WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2021
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