How the WaPo whitewashed the Flint water disaster

I’m one of those masochists who signs up for daily email alerts from several news services just to keep tabs on the stories I might miss on cable news. I get a couple of them from the Washington Post, one of which is the “Five Minute Fix.” These breaking news alerts provide not only a quick glance at the news of the day, but frequently a good look at how reporters at one of the nation’s largest newspapers view the news and choose to project it to the public. Last night’s Fix was a great example of the latter as it dealt with the ongoing debacle in Flint, Michigan, and reporter Amber Phillips provided the nation with a story containing huge gaps in the facts while seemingly pushing a political agenda. After a thumbnail description of the toxic drinking water situation, here’s the intro she chose.

It’s unclear how Gov. Rick Snyder (R), in his second of two terms, will come out of this — a few are calling for his resignation, including Bernie Sanders — but the fact that we’re talking about it here in Washington conveys the magnitude of the problem.

Here’s what you need to know:

Beyond the fact that there is only one government official mentioned at the top (the only Republican available on the scene by coincidence, I’m sure) take particular note of the last six words emphasized above. We’ll circle back to that in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at the short version of the Flint water story being told here. It begins with the 2014 decision to switch water supplies to the Flint River, and then moves into 2015. (Emphasis added)

Soon after, residents began complaining of murky, smelly water that gave their children rashes. In September, researchers found lead in the water and abnormal spikes of lead in Flint children’s blood levels, a sign of potentially irreversible lead poisoning. Turns out the Flint River had eroded the city’s lead pipes and fixtures, poisoning dozens, and some suspect that the water is linked to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that has killed 10.

It wasn’t until then, nearly 18 months later, that the governor acknowledged the problem and promised to do something about it.

After that, the “Fix” immediately reverts to the political fallout and, once again, the only name mentioned is that of Rick Snyder. But those who have been following the actual story know that not only is there a lot of information missing there, key parts of it are absolutely dishonest. The contamination was not “found” in September. That’s just when the public (and presumably the Governor’s office) found out about it. As early as January of last year there were red flags being raised (though the lead levels were still a question mark at that point) but it was the city (not the state government) which insisted there was nothing to see here.

JANUARY 2015: Flint seeks an evaluation of its efforts to improve the water amid concerns that it contains potentially harmful levels of a disinfection byproduct. Detroit offers to reconnect Flint to its water system. Flint insists its water is safe.

JAN. 28: Flint residents snap up 200 cases of bottled water in 30 minutes in a giveaway program. More giveaways will follow in ensuing months.

And then, as Ms. Phillips would know if she read her own paper, by the end of February the EPA had already tested the water and knew it was toxic, but they sat on the information as they argued with the state environmental office and even suppressed the release of a memo written by the EPA saying the water was toxic.

EPA official Susan Hedman did not publicize the EPA’s concern over Flint’s water quality or the water’s dangerous health concerns. The federal agency instead quietly fought with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for at least six months about what should be done.

EPA water expert, Miguel Del Toral, identified potential contamination problems with Flint’s drinking water last February and confirmed the suspicions in April. He authored an internal memo about the problem in June, according to documents obtained by Virginia Tech.

Meanwhile, Hedman became aware of the contamination issue in April. She sought legal advice, but didn’t receive the guidance until November 2014. The American Civil Liberties Union accused Hedman in October of attempting to keep Miguel Del Toral’s memo in-house, downplaying its significance.

And yet, to read your Five Minute Fix from the Washington Post, you would think that nobody except the Governor ever knew anything and he simply dragged his feet, whistling past the Flint graveyard until he was prodded into action. You would have no idea that the EPA had the information in their hands and the head of the agency is already being questioned about it, though she insists they did their jobs wonderfully.

Remember up at the top when I pointed out the intro to the Fix? Here’s what you need to know. No doubt that’s what plenty of folks in the media would like you to know. It’s an election year, and damage control for the Democrats is in full swing in the media. They’re going to do their level best to flush any questions about the EPA or the local administration down the memory hole and blame the entire thing on Rick Snyder. Sadly, unless more people point it out, it’s going to work, too.