Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Flint Disaster and Our Broken Media

There's a compelling article over at Media Matters by Joe Strupp that examines the failure of the major media to notice the disastrous poisoning of the residents of Flint, MI, until a state of emergency was declared by the Republican Governor and ultimate culprit for the problem Rick "You Made Me Sick" Snyder, whose cost cutting mania led to the use of the lead- and chemical-polluted Flint River being used for drinking water, despite warnings. While local media coverage was looking at the problem for some time despite cutbacks in their news budgets, the national media seemingly couldn't be bothered to cover this "local" problem (tell that to people in states whose well water is being polluted by fracking) since it didn't register on social media :
"'The Flint water crisis went under the media's radar. It was lost in what's trending on Twitter, who liked what on Facebook, and the next poppin pics on Instagram,' said Jiquanda Johnson, a reporter at The Flint Journal since Oct. 2014 and a Flint native. 'Journalists have become lazy. We wait for the obvious and jump on trends. Flint's water crisis didn't make the social media cut so it was missed. It didn't make headlines like the Charleston killings, Ferguson protests over Michael Brown's death or Ed Garner's choking. Is it racism? Is it classism? Is it both or neither? I don't know.'

'I do know that Flint's issues were not just neatly packaged and ready for media,' she added. 'They required work, digging, sifting and a lot of questioning. Things were not as blatant as a cop pulling out a gun, shooting it and killing a young black man. Or as clear as a white man walking into a church.'" (emphasis added)
As others have pointed out, if this had happened in a well-heeled suburb of Detroit, like Grosse Pointe or Bloomfield Hills, the likelihood of a story about lead-poisoned water being ignored for over a year by corporate media would have been slim to none.  As Common Cause President Miles Rappaport notes in the article: 
"When people's health and lives are the line -- especially threatened by something as essential as water -- no one can move fast enough. Local reporters did what they could in an era of slashed budgets, staffs, and loop-hole riddled Freedom of Information Laws. The national media was slow to realize the impact of the Flint Water Crisis. That it took an advocacy organization hiring an investigative journalist to get to the core of the story should be alarming to all of us." (emphasis added)
Alarming, but sadly not unexpected.

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