Supplemental: Extremely bad reporting on Flint!


Where else? In today's New York Times:
What does extremely bad news reporting look like?

Consider the news report in today's New York Times about events in Flint.

Julie Bosman's report about Flint runs almost 1300 words. Under a piteous headline, the scribe begins like this:
BOSMAN (2/5/16): Desperate to Leave Flint, but Seeing No Way to Escape

Charles White, a carpenter, sat on the couch in the living room of his small bungalow,
his gaze fixed on his 5-month-old, Vaughn, nestled in a bouncy chair at his feet.

Mr. White, who has lived in Flint most of his life, said that he was at his job the day before when his girlfriend, Tia, called in a panic after coming from the pediatrician. Both of their children have lead poisoning.

''She spent all day crying, trying to figure out how we're going to get out of here,'' he said softly. ''I'm prepared to sell everything I own to get out and save my children.''

Yet Mr. White, like many people here, says he is as good as trapped in this poisoned city.
Charles White says he's trapped in a "poisoned city." A bit later on, he expresses his desperation:

''At this point, I'd be willing to move anywhere,'' he is quoted saying.

Warning! He'd better not move to a bunch of cities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey! Bosman never says so in her novelized news report, but a range of cities in those states have rates of childhood lead exposure which dwarf the current rate in Flint.


Charles White probably shouldn't move to Allentown, Pennsylvania! According to this Vox report by Sarah Frostenson, 23.1% of Allentown's kids have elevated blood lead levels (more than 5 micrograms per deciliter). That's almost seven times the current rate in Flint.

Altoona, Scranton and Johnstown aren't far behind Allentown. In Easton, Pa., 15.8% of the kids have an elevated blood lead reading. That compares to Flint's current rate, 3.6%.

When Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha released her now-famous study of children in Flint, it showed that the percentage of kids with elevated lead levels had risen from 2.1% to 4.0%. That reading led the nation's cable TV stars to declare Flint an AMERICAN DISASTER.

Presumably, many people like White have ingested that doomsday messaging. In this morning's report in the Times, they are told little else about their situation.

According to Frostenson, twenty cities in Pennsylvania exceed Flint's current rate of elevated lead levels. That includes Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, two large cities which are quite well-known.

In Philadelphia, 10.2% of the kids are listed with elevated blood lead levels. In Pittsburgh, the number is 8.3%.

Should someone possibly tell Charles White that he might not want to move to those cities? It won't be Bosman! She's still giving readers the impression that blood lead problems exist in Flint and in Flint alone.

Frostenson's report concerns cities in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, in this post, Kevin Drum discusses a report about cities in New Jersey with exposure rates higher than that in Flint.

According to Drum's report, eleven cities and two counties in New Jersey have higher rates of exposure than Flint. Have you ever heard of Atlantic City? In that city, 10.2% of the kids have elevated blood lead levels, almost three times the rate found in Flint.

Not a word about these matters appears in Bosman's report. As with Rachel Maddow's highly selective pseudo-reporting, Bosman features excitement, pathos, human interest and script while downplaying information.

Other types of information are AWOL from Bosman's report. Consider what she does, and fails to do, in this early passage:
BOSMAN: People in poor and crime-ridden pockets of cities like Detroit and Baltimore often share the sense of being trapped because of market forces and limited resources. But the people of Flint have a special urgency about leaving.

Because of the health crisis stemming from their tainted water, they spend their days dealing with the consequences.

They use bottled water for drinking, washing their hands and preparing food.
In between, they shuttle children to pediatricians for blood tests, lug bottled water home from firehouses and install and change water filters on their home faucets. (Even so, city and state officials have warned that lead levels were still so high in some homes that the filters might not be strong enough to be effective.)
Obviously, the people of Flint experienced a gross breakdown in a key public service over the past two years. But even as Bosman invites us to feel their pain, she fails to explain or examine the ways the situation has improved.

Has Charles White had a recent test of his home's water supply? Is he using a water filter on his faucet?

If so, is it possible that his water is currently safe for drinking? Note the slippery way Bosman avoids this basic discussion:

"Even so, city and state officials have warned that lead levels were still so high in some homes that the filters might not be strong enough to be effective." (Our italics)

According to Bosman, the filters might not be effective in some homes. That's a very intriguing statement. How many homes is "some?"

In that passage, Bosman plays a game Rachel Maddow has been playing in the past week. Instead of using the actual numbers—numbers which seem to suggest that the vast majority of homes in Flint are now receiving drinkable water—Bosman keeps matters highly murky by using the fuzzy word "some."

This keeps her readers from understanding the current state of play in Flint, which, according to Professor Marc Edwards and others, seems to involve widespread improvement in the quality of the water.

What's the current state of play in Flint? Bosman makes no real attempt to say. (For recent numbers, see below.)

Meanwhile, what's the actual state of play in the home of Charles White? Has he had his water tested? Does he have filters on his faucets? If so, is the water in his home currently drinkable?

Especially for a person like White, who seems to be in such despair, these must be the most obvious questions on the face of the earth. But Bosman doesn't let them intrude on her tale, which is designed to let us enjoy the pathos, anger and despair of the situation.

(Bosman also doesn't make any attempt to discuss what the health effects might be for White's kids. The term "lead poisoning" sounds very scary. She makes exactly zero attempt to flesh that scary term out.)

"Some" is not a number! That said, actual numbers do exist for reporters who want to report them. Meanwhile, many residents of Flint may not understand the basic facts about the current state of the city's water supply. It seems that people like Bosman and Maddow don't want the Charles Whites to know.

Presumably, the water may be OK by now inside Charles White's home. Beyond that, if he decides to move away, he could easily end up in a city with a much higher rate of lead exposure.

Maddow has been suppressing these basic facts. This morning, Bosman follows suit. Many residents of Flint may be relatively unsophisticated and extremely upset. Maddow and Bosman seem to be working to keep them barefoot and frightened—and to keep their viewers and readers grossly under-informed.

When we read this awful report, a famous old question popped into our heads. "Who is Julie Bosman?" we found ourselves thoughtfully asking.

We googled a bit, then came to despair. According to this official bio, she joined the Times in 2002 as a clerk in the Washington bureau, "where she worked for three years as an assistant to the columnist Maureen Dowd."

Three years working under Dowd! What hope was there for Bosman's work after such an experience?

Beware of "Creeping Dowdism!" Presciently, Katherine Boo issued that warning in 1992.

"Some" is the fuzziest number: Nine days ago, the Washington Post reported some recent data concerning the state of Flint's water.

"Some" is not a number! Below, you'll see what happens when a reporter offers real statistics:
BERNSTEIN (1/27/16): Keith Creagh, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the state was continuing to sample Flint water for lead and that "things are trending better." Of 2,577 samples analyzed, 93.7 percent had less than 15 parts per billion of lead and 85 percent had less than 5 parts per billion.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends that homeowners and municipalities move to reduce any lead level higher than 15 parts per billion, but some health researchers say there actually may be no safe level for lead in drinking water.
Are those numbers reliable? Professor Marc Edwards has seemed to say they are.

Do those numbers mean that the water in most Flint homes is now safe to drink? As with Maddow, so with the Times—no attempt is being made to examine this obvious question.

It's excitement and narrative all the way down! Information can go hang. So, of course, can people like White. They serve as toys of the gods.


  1. The reporting -- by huge media organs -- IS terrible.

    Trust our trolls to find the fellow saying so on his puny blog to be a Much Bigger Problem by far!

    1. You're are tedious, pointless and sooooooo played.

    2. This would be irony @4:31, if you weren't such a tool.

  2. "Are those numbers reliable? Professor Marc Edwards has seemed to say they are."

    Since Bob has already lied about an exchange involving the Professor and the Clown, I would not believe him even if he wrote "Professor Marc Edwards has said they are."

    Unfortunately Comedian Somerby, the weasel, cannot help but qualify what he alleges Edwards says with "seems."

  3. News in another story where Bob claimed Rachel was misrepresenting the truth to skewer a Republican governor.

    1. I remember when Maddow suppressed the basic facts that there was a theory there was a legitimate traffic study underway. At least according to Little Lord Somerby.

    2. @8:53 -- hate much?

  4. Tapper fesses up

    1. Followed your link...

      “The reason Clinton doesn’t have a good answer on her Goldman Sachs speaking fees is there isn’t a good answer aside from ‘I wanted money’ .

      Read more:

    2. More on the Mike Allen/Politico front:

      "Politico’s Mike Allen reportedly allowed a top Hillary Clinton aide at the State Department to write an item for his morning newsletter Playbook, according to emails obtained and published by Gawker Friday.

      It’s not the first time Allen has run into ethically murky territory with his inside-the-Beltway newsletter. Late last year, he came under fire for emails to Reines offering Chelsea Clinton a “no risk” interview as part of his Playbook-branded breakfast speaking series. He later apologized...."

      Bob will surely cover this.

    3. The answer on Clinton's Wall Street funding is that ALL politicians receive money from a variety of lobbyists and corporations, PACs and individual donors. That doesn't mean they are bought and paid for, nor does it mean they are going to give favors to any of those donors. It is the way our campaigns are financed, because campaigns cost a lot of money.

      Sanders is not going to have a national campaign so he doesn't have to spend his individual donor money the way Clinton does. He can make big media buys in Iowa whereas she needs more money to do that and also develop her 50-state general election infrastructure (something Bernie will not need to do).

      In 2008, Obama received more Wall Street money than Clinton did (and Wall Street is her constituency). No one seemed to think that compromised him, although I think that argument could be made.

      Portraying Clinton as somehow greedy because she needs all the money she can get in order to run a winning campaign is grossly unfair. There is no evidence whatsoever that she has done anything to benefit Wall Street because of their donations (or speaking fees, for that matter). If Bernie spoke before the Vermont maple syrup grower's association, it would be comparable. That is his constituency. It is not Clinton's fault if Vermont doesn't have the same economic interests as New York. Nor is it Bernie's virtue.

      However, this is an example of a dishonest criticism and I don't think Bernie's people do their candidate any good by raising it. Not everyone considers Wall Street to be based on fraud, as Bernie does, and many understand how finance is essential to the functioning of our economy and regard the excesses as exceptions to normal business, not business as usual. It is juvenile to eschew the mechanisms that keep businesses running, give people jobs and keep our country financially healthy. We cannot all sit in the woods and make pottery to sell at local farmer's markets.

    4. @ 11:23

      Please, for the sake of Mrs. Clinton, try not to explain anything on her behalf.

    5. This isn't exactly a rebuttal, @2:47.

    6. February 6, 2016 at 11:23 AM says:

      [QUOTE] The answer on Clinton's Wall Street funding is that ALL politicians receive money from a variety of lobbyists and corporations, PACs and individual donors.... It is the way our campaigns are financed, because campaigns cost a lot of money....

      Portraying Clinton as somehow greedy because she needs all the money she can get in order to run a winning campaign is grossly unfair....
      [END QUOTE]

      Clinton's $675,000 speaking fees from Goldman Sachs came to her when she was a private citizen during a year in which, according to her, she was the only person in America who didn't know she was going to run for president in 2015 and 2016. If Goldman Sachs was paying her not for her services as a speaker but rather as a pass through to her campaign in order to avoid campaign finance restrictions then Goldman Sachs was committing a crime.

      So, what was the reason Clinton took that money again?

    7. Clinton, like nearly every other out of office politician, supported herself and paid off her previous campaign debt by giving speeches to private industry and other organizations. As has been previously noted, the fees for many of these speeches were donated to charity (their family foundation). I do not believe there should be special rules for Hillary Clinton, whereby she is not permitted to earn money in the same ways as male politicians, she is not permitted to take Wall Street funds because Bush and Obama permitted Wall Street to slide on their offenses, and she is not permitted to use a PAC because Bernie (who is not running a national, general election campaign) claims to be able to run a money-free campaign (a joke). Clinton's individual campaign contributions rival those of Sanders. He cannot get Wall Street big bucks, so he paints Clinton as dirty because she can. That is dishonest.

      You cannot have a pass through to a campaign that is not yet begun. Jeb Bush certainly did what you are talking about, but Clinton might not have run had Biden declared earlier on, or she might have decided not to run. Further, some of these speeches were too far in advance of any campaign to be fairly claimed as that. The inevitability of her campaign (another point raised by her opponents) may be non-existent. We don't know what her thought processes were concerning running and it wouldn't surprise me if it took considerable thought given the way she was treated last time around.

    8. February 7, 2016 at 10:03 AM says:

      [QUOTE] You cannot have a pass through to a campaign that is not yet begun. Jeb Bush certainly did what you are talking about, but Clinton might not have run had Biden declared earlier on, or she might have decided not to run.... [END QUOTE]


    9. Jeb Bush was collecting money through his PAC before he declared as a candidate. Clinton took money for speeches. It isn't the same thing. But you know that.

    10. Jeb Bush collected money for his PAC, Clinton took money from Goldman Sachs for her own personal use. You're right, that's not the same thing.

    11. Exactly. Jeb Bush broke campaign finance rules. Clinton used her status as a former Sec of State and First Lady to earn a living in an entirely legal and routine manner, consistent with what every other out-of-office politican or statesman has done. AND she used her stature to engage in fund raising for her family foundation, a charity that has benefitted people around the world. Jeb Bush, not so much. Bernie wants to say that's a bad thing. That makes him a silly, self-serving candidate.

    12. For Clinton to have taken money from that source is a hint that she is hopelessly out of touch. And along those same lines, did you see who Clinton cited as a character witness for her in that last Democratic debate? Henry Kissinger. Smell the coffee Clintonites.

    13. No candidate can afford to refuse campaign donations. It is "hopelessly out of touch" to expect them to do so. Like it or not, Kissinger is a former Sec of State. So is Albright. She has a variety of people endorsing her, from all different spectrums. Not everyone with a vote in the Fall holds your opinions and she needs every vote. A person who is seriously running for president cannot afford the ideological purity of Sanders (and his supporters). I think the idea that you can hold Sanders' views (no matter how attractive) and still win an election is hopelessly out of touch with the reality of politics.

      If Sanders had not chosen to run this vanity campaign, Clinton would not be subjected to these sorts of attacks from the left and she would go into the general election stronger. I cannot see on what basis weakening the most viable Democratic candidate can be justified.

      Here is the best argument against Sanders that I have heard in the last few weeks. He is 75 years old and would be 76 at inauguration. That means something in terms of cognitive ability, energy level and physical endurance. Look at how every president ages in office, including the younger ones. Now tell me Bernie is up to the job. He just isn't. Clinton is nearly 10 years younger. That alone disqualifies Bernie.

      It would be nice if aging didn't matter but it does. If you know any healthy 75 year olds, you will know what I am talking about. In fact, they will tell you about their own aging process. It isn't realistic to expect Bernie to do anything but attract publicity to his favorite issues. Since he has done that already, he needs to get out of the race and stop tearing down the Democratic frontrunner. But, since he understands nothing whatsoever about party and solidarity, he won't do that. So stupid.

    14. Sanders is 74 and will turn 75 this year. Clinton is 68 and will turn 69 this year. Funny, the fact that Clinton is too old for the presidency wasn't raised by the Clinton people last summer when O'Malley declared.

      Again, the money Clinton received from Goldman Sachs was not for her campaign- or so we've been assured.

      Like it or not, Kissinger was what Democrats were supposed to be standing against when Bill Clinton did his draft avoidance two step and when Hillary first went to Washington. It's quite telling that for her cult followers it's enough for them to know that Hillary has left these mundane concerns behind her and is now an entrenched member of the Washington and New York sets of the elite. Rest assured, she still cares enough for the poor that she wants them off the dole and working in some poverty wage job somewhere for the sake of their own dignity.

    15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Today the NY Times says Clinton is copying Bernie. Those rotten Clintons. And more about her emails.

  6. Tapper:
    "I returned to cover the first Al Gore v Bill Bradley debate in 2000 (reporters hissed Gore in the press file) and a few times since, but this will be my first Hanover anchoring"

  7. Flint is a phony scandal and Hillary Clinton knows this or should know it but will wildly exploit it throughout her campaign.

    1. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders called for the FBI to investigate Snyder over the Flint poisoning, yes using the word "poisoning". Not much exploitation there, do you think?