MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2016
Or you can watch Rachel Maddow: Over the weekend, we had a pair of conflicting experiences.
On the one hand, we read this informative, if slightly tricky, post by Kevin Drum. Drum presents information about historical blood lead levels across the country and also in Flint.
He also quotes a person he considers to be an expert about the likely severity of health effects from what has happened in Flint.
That was one experience. On the other hand, we read back through Rachel Maddow's presentations concerning Flint, starting with her initial reports on December 15 and 18 of last year.
First conclusion: we're not sure we've ever seen anyone in cable news who's less trustworthy than Maddow. You really, really can't believe the things you hear on her show.
We try to avoid the words "honest" and "dishonest" here. In doing so, we do a large favor to Maddow and her staff. It seems to us that her reports on Flint have been routinely deceptive. But then, that's the way she played it back in 2011, when she made her first attempt at discussing Michigan's "emergency manager" system.
We expect to flesh this matter out as the week proceeds. To revisit Maddow's first bite at this particular apple, you might reread this April 2011 column by Julie Mack, a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette.
In her column, Mack identified herself as major "Rachel" fan. She also said that Maddow was grossly misrepresenting the situation in Benton Harbor, a community which was being run by an emergency manager at that time.
Concerning Maddow's "narrative," here's what Mack said in that column:
"It's a great story. If only it were that simple. Or true."
In our view, that column by Mack describes a syndrome which has been put back in play as Maddow super-simplifies and rearranges the known events in Flint.
In our view, Maddow's reports about Flint have been remarkably unreliable. It's amazing to see how far she and her staff seem willing to go to put both ass-cheeks on the scale as they shape their story-line. We expect to flesh out this claim as the week proceeds.
For today, let's consider Drum's information. Tomorrow, let's start compiling a list of basic unanswered questions concerning what's happened in Flint.
Drum presents two graphics in his post. The first portrays "elevated blood lead levels nationwide" among the nation's black and white children during certain time periods from 1976-1980 through the present.
Warning! Drum doesn't explain the graphic real well, and it requires some explanation. Please be sure to note:
In that earliest time period, Drum's graphic seems to show that roughly 50 percent of the nation's black kids had elevated blood lead levels (compared to roughly 17 percent of the nation's white kids). In the most recent time period (2007-2010), the numbers are well below 10 percent for both groups of kids.
Warning, though! In that earliest time period, Drum is using a very high standard for "elevated" lead in the blood—20 micrograms per deciliter. That's four times as high as the standard used today when you hear about kids in Flint being "poisoned," the standard Drum is using for that most recent time period.
From Drum's graphic, there's no way of knowing how many kids in that earlier period would have had an elevated lead level based on the current 5 microgram standard. That said, we're willing to take a wild guess—just about everyone would have been over the 5 microgram level back in that earlier time.
An urgent request to Drum: More information! More!
Drum's second graphic shows the tremendous decline in lead exposure which has occurred in the just the last fifteen years or so. According to Drum's graphic, 50 percent of children in Flint exceeded the 5 microgram level as recently as 1998.
By way of contrast:
When Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha reported the rise in lead exposure in Flint's kids, she initially reported a rise from 2.1 percent with elevated blood lead levels to 4.0 percent. Seventeen years before, the figure would have been 50 percent! As Drum notes at one point:
"As recently as 2008, the levels seen during the Flint water crisis would have been cause for celebration."
That doesn't mean that the mess of the past two years was anything other than "an unbelievable fiasco," to use Drum's term. It does provide some context for the wildly emotional, embellished stories Maddow has been telling you and will continue to tell.
In short, Drum's post provides information, an entity in short supply on the Maddow program, a program which is all about the promulgation of demons, heroes and victims.
Final point: Drum quotes a report in the New York Times in which Professor Dietrich says, according to a Times paraphrase, that "he did not think serious long-term health problems would be widespread" among the children in Flint.
That's a paraphrase, not a quote. Beyond that, any long-term health effects would be highly undesirable. Still and all, Drum says this:
"I've spoken with Dietrich, and he's not a guy who takes the effects of lead lightly. If he says the long-term effects in Flint are likely to be modest, I'd pay attention to him."
Any long-term health effects would be undesirable. Here too, though, you may be getting a useful perspective in the face of the irresponsible conduct Maddow keeps exhibiting, in which she heightens her own hero quotient by scaring Flint children to death.
Simply put, Rachel Maddow shouldn't be on the air. Her work is inexcusably bad. We've come to believe that she's too unbalanced to hold a major journalistic position, especially at a slacker corporate entity which seems to provide zero supervision.
That column by Julie Mack could have been written today, it sounds so much like a critique of Maddow's current work. Tomorrow, we'll draw a list of basic questions which remain unanswered about the story in Flint. But before the week is done, we hope to take a detailed look at the reports Maddow has done.
Julie Mack, a "Rachel" fan, described a syndrome five years ago. Five years later, the syndrome in question is very much with us again.