CHILDREN OF FLINT: Scaring the children (and parents) well!


Harming the children of Flint: Our current death rate from Covid-19 is an ongoing disaster. 

That said, do we live in "a country with the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth?"

That's what Our Own Rhodes Scholar said early in last evening's program. As she spoke, Covid death rates in several countries looked exactly like this:

Current daily deaths, per million population 
Seven-day averages as of January 18 or 19:
United Kingdom: 18.2
Portugal: 16.2
Germany: 10.5
United States: 9.2

Other countries outstrip us on this measure. We're just offering those. 

Meanwhile, have we suffered the most total deaths to date, adjusted for population? Sorry, but we currently rank number 11 on that measure. Our total deaths per million population are exceeded by Belgium, Italy and the U.K., but also by seven others.

Our figures are bad, but they aren't the worst, once you adjust for population. For whatever reason, that is something Our Own Rhodes Scholar never remembers to do.

Our Own Rhodes Scholars is somewhat willful in matters of this type. In fairness, she may simply be reading copy her staffers have composed. That said, if it weren't for the endless misstatements, would there be any statements on this cable news program at all? 

Later last night, midway through her program, the one-time scholar even said this, speaking to Dr. Ashish Jha:

FORMER SCHOLAR (1/21/21): I have a degree in health policy, believe it or not. I have a background in statistics. I grew up as a kid in the AIDS movement. I was involved as an activist in that movement.

Since they'd been invited to "believe it or not," our analysts ruefully raised their hands for "not!" They adopted that stance because the person once sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar had just finished saying this, with a misleading graphic behind her:

FORMER SCHOLAR: Even now, we can't definitively say exactly how many people died of Covid yesterday. It depends on what source you're consulting. It's somewhere between 42 hundred and 44 hundred, which is the worst of the pandemic and is terrible, but we can't give you a definitive, authoritative number, like from the CDC, because federal government data collection has just been essentially abandoned in terms of trying to come up with any sort of authoritative source.


Johns Hopkins University 4,229
CDC 4,383
Covid Tracking Project 4,409

Simply put, you can't get dumber than that. In fairness, the former scholar—the one with the background in statistics—was probably reading text prepared by staff, emoting as she went.

As every competent person knows, the numbers which appeared in that graphic were not intended as measures of how many people died of Covid on January 20. We know that because, if you look at the New York Times' corresponding Covid data, you'll find such numbers as these:

New reported deaths per day
Monday, January 18: 1,441
Wednesday, January 20: 4,370

Please note the word "reported" in the heading on that graphic.

As every competent person knows, such numbers record the number of deaths which were "reported" (that is to say, were officially recorded) on some given day. The scholar's ridiculous graphic omitted that one key word. 

Those numbers represent the number of deaths which were formally recorded on some given day. They do not represent the number of deaths which actually occurred on such days. 

As every competent person knows, the daily number drops over every weekend, then rises in midweek as the bureaucratic backlog is addressed. Either that, or 1400 people died this past Monday, with the number of deaths tripling two days later!

Everyone understands these facts except Our Own Rhodes Scholar. For what it's worth, she tends to handle a wide array of statistics in such cavalier ways. (Back in May 2012, her two-day handling of the gender wage gap was a cable news nonpareil, an instant cable news classic.)

The scholar's clownish incompetence doesn't really make a difference when it comes to deaths from Covid-19. According to the New York Times, our nation was averaging 3,055 such deaths per day as of January 20. 

The numbers the scholar presented last night were "close enough for multimillionaire corporate journalistic work" (we're quoting the gods on Olympus). We can't link you to a transcript of the scholar's remarks. Her owners, joining hands with Fox News, are no longer willing to let you review the ridiculous things she says.

How many people died on Wednesday? We can't tell you that, but there's no particular reason to think it was 42 or 44 hundred. At present, our seven-day average of reported deaths is much lower than that.

Also, our country isn't suffering "the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth," unless you don't bother to adjust for population. The scholar's claim was exciting and pleasing, and let's face it—her cable news program, on the whole, is a bit of a corporate news scam.

Nothing will turn on the bungled claims the scholar made last night. We can't necessarily say the same for the claims with which she pleasured Our Town last Thursday night.

Last Thursday evening, she was discussing, or was pretending to discuss, the good decent children of Flint. She began with a reference to this:

FORMER SCHOLAR (1/14/21): Flint, Michigan's lead poisoning disaster—that man-made disaster when Rick Snyder's state government poisoned an entire city with lead.

As for Snyder, he was soon described as "the man who ran the government that flipped the switch that pushed the button to poison Flint." 

An entire city had been poisoned! Eventually, the scholar said this:

MADDOW: That disastrous water switch, and the refusal to listen to the people of Flint about its consequences, led to the mass poisoning of every kid in the city of Flint—the mass poisoning of the people of that city. Thousands of kids who will live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of having been poisoned by lead early in their life—having lead exposure in their drinking water when they're kids.

It's something you don't grow out of. It's something for which there is no magic antidote.

Every kid in the city of Flint has been poisoned—and it's something you don't grow out of! Thousands of kids will have to live, for the rest of their lives,  with the consequences of this poisoning.

The scholar rarely fails to drop the P-bomb when discussing the water crisis. As for Snyder's complicity in what happened, we can only tell you this:

He's now been charged with two misdemeanors, apparently for failing to supervise staff. We have no idea if he'll be convicted. 

Indeed, we don't even know at this point if he should be convicted. But if he is, as we noted on Wednesday, he stands to be punished by "imprisonment of up to one year or a maximum fine of $1,000." 

The operative word is "or," not "and." During her twenty-minute performance, the scholar failed to use the word "misdemeanor" or to mention the lack of heft of that possible fine.

That said, our topic is the children of Flint, not the fate of the former governor. Concerning the children of Flint, we'll make two separate points:

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum was writing about exposure to lead before lead exposure was cool. In January 2013, his cover report on the gruesome history of exposure to lead appeared beneath these horrible headlines:

Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element
The hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.

Drum had published that fascinating report long before the water crisis started. Along the way, pull quotes said such things as this:

"Gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century."

Drum had explored the historical problem of lead exposure before the Flint crisis began. During the crisis, he put his expertise to use with a series of fascinating posts about the effects of such exposure, and about the possible harm done to the children of Flint.

Drum described the degree of harm which would likely result from the degree of exposure during the water crisis. As he did, he presented fascinating information about the massive amount of lead exposure which had been typical in Flint, and everywhere else in the country, until late in the last century.

In part, Drum's conclusion was this:

The levels of exposure which were typical in Flint during the crisis would have counted as a medical miracle until very recently. He judged that the children of Flint might suffer a loss of one or two IQ points because of what had occurred.

You can find Drum's work through the miracle of Google. For a one-stop review, we'll recommend the July 2018 overview which carries this headline:

Finally: Experts Explain the Truth About Lead and Flint

You'll find those experts warning about the dangers inherent in telling the children of Flint that they've been "poisoned." As for Drum himself, you'll find him offering a fascinating chart about historical exposure to lead, and also saying this:

DRUM (7/23/18): As a political catastrophe, Flint ranks very high indeed, but as an environmental catastrophe its effects are fairly limited. The lead level in the water increased by a modest amount for a modest time, and the result was modestly elevated blood lead levels for a short time. That’s a terrible thing that should never have happened, but the actual impact is still small. We’re talking about maybe a loss of one IQ point or a change in aggression of 1 percent.

Basically, with a tiny handful of exceptions, the kids of Flint are fine. In the end, the panic might end up doing the kids more harm than the lead. If teachers and parents give up because they think an entire generation of children is doomed, then we really will have a generation of children that’s doomed. If the kids themselves grow up “knowing” that their brains have been permanently poisoned, how many of them will just give up and decide that trying in school isn’t worth it?

Could telling kids that they've been poisoned cause them to give up on themselves? Everything is possible! Indeed, in early 2017, Sarah Stillman had described that very effect as part of a lengthy report in The New Yorker about the children of Flint.

Can children come to believe that their future is gone? This anecdote involves four people who were working with, and concerned about, the children of Flint:

STILLMAN (1/16/17): [Kent] Key shared a personal story about the son of a family friend who had begun acting out in school. The boy’s mother had come to Key for help. When Key asked the boy what was going on, he replied, “Well, they said I’m not going to be smart anyway.”

“These kids are internalizing the messages about how the lead is affecting them,” Key said….It wasn’t immediately clear what had come out of the gathering. But, as she and Tucker-Ray left for their next appointment, [Maya] Shankar began contemplating aloud the possibilities. She said to [Will] Tucker-Ray, “Did you see how my eyes widened when he said that thing about the kids giving up because they think they’re going to be dumb?”

….As their last day in Flint drew to a close, Shankar and Tucker-Ray hurried to a final meeting. They had arranged to talk with a disabled Gulf War veteran and community activist named Art Woodson, who didn’t think much of the federal government. At a local municipal building, where an enlarged photograph of corroded lead pipes adorned one wall, Woodson told Shankar about his worry that local kids would give up when lead’s symptoms surfaced, or even before. “What I see,” he said, “is hopelessness.”

We read that article one day after Trump took office. We then emailed this anecdote on.

Four years later, the ranting of Our Own Rhodes Scholar continues. She wants to lock the governor up. As part of this project, she's willing to write off the children of Flint—to terrify them and their parents.

Our view? As a general matter, the former scholar  is the victim of a corporate culture which confers massive wealth and fame on a few unlucky duckies. Starting with Judy Garland and Elvis, many stars have fallen victim to this recurrent disease.

At any rate, her work is horrendous, though she is not. We love to listen to her in Our Town. We get dumbed down in the process.

Three final points:

First, Drum's statistics about past lead exposure are absolutely fascinating. That said, statistics are widely known to be both boring and hard. As with test scores, health care spending and daily death rates, your journalists avoid such traps. They tell you the stories they like.

Second: As of 2019, the Census Bureau reported that Flint's population was 54.1% black, 36.9% white. "White" kids drank that water too. We say that because people like the one-time scholar may have you thinking that this racist outrage was perpetrated when the racists found among the others took aim at a city in which everyone was "black."

In the tribalized streets of our well-scripted town, that makes for extremely good copy.

Finally, we urge you to look at Drum's graphic about the massive exposure to lead which was the norm right thought the end of the past century. As you do, remember that exposure to lead results in the loss of IQ points.

Does that massive exposure to lead explain the intellectual failures of our modern upper-end press corps? The failures of us in Our Town?

Again and again, then again and again, we've found ourselves asking that question in recent years as we've reviewed the incompetent work of people like Our Own Rhodes Scholar and her apparently incompetent staff.

We live in a badly damaged time. Could leaded gasoline be the fiend which reduced us to this state?

Our scholar rarely gets anything right. That said, she's extremely good at selling the car, and we self-satisfied souls in Our Town are frequently eager to buy it.


  1. "Our figures are bad, but they aren't the worst, once you adjust for population. For whatever reason, that is something Our Own Rhodes Scholar never remembers to do."

    If you catch covid-19, does it help you any to adjust by population?

    If our past president did a terrible job of addressing the covid pandemic, does it help you any to adjust by population?

    Should we demand that our leadership help prevent deaths and provide vaccination, or should we adjust by population?

  2. "That said, do we live in "a country with the worst coronavirus epidemic on Earth?"

    That's what Our Own Rhodes Scholar said early in last evening's program."

    Did she, really?

    Whoa. Hasn't COVID The Terrible turned into COVID The Merciful immediately after Bad Orange Man's ousting?

    What's happening? You and your zombie cult are confusing us, dear Bob. Or, perhaps, we should just wait a few days or weeks?

  3. "but we can't give you a definitive, authoritative number, like from the CDC"

    Does focusing on whether deaths are "reported deaths" or actual deaths, make Maddow's statement untrue?

    She is "technically accurate" when she says that we don't know how many people died, from an authoritative source.

    Somerby wants Maddow to confuse her audience with modifying terms such as "reported" when Maddow's point, that we have no authority keeping track of such things due to Trump's interference with reporting, remains true. Somerby, of course, ignores her main point in favor of his own nitpick.

    Then he pretends that Maddow doesn't understand statistics because she dumbed down her presentation to her viewers by failing to sidetrack into a discussion of the difference between reported deaths and actual deaths. That difference is the gap between any form of measurement and the thing being measured, and it always exists, no matter or how you measure something. (Measurement is the process of assigning numbers to things in the world.)

    Maddow no doubt understands statistics at least as well as Somerby does. Somerby's own expertise is exaggerated and he fails utterly to understand the process of communicating with an audience, focusing upon the meaning of statistics and knowing how to represent knowledge. His lack of self-awareness of his own limitations would be embarrassing if he were actually trying to communicate instead of just propagandizing on behalf of the right.

  4. "Her owners, joining hands with Fox News, are no longer willing to let you review the ridiculous things she says."

    You can watch the full episodes on the MSNBC/Maddow webpage. You can even "review" them there.

  5. Somerby pretends that Maddow invented the term lead "poisoning" but it is the term everyone uses to discuss that problem. Wikipedia says:

    "Lead poisoning is a type of metal poisoning caused by lead in the body. The brain is the most sensitive. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, irritability, memory problems, infertility, and tingling in the hands and feet."

    Young children are especially at risk and lead causes developmental delays and intellectual disability, in addition to the symptoms above. The only treatment is to avoid further exposure to lead. Effects are cumulative.

    There is no safe amount of lead for children to ingest. No safe amount. None.

    Maddow is not being histrionic about this. Somerby, as an educator, should be familiar with these facts, as are pediatricians and public health workers. This is a real, serious, and important problem that affects black children differentially to the extent that they are more likely to live in homes with lead-based paint (older homes) and more likely to live in environments with lead (such as closer to freeways with high traffic) because such communities have lower rents. Allowing lead in the water supply is a serious problem, anywhere, no matter which children are affected and no matter how many are affected, and no matter what the extent of harm (minor or not). NO AMOUNT OF LEAD EXPOSURE IS SAFE FOR CHILDREN.

    The Mayo Clinic says that even small amounts of lead are dangerous to young children.

    This is a major story and is being emphasized by Maddow because it was done deliberately, for political and personal gain. And yes, the word poisoning is appropriate because that is how the ingestion of lead is described.

  6. "As part of this project, she's willing to write off the children of Flint—to terrify them and their parents."

    This idea about minimizing a problem to avoid upsetting people comes up in a variety of contexts. Don't talk about depression because it might put the idea of suicide into people's minds. Don't talk about AIDS because the people who have it shouldn't be reminded that they might die. Don't talk about gun violence or do drills in schools because it will frighten the children. Don't emphasize safety features of cars because it will remind people about traffic fatalities and they will be scared to drive around.

    In some cases, discussing this stuff doesn't terrify people as much as others predict. In other cases, it is necessary to terrify people in order to achieve some important goal, such as reducing DUI deaths or stopping people from smoking. In this case, there is a great good in making an example of those who sacrifice the health of children (and adults) by poisoning the water supply for their own gain, so that such a thing doesn't happen again. There is a betrayal of public trust involved, not just potential damage to the people drinking the water. Making an example of such people outweighs the chance that a susceptible adult or child might be justifiably worried about their health.

    Those who contaminate water supplies always try to minimize the environmental damage done. Somerby perhaps needs to rewatch the film Erin Brockavich and note the behavior of those opposing her class action suit.

    The question is why Somerby is joining those bad guys and ignoring the needs of children simply in order to attack Maddow, who is doing God's work with keeping this story in public awareness. It is almost as if Somerby doesn't care about those beautiful, deserving children!

    1. There is a recent one of Michael Moore's documentaries, I forget the name of it, where there is a segment where Obama is speaking to a crowd in a hall in Flint, discussing the water situation there.
      This is while he is still President. Obama makes a show of drinking from a glass of Flint water. His point, that it was at that time safe to drink and that the issue that had arisen before had been resolved. The crowd was very unhappy with him, as was Moore. It just may be the case that it is very important for liberals to blow the Flint episode out of proportion, like seems often to be the case.

    2. Fixing the problem with the water doesn't make the previous damage done by the lead in it go away. That is why they may have been upset with Obama's gesture. Don't know -- haven't seen the film.

      The main people who think this was blown up out of proportion are conservatives and the ones who got caught doing this to Flint. Liberals tend to care about the well-being of kids.

  7. “Could telling kids that they've been poisoned cause them to give up on themselves? Everything is possible!”

    Could telling kids that their test scores show a massive achievement gap and that they lag other students by years of achievement cause them to give up on themselves? Everything is possible! But that didn’t stop Somerby from endlessly discussing it.

    1. MH, whether or not that (the achievement gap) would be a good thing to tell kids, TDH never did it. It's safe to say none of the kids at issue read his blog. Also, there is a difference in that, apparently, the achievement gap actually exists, whereas the widespread promulgation of the idea that a whole generation of kids in Flint have had their lives ruined by the lead in the water is probably a distortion of reality, which might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy for some.

    2. None of the kids at issue watch Rachel Maddow either.

      If you have developmental delay or memory problems because lead in your water when you were young, does that really mean your life is ruined? Lots of children were similarly impaired by alcohol consumption by their moms before those children were born. In fact, it used to be routine for expectant mothers to have a glass of wine or two. Were those kids' lives "ruined"?

      So why is lead a problem? Because the effects are cumulative and because the amount in the water will be added to the amount in the environments of poor kids, who are likely to experience more lead than richer ones, and because black kids are more likely to be poor.

      This may be too complicated for Somerby to grasp. His inability to learn from his mistakes, no matter how many times they are pointed out in comments, is causing me concern for his own cognitive faculties.

    3. AC, I will add to what the previous commenter said.

      1. The crisis in Flint was real, not made up. One aspect of the story that Somerby always overlooks is the process that led to the decision to change water sources and the subsequent negligence in implementation. He (and you) ought to think about that and at least acknowledge the possibility that the process was so egregiously fouled up because Flint was mostly poor and mostly black. Whether it was a conscious or unconscious contempt by the decision-makers, it should be considered as a possibility because it happens over and over in our urban areas.
      2. Somerby kept demanding that the achievement gaps be discussed by liberals and prominent journalists, like Maddow, because he implied that not doing so was a dereliction of duty. So your argument makes no sense when you say that no one reads this blog. He demanded that it be shouted to the hills.
      3. As I have commented here before, contrary to Somerby's assertion that no one paid any attention to them, the achievement gaps were a main driver of many of the school reforms of the last 20-30 years that Somerby himself has criticized.

  8. “According to the New York Times, our nation was averaging 3,055 such deaths per day as of January 20. “

    January 20 was a Wednesday, after a holiday weekend. As such, the seven day average calculated for the seven days ending January 20 is the second lowest, next to January 19, over the past seven days. The oscillation in the reporting occurs over a calendar week, not some random seven day period. Thus, you should look to a consistent seven day period, such as Sunday-Saturday. The reported average on Saturday is more likely to reflect the actual daily number of deaths for that week than the average on a Wednesday or Thursday. The seven day average on Jan 16 (last Saturday) was 3344, considerably higher than 3055. There’s no reason to expect it will be less this week.

    Still, it wasn’t 4200-4400, although the number of reported deaths on Jan 21, like Jan 20, was close to 4400.

  9. “Nothing will turn on the bungled claims the scholar made last night.”

    Then why spend so much time writing about it?

    It isn’t as if she’s saying, a la Fox News and many Republicans, that Covid is a hoax. How many people died as a result of that, and how many people were saved as a result of the scholar’s reporting?

  10. Let’s try to understand the logic here. If all those kids were indeed poisoned, then Somerby argues that, even then, it would still be wrong to report on it, because it might traumatize the kids. So, he is arguing that reporters should suppress the truth? What kind of journalistic world would that represent?

    But, he claims that the effects were modest, and thus Maddow’s claims are overblown. But are they? Thousands of kids did experience “modestly elevated blood lead levels for a short time”, which is usually called “lead poisoning.”

    One wonders why the elevated lead levels only lasted a short time. It is likely that the attention paid to the problem, by Maddow and other reporters, resulted in a quick fix that prevented a longer and more serious exposure.

    And the initial decision to switch water sources gets very little attention from Somerby, although he seems skeptical that Snyder, or anyone really, should be held accountable. And accountability isn’t solely about length of a sentence or size of the fine or whether it’s called a misdemeanor or felony. In other words, the purpose of holding someone accountable isn’t merely to put them in jail for its own sake, which is Somerby’s reductive view. The purpose is to bring the truth to light and to prevent officials from repeating the same egregious errors.

    Also, it’s typical that Somerby criticizes Maddow for something she didn’t say:

    ‘the one-time scholar may have you thinking that this racist outrage was perpetrated when the racists found among the others took aim at a city in which everyone was "black."’

    She did not say “black.”

    Although, again, Somerby is the one revealing the limitation in his own thinking by refusing to allow even for the possibility.

  11. What does Somerby omit from the current news about Flint? He wants his readers to believe that former governor Snyder is maybe the only person being charged and with minor infractions at that. Here is the full list of people being charged:

    Jarrod Agen – Former Director of Communications and Former Chief of Staff, Executive Office of Gov. Rick Snyder: One count of perjury – a 15-year felony

    Gerald Ambrose – Former City of Flint Emergency Manager: Four counts of misconduct in office – each a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine

    Richard Baird – Former Transformation Manager and Senior Adviser, Executive Office of Gov. Snyder: One count of perjury – a 15-year felony; One count of official misconduct in office – a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine; One count of obstruction of justice – a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine; One count of extortion – a 20-year felony and/or $10,000 fine

    Howard Croft – Former Director of the City of Flint Department of Public Works: Two counts of willful neglect of duty – each a one-year misdemeanor and/or $1,000 fine 

    Darnell Earley – Former City of Flint Emergency Manager :Three counts of misconduct in office – each a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine 

    Nicolas Lyon – Former Director, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: Nine counts of involuntary manslaughter – each a 15-year felony and/or $7,500 fine; One count of willful neglect of duty – a one-year misdemeanor and/or $1,000 fine 

    Nancy Peeler – Current Early Childhood Health Section Manager, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: Two counts of misconduct in office – each a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine;One count of willful neglect of duty – a one-year misdemeanor and/or $1,000 fine

    Richard Snyder – Former Governor of Michigan: Two counts of willful neglect of duty – each a one-year misdemeanor and/or $1,000 fine

    Eden Wells – Former Chief Medical Executive, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: Nine counts of involuntary manslaughter – each a 15-year felony and/or $7,500 fine;Two counts of misconduct in office – each a five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine;One count of willful neglect of duty – a one-year misdemeanor and/or $1,000 fine

    “Federal Judge Grants Preliminary Approval to $641.25M Flint Water Settlement”,4534,7-359-82917_97602---,00.html

  12. Maddow’s assessment of “worst” is not really made false by the death rate. It’s likely the US had the capacity to have much lower death rates than these other countries. It would have been more on the mark if She said we had the worst leadership.

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