Monday, August 13

“You all made me out to be a liar.” America's tap water toxicity crisis is a window on the politicization of news

From Ellen Knickmeyer's report today for The Associated Press headlined (sarcastically, I assume) White House called toxins contamination ‘PR nightmare:
Tim Hagey, manager of a local water utility, recalls how he used to assure people that the local public water was safe. That was before testing showed it had some of the highest levels of the toxic compounds of any public water system in the U.S.
“You all made me out to be a liar,” Hagey, general water and sewer manager in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Warminster, told Environmental Protection Agency officials at a hearing last month. 
The meeting drew residents and officials from Horsham and other affected towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and officials from some of the other dozens of states dealing with the same contaminants.
At “community engagement sessions” around the country this summer like the one in Horsham, residents and state, local and military officials are demanding that the EPA act quickly and decisively to clean up local water systems testing positive for dangerous levels of the chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
EPA testing from 2013 to 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states. The finding helped move PFAS up as a national priority. So did scientific studies that firmed up the health risks. One, looking at a kind of PFAS once used in making Teflon, found a probable link with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension in pregnant women and high cholesterol. Other recent studies point to immune problems in children, among other things.
From the above and the rest of the AP report, obviously PFAS wasn't moved up enough as a national priority. So to look at the tap water crisis as a public relations nightmare is a measure of how far gone American politics is today. This is not about public relations; it's an immediate, life-or-death matter for millions of Americans.  

The fundamental problem is that U.S. society has become so politicized that political considerations overwhelm public discussion of everything else. In our national news media this translates to 15 minutes of political discussion about an issue to 2 minutes of reporting on the actual issue. 

The Associated Press could go a long way to rectifying the situation if they'd establish their own national cable news station beep this is a recording. Only such a news outlet would have the power to withstand becoming a propaganda outlet for a political party beep this is a recording.

Why The Associated Press? I've explained before but in brief it's because AP has a revenue stream that the three national cable new stations -- CNN, FOX, MSNBC -- don't have. AP did at some point set up their own news website but the company makes it money from selling its reporting to press and TV media outlets; it's what used to be called a wire service. 

However, the media outlets cherry-pick; they buy AP reports that they can, in whole or part, work into their political agendas. The upshot is that much important AP reporting ends up on the cutting-room floor. Ergo, AP should set up their own national TV news station. 

Why haven't they done this? Maybe it has something to do with antitrust or federal communications laws but I really have no idea. All I know is that Americans must get better informed about their country's problems. We can't do this if every major press and televised news report is run through the meat grinder of the political industry before the public has an understanding of the issue at hand.

The bottom line is that today's USA gives proof to the observation, made years ago on an Indian economic blog, that in the present era many nations are a mixture of first, second, and third-world economies. The tap water crisis is just one more indication that it's a joke to call the USA an exclusively first-world nation.

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