Clarity watch: A pair of basic questions from Flint!


The New York Times runs them together:
Many, many questions remain about what happened at Flint.

Beyond that, a wide range of questions have gone unexplored about lead exposure in other locations.

The truth is, no one at our big news orgs actually cares about any of this. They've gone through the motions concerning Flint and concerning lead exposure.

As with almost everything else, the basic reporting is very poor. Consider an apparent conflation performed today by the New York Times' Julie Bosman.

In a front-page news report, Bosman described the final report by Michigan's task force on Flint. In the highlighted passage, she seems to run two separate questions together:
BOSMAN (3/24/16): The 116-page report faulted local Flint officials and an overly deferential federal Environmental Protection Agency, and concluded that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency responsible for monitoring the water supply, had “primary responsibility for the water contamination in Flint.” That agency, it said, “caused this crisis to happen.”


The report said that ineptitude and inadequate systems in the state’s health department had “prolonged the Flint water crisis.” And it concluded that the emergency managers whose decisions led to the contamination also bore responsibility for the tainted water supply.

“Emergency managers, not locally elected officials, made the decision to switch to the Flint River
as Flint’s primary water supply source,” the report said.

The decision to switch the water source—and the failure to add crucial chemicals to the city water supply to block pipe corrosion, the source of the water’s lead contamination—was made in an attempt to save money, the report says. And it warned that emergency managers, who are usually appointed to deal with governments that are in dire financial crisis, as was the case in Flint, were not equipped to handle health and environmental issues, which demand a special expertise.
In the highlighted passage, Bosman seems to run two separate questions together. She seems to criticize "the decision to switch [on a temporary basis] to the Flint River as Flint’s primary water supply source," along with "the failure to add crucial chemicals to the city water supply to block pipe corrosion."

As far as we know, those are entirely separate questions. Let's start with a basic question we've never seen anyone answer:

Was anything intrinsically wrong with the decision to use the Flint River as Flint's primary water source on a temporary basis?

As far as we know, the answer to that question is no. As far as we know, if the water had been treated correctly, major problems would not have arisen.

That said, we've never seen anyone address that question directly. Our big news orgs simply don't care about such basic matters. Concerning Flint, our big orgs have gone through the motions.

As far as we know, the decision to use the Flint River wasn't wrong on its face. On the other hand, consider that second question:

Was something intrinsically wrong with the failure to apply corrosion controls?

As far as we know, the answer to that question is flatly and plainly yes. As far as we know, it was the failure to treat the water which caused this mess, not the initial decision to use the river.

Are we right in that understanding? We aren't completely sure. At the New York Times, they assign people like Bosman to handle the case. She seems to run these questions together.

From this morning's headline on down, the New York Times mainly seems interested in discussing "environmental justice." At the Times, the basic facts can go hang.

At an org like the Maddow Show, questions like these are ignored altogether. From the start, Maddow has used these events as a way to fashion a childish demonological tale about one of her favorite villains. She has made zero attempt to clarify any basic questions at all, whether about what happened in Flint or about wider lead issues.

Rachel Maddow shows no sign of caring about any of that.

As our culture awaits the sea, our journalists simply aren't very sharp, and they don't especially care. Whenever we read that everyone was exposed to lead back in the day, we think about the miserable work performed by these strangely flawed people.


  1. "Was anything intrinsically wrong with the decision to use the Flint River as Flint's primary water source on a temporary basis?"

    Yes. It was done to hurt the government arm which runs the Detroit Water Department. It was done so that department would fail, and Detroit's water supply could be privatized (and run by one of Snyder's cronies for large profits).
    Try to keep up Bob.

    1. If the water had been treated properly would this have been the outcome?

    2. Yes, the end-game is to privatize government services.
      Treating (or not treating) the Flint River water was a separate issue.

    3. "It was done so that department would fail, and Detroit's water supply could be privatized (and run by one of Snyder's cronies for large profits)."

      Do you have any evidence to support that accusation?

    4. Dave the Guitar PlayerMarch 25, 2016 at 12:11 PM

      How about this:

    5. Dave, your article does not support the accusation. It contains pure speculation.

      Some have suggested that Snyder was motivated by a desire to break up DWSD and ultimately privatize it. In the summer of 2015, DWSD was split into two entities: the DWSD and the Great Lakes Water Authority.

      Others have suggested that Snyder wanted to start fracking operations along a new pipeline.

      Snyder’s office didn’t return calls for comment.

      That is not evidence, that is some muckraker printing bullshit without anything to back it up.

    6. mm,
      I'd like to see this call for solid, concrete evidence during all of the Defense Department Appropriations requests.

  2. I happen to have served a four year term on a public water board. So I have some other questions. It seems to me that in order to switch from Detroit Water to Flint Water would be very expensive. You need some type of intake system and also a processing plant in order to do that. Those would be expensive to create and also expensive I would think to restart if they had been shut down. You would have to hire people and have them trained and such.

    So I find that confusing.I mean our city has two water plants and also one river intake which was built during the Great Depression by WPA. We also sell water wholesale to a neighboring smaller city and to seven rural districts.

    That city could NOT just decide to switch from our water to water from the Missouri River. Not without first incurring tens of millions in costs. I suppose they could have had an old intake system and just somehow be buying untreated water from Detroit and doing their own treatment.

    There should be another level in there though. I mean, our department was run by the board and also by the manager that we hire. But if some board member proposed "let's cut corrosion control to save money" there should be people at the meeting - water plant managers and such who would be advising the emergency manager as to the risks involved in those changes.

  3. "let's cut corrosion control to save money"

    That's just nonsense. The additional cost to add corrosion control is trivial, probably on the order of $100/day. I cannot believe the decision was based on economics.

    1. Yeah, $365,000.00 is peanuts.

    2. you mean, $36,500 per year

    3. But that's the kind of penny-pinching the "emergency managers" were doing.

    4. "penny-pinching"

      I haven't seen any actual evidence that this was a factor or that the EM had any input into the decision. Have you?

    5. Dave the Guitar PlayerMarch 25, 2016 at 12:15 PM

      The EM was the *only* person who had input. He was in charge. He has completely replaced the authority of the elected officials. Only he could have prevented the switch to the Flint River and only he could direct the technicians to add (or not add) corrosion control.

    6. Bullshit. Again, prove it. That is not what the Taskforce Report said.

      Do not conflate the decision to switch to the Flint River which was the EM's with the failure to treat the water with corrosion protection.

      I realize yours is the preferred narrative and believe me I have no sympathy for Snyder but I prefer to have the facts speak for themselves.

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