CHILDREN OF FLINT: Novelizing the children of Flint!


Managers and misdemeanors: How badly have the children of Flint been harmed by their city's water crisis?

We'll try to assess that question tomorrow. For today, we'll start with a news report in last Thursday's New York Times.

The report was written by Julie Bosman. In print editions, it appeared on page A23. (The next day, the Times published a front-page report on the same topic.)

As of Thursday morning, the topic involved a set of indictments which were about to appear. Principal headline included, this first report started like this:

Ex-Governor of Michigan Charged With Neglect in Flint Water Crisis

Rick Snyder, the former governor of Michigan who oversaw the state when a water crisis devastated the city of Flint, has been charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, according to court records.

The charges are misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Prosecutors in Michigan will report their findings in a wide-ranging investigation into the water crisis on Thursday, officials said, a long-awaited announcement that is also expected to include charges against several other officials and top advisers to Mr. Snyder.

The findings will be announced by Dana Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, Fadwa Hammoud, the state’s solicitor general, and Kym L. Worthy, Wayne County’s top prosecutor.

So began Thursday's report. On Friday morning, now on the front page, Gray and Bosman's fuller report started like this:

GRAY AND BOSMAN (1/15/21): After a criminal investigation that stretched close to two years, prosecutors in Michigan on Thursday announced 41 counts—34 felonies and seven misdemeanors—against nine officials who once worked in the highest echelons of state government. Along with the former governor were his trusted advisers, top medical officials and two emergency managers who had been tasked with guiding Flint out of financial distress.

Nine officials had been charged with a total of 41 counts. Included were 34 felony charges. 

As they continued, Gray and Bosman described the nature of the charges against the former governor. For whatever it may be worth, we were struck, as we'd been the previous day, by the relative leniency of those charges, which haven't yet been tried and haven't yet gone to a jury:

GRAY AND BOSMAN: Others said they were relieved to see that Mr. Snyder, a former businessman who left office in 2019, was among those who were criminally charged.

In an indictment, prosecutors said that Mr. Snyder, who was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, had failed to check the “performance, condition and administration” of his staff and neglected his duty to protect the public from harm. Brian Lennon, a lawyer for Mr. Snyder, said that the former governor was not guilty of the charges and called the investigation “an outrageous political persecution.” Mr. Snyder is a Republican; the investigation was led by the Michigan attorney general’s office, held by a Democrat.

If Mr. Snyder is convicted, the charges are punishable by imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Snyder has been charged with two misdemeanors. It sounds like he's been charged with failing to keep track of the behavior of staff.

If convicted, Snyder could face a fine of as much as $1,000, without any jail time. For whatever it may be worth, we were struck by the relative leniency of these historic charges.

Did Governor Snyder do something wrong during the water crisis? Should he have been charged? Should he have been charged in the way he was?

At this point, we can't answer your questions, for the reasons suggested above. 

That said, the analysts quickly steeled themselves for what was sure to come. And sure enough! Rachel Maddow opened her Thursday night TV show with a 26-minute monologue, the first twenty minutes of which were devoted to these new criminal charges.

By Saturday, we had steeled ourselves. Through the miracle of On Demand, we sat and watched the tape of Thursday evening's program.

Readers, sure enough! The word "misdemeanor" was never spoken as Maddow engaged in the practice we've long described as "the novelization of news."

Maddow led with the hard-hitting language we quoted in yesterday's report. We'll return to that language tomorrow when we ponder the most important question here:

        How much harm has been done to the good, decent children of Flint?

For today, we'll offer these notes concerning the novelization of news, a staple of corporate press culture:

When we liberals watched the Maddow show last Thursday night, we never heard the word "misdemeanor." During the twenty-minute soliloquy, we were never told that, if convicted, Snyder was facing a maximum fine of $1,000, with no prison time required.

When Maddow discusses criminal charges lodged against certain types of miscreants, she loves to detail the length of the possible prison terms. She does so even when everyone knows that no such penalties will ever be delivered.

That silly practice is part of the novelization of news. So too with Maddow's failure to mention the somewhat surprising leniency of the charges facing Snyder—a man who could face a $1,000 fine, though only of course "if convicted."

Good lord! Even if Snyder is convicted, we may not see him in chains!

During her twenty-minute presentation, Maddow failed to mention several other points. These points involve her wonderfully idealistic love of democracy and the democratic process, a love affair she stressed all through her performance.

The water crisis in Flint occurred when the city was laboring under control of an "emergency manager." Maddow's histrionics are at their water-logged best when she discusses this practice. 

As usual, the histrionics were general last Thursday night. She railed against the emergency manager laws during which the water crisis occurred.

Maddow stressed all aspects of such laws which could be laid on Snyder's head. She failed to mention the fact that emergency manager laws exist in something like twenty other states, and that emergency managers had been installed in various Michigan cities under two previous governors, including one well-known and highly capable Democrat.

Do such facts matter in any way with respect to the new criminal charges? Actually no, they don't.

Presumably, we will learn, perhaps at trial, whether those 34 felony charges are justified. If officials engaged in serious criminal conduct, there is no point in talking about what may have happened in other settings or in previous instances.

That said, Maddow staged one of her trademark high-minded rants during her program's first twenty minutes. Since a great deal of her ranting was directed against Republican use of emergency manager laws, it seems to us she she could have found time to offer a bit of perspective or context.

This is especially true since Maddow's novelization fashioned the use of these laws in Michigan as part of an obvious racist sweep by Republican officials. We waited in vain to hear the name of Jennifer Granholm, the two-term governor who preceded Snyder's two-term reign.

At this site, we regard Granholm as one of the brightest Democratic officials of the past generation. (We base this on her performance as an occasional TV analyst.)

At present, Granholm is poised to serve as President Biden's secretary of energy. Earlier in her career, she served one term as Michigan's attorney general, then served as governor of the state from 2003 through 2011.

During her two terms as governor, Granholm appointed emergency managers in six different locales. We list them for you here:

Emergency managers appointed by Granholm:
Highland Park, Michigan: March 2005, April 2009
Three Oaks Village, Michigan: December 2008
Detroit Public Schools: March 2009
Ecorse, Michigan: October 2009
Pontiac, Michigan: April 2010
Benton Harbor, Michigan: April 2010

As readers may recall, the situation in Benton Harbor was a special trigger for Maddow. She launched reports on Benton Harbor so crazily misleading that a Michigan columnist who stressed her family's love for Rachel published a stinging column chastising Maddow for her conduct.

In response, Rachel chuckled and clowned her way through an on-air semi-acknowledgement semi-correction. If memory serves, she never got around to explaining why someone as smart and sensible as  Governor Granholm would have taken so blatantly racist an action as to appoint an emergency manager there in the first place.

Such questions remained unexplained here in the streets of Our Town. We're left with our favorite pulp fiction.

What actually happened in the case of the Flint water crisis? Ideally, the prosecution of those 34 felony charges will give the world a fuller understanding.

Along the way, the good decent people who live in Our Town may be subjected to more of Maddow's novelizations. Tomorrow, we'll start to discuss the most important reason why this foolishness matters.

As we noted yesterday, last Thursday's novelization involved the use of thrilling language about the way the children of Flint have been "poisoned" by Flint's water crisis "in a way unlikely ever to be undone." (We're employing the famous language of the Brown decision.)

Actually, Maddow said the effects of the "mass poisoning" will never be undone. As we've noted in the past, Maddow loves to drop the P-bomb when her novels take us to Flint.

What happens to the children of Flint is the key issue here. That said, the decent people who live in Our Town are also harmed by these endless novelizations.

According to major anthropologists, novelization of this type is very much bred in the bone. We humans are wired to produce such tribal narrations, or so we've routinely been told.

That said, who has been harming the children of Flint? Could a certain (unwitting) cable news star be one such (unwitting) agent?

Tomorrow: Disappearing Drum


  1. Today is Biden's inauguration but what does Somerby talk about? Flint. Somerby never had a good word to say about Biden during his election. Now, this is a day that liberals have been eagerly anticipating. Any liberal worth his salt would be talking about the future with hope. What does Somerby talk about? Flint.

  2. Dear Bob, since you're wasting your life watching all that shit anyway: did Maddow dembot offer any thoughts on Mario's son Andrew Cuomo sending infected people into NY nursing homes?

    Ha-ha, never mind, kidding, kidding...

    1. This is like complaining that infected people are being sent into hospitals. Where else do you take care of people who need skilled nursing but nursing homes. The rest of the covid failure is on Trump's shoulders.

    2. Maybe Cuomo can become president and lose the house, senate, and presidency 4 years later like Trump did.

  3. "How much harm has been done to the good, decent children of Flint?"

    Criminal charges do not have to be equivalent to the damage done. They are based on the nature of the crime committed. There were felony charges against some people because they were more directly involved. The Governor was more ancillary.

    But the damage to those children is only part of what happened. The betrayal of trust by public officials was also a crime and it undermines faith in government in ways that are difficult to repair.

    Somerby, being an excessively literal person (when it suits his purposes), ignores the harm to public trust and instead pretends that the charges against the governor must equal the harm done to children, and he (not being a scientist) nevertheless claims that the harm has been exaggerated and isn't anything to get excited about. And that makes him an ass because no amount of lead is good for kids and every effort should have been taken to protect them from lead in the water.

    And then Somerby has the nerve to say that liberals don't care about beautiful, deserving black kids! Did I mention that Somerby is an ass?

  4. Does Somerby really believe Snyder deserves greater punishment because Snyder did this to screw over Detroit?
    Because holding people to accountability for screwing over back people isn't Somerby's brand.

  5. "Actually, Maddow said the effects of the "mass poisoning" will never be undone."

    This is literally true. There is no way to remove lead once it has entered someone's system. It is permanent and it is cumulative across the lifespan. And yes, lead in the water is a "mass poisoning". Somerby pretends that ingesting a toxic substance is only poisoning if you become seriously ill or die. That is incorrect. Ingestion of a toxic substance is poisoning, regardless of the effects. The lead stays in the body and does more damage, the more it accumulates. No amount of lead is tolerable for children. That was the whole point of removing lead from gasoline and paint in childrens' environments.

    As an educator, Somerby should have learned about this during his teacher training courses in college. Oh, wait, he didn't take any. He taught for 10 (or 12) years without knowing the damaging effects of lead on poor children in Baltimore, during a time when lead abatement was not a priority. Perhaps this extreme denial of the damage done by lead is Somerby's way of trying to escape awareness of his own ignorance during his early teaching days? It could be possible he has a conscience at some level, if only unconsciously. Why else is he so fixated on this and so unwilling to admit that these people did something wrong and Maddow is right to tell the public about it?

  6. "She failed to mention the fact that emergency manager laws exist in something like twenty other states, and that emergency managers had been installed in various Michigan cities under two previous governors, including one well-known and highly capable Democrat."

    The existence of such laws in other states and under other governors (including Democrats) doesn't make them a good idea. Why should she mention that as an argument?

  7. "why someone as smart and sensible as Governor Granholm would have taken so blatantly racist an action as to appoint an emergency manager there in the first place."

    It isn't the fact that someone is an emergency manager but the specific actions taken while an emergency manager that are at the heart of this. Granholm's emergency managers presumably didn't do the illegal things the Flint manager did. However, the idea of appointing an emergency manager may still be a bad one because such a manager is going to be inherently less tied to the community than a locally appointed person, less likely to have ulterior motives for taking actions and less likely to harm citizens because he or she is closer to that community and accountable to them, not the governor.

    In his haste to accuse Maddow, Somerby doesn't think about why corruption occurs more frequently with Republicans instead of Democrats -- because their values center on self-interest and money (or partisan goals) and not on serving the public good. That's why this kind of act is more likely under an emergency manager appointed by a Republican governor than a Democratic one such as Granholm (who deserves every bit of the praise she has received, in my opinion).

    Somerby tries to tar Granholm with the same brush as those accused of introducing lead into the water supply. What liberal tries to damage future Democratic Party presidential candidates by implying (by association) that they are guilty of such crimes? Hint: No liberal does that. And yet Somerby pretends he is a liberal media critic and not carrying water for conservatives here day-in and day-out.

    And today is a two-fer for Somerby. Granholm is female, and so is Maddow, so he gets to slime several women at once. What a happy man he must be today!

  8. Four thousand people died of Covid today. Four thousand died yesterday and four thousand died the day before that. The total number of days we have had four thousand deaths or more in the entire pandemic is six. We are nearing four thousand deaths a day.

    Ya ask Jake Tapper, he'll tell ya the same thing.

  9. "Gore told NBC News during its inauguration coverage that he supported the conviction of Trump in the Senate after the House impeached him on allegations that he incited the mob of his supporters that breached the Capitol earlier this month.

    The Senate trial is slated to start after President Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.

    “If I were still in the Senate, I would vote to convict because I think accountability for this grave crime against the American republic must be followed by accountability for those who instigated, organized, provoked and started it,” Gore said."

    Posted here because this may be of special interest to Somerby, who has yet to disown the insurrection and Trump.

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