remarks. Her owners, joining hands with Fox News, are no longer willing to let you review the ridiculous things she says.

How many people died on Wednesday? We can't tell you that, but there's no particular reason to think it was 42 or 44 hundred. At present, our seven-day average of reported deaths is much lower than that.

Also, our country isn't suffering "the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth," unless you don't bother to adjust for population. The scholar's claim was exciting and pleasing, and let's face it—her cable news program, on the whole, is a bit of a corporate news scam.

Nothing will turn on the bungled claims the scholar made last night. We can't necessarily say the same for the claims with which she pleasured Our Town last Thursday night.

Last Thursday evening, she was discussing, or was pretending to discuss, the good decent children of Flint. She began with a reference to this:

FORMER SCHOLAR (1/14/21): Flint, Michigan's lead poisoning disaster—that man-made disaster when Rick Snyder's state government poisoned an entire city with lead.

As for Snyder, he was soon described as "the man who ran the government that flipped the switch that pushed the button to poison Flint." 

An entire city had been poisoned! Eventually, the scholar said this:

MADDOW: 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.

Every kid in the city of Flint has been poisoned—and it's something you don't grow out of! Thousands of kids will have to live, for the rest of their lives,  with the consequences of this poisoning.

The scholar rarely fails to drop the P-bomb when discussing the water crisis. As for Snyder's complicity in what happened, we can only tell you this:

He's now been charged with two misdemeanors, apparently for failing to supervise staff. We have no idea if he'll be convicted. 

Indeed, we don't even know at this point if he should be convicted. But if he is, as we noted on Wednesday, he stands to be punished by "imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000." 

The operative word is "or," not "and." During her twenty-minute performance, the scholar failed to use the word "misdemeanor" or to mention the lack of heft of that possible fine.

That said, our topic is the children of Flint, not the fate of the former governor. Concerning the children of Flint, we'll make two separate points:

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum was writing about exposure to lead before lead exposure was cool. In January 2013, his cover report on the gruesome history of exposure to lead appeared beneath these horrible headlines:

Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element
The hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.

Drum had published that fascinating report long before the water crisis started. Along the way, pull quotes said such things as this:

"Gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century."

Drum had explored the historical problem of lead exposure before the Flint crisis began. During the crisis, he put his expertise to use with a series of fascinating posts about the effects of such exposure, and about the possible harm done to the children of Flint.

Drum described the degree of harm which would likely result from the degree of exposure during the water crisis. As he did, he presented fascinating information about the massive amount of lead exposure which had been typical in Flint, and everywhere else in the country, until late in the last century.

In part, Drum's conclusion was this:

The levels of exposure which were typical in Flint during the crisis would have counted as a medical miracle until very recently. He judged that the children of Flint might suffer a loss of one or two IQ points because of what had occurred.

You can find Drum's work through the miracle of Google. For a one-stop review, we'll recommend the July 2018 overview which carries this headline:

Finally: Experts Explain the Truth About Lead and Flint

You'll find those experts warning about the dangers inherent in telling the children of Flint that they've been "poisoned." As for Drum himself, you'll find him offering a fascinating chart about historical exposure to lead, and also saying this:

DRUM (7/23/18): As a political catastrophe, Flint ranks very high indeed, but as an environmental catastrophe its effects are fairly limited. The lead level in the water increased by a modest amount for a modest time, and the result was modestly elevated blood lead levels for a short time. That’s a terrible thing that should never have happened, but the actual impact is still small. We’re talking about maybe a loss of one IQ point or a change in aggression of 1 percent.

Basically, with a tiny handful of exceptions, the kids of Flint are fine. In the end, the panic might end up doing the kids more harm than the lead. If teachers and parents give up because they think an entire generation of children is doomed, then we really will have a generation of children that’s doomed. If the kids themselves grow up “knowing” that their brains have been permanently poisoned, how many of them will just give up and decide that trying in school isn’t worth it?

Could telling kids that they've been poisoned cause them to give up on themselves? Everything is possible! Indeed, in early 2017, Sarah Stillman had described that very effect as part of a lengthy report in The New Yorker about the children of Flint.

Can children come to believe that their future is gone? This anecdote involves four people who were working with, and concerned about, the children of Flint:

STILLMAN (1/16/17): [Kent] Key shared a personal story about the son of a family friend who had begun acting out in school. The boy’s mother had come to Key for help. When Key asked the boy what was going on, he replied, “Well, they said I’m not going to be smart anyway.”

“These kids are internalizing the messages about how the lead is affecting them,” Key said….It wasn’t immediately clear what had come out of the gathering. But, as she and Tucker-Ray left for their next appointment, [Maya] Shankar began contemplating aloud the possibilities. She said to [Will] Tucker-Ray, “Did you see how my eyes widened when he said that thing about the kids giving up because they think they’re going to be dumb?”

….As their last day in Flint drew to a close, Shankar and Tucker-Ray hurried to a final meeting. They had arranged to talk with a disabled Gulf War veteran and community activist named Art Woodson, who didn’t think much of the federal government. At a local municipal building, where an enlarged photograph of corroded lead pipes adorned one wall, Woodson told Shankar about his worry that local kids would give up when lead’s symptoms surfaced, or even before. “What I see,” he said, “is hopelessness.”

We read that article one day after Trump took office. We then emailed this anecdote on.

Four years later, the ranting of Our Own Rhodes Scholar continues. She wants to lock the governor up. As part of this project, she's willing to write off the children of Flint—to terrify them and their parents.

Our view? As a general matter, the former scholar  is the victim of a corporate culture which confers massive wealth and fame on a few unlucky duckies. Starting with Judy Garland and Elvis, many stars have fallen victim to this recurrent disease.

At any rate, her work is horrendous, though she is not. We love to listen to her in Our Town. We get dumbed down in the process.

Three final points:

First, Drum's statistics about past lead exposure are absolutely fascinating. That said, statistics are widely known to be both boring and hard. As with test scores, health care spending and daily death rates, your journalists avoid such traps. They tell you the stories they like.

Second: As of 2019, the Census Bureau reported that Flint's population was 54.1% black, 36.9% white. "White" kids drank that water too. We say that because people like the one-time scholar may have you thinking that this racist outrage was perpetrated when the racists found among the others took aim at a city in which everyone was "black."

In the tribalized streets of our well-scripted town, that makes for extremely good copy.

Finally, we urge you to look at Drum's graphic about the massive exposure to lead which was the norm right thought the end of the past century. As you do, remember that exposure to lead results in the loss of IQ points.

Does that massive exposure to lead explain the intellectual failures of our modern upper-end press corps? The failures of us in Our Town?

Again and again, then again and again, we've found ourselves asking that question in recent years as we've reviewed the incompetent work of people like Our Own Rhodes Scholar and her apparently incompetent staff.

We live in a badly damaged time. Could leaded gasoline be the fiend which reduced us to this state?

Our scholar rarely gets anything right. That said, she's extremely good at selling the car, and we self-satisfied souls in Our Town are frequently eager to buy it.