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essayist, and a climate and energy writer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, examines the failure of national media outlets to respond to the Flint water crisis in an urgent manner, as well as biases in coverage.In June 2017, five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the Flint water crisis—more than three years after residents had first noticed that something was wrong with their water.He pushed for the 2015 Paris climate change accords and directed the EPA to issue a host of landmark rules to cut industrial pollutants and greenhouse gases, including a 54.5 miles per gallon standard for automobiles and light trucks by 2025.President Obama also increased funding for environmental justice grants, and in October 2016, the EPA rolled out a 66-page, “Environmental Justice Strategic Plan” for 2020.Sustained and widespread media attention was not given until late 2015 and early 2016, when the state of Michigan and President Obama declared an emergency over high levels of lead in the water and in the blood of thousands of children.Additionally, the nature of some of the coverage was problematic: Complaints of citizens were discounted when compared to the comments of officials, residents were portrayed as hopeless and downtrodden despite months of action, and narratives of “heroes” excluded African American activists in a city that is 57 percent black.Listen to Jackson discuss his paper on our Media & Politics Podcast.Subscribe to the podcast on i Tunes, Google Play, i Heart Radio or Stitcher.
A 2016 report by the Center for Effective Government determined that children of color made up nearly two-thirds of the 5.7 million children who live within a mile of a toxic facility.
Jackson asks what catastrophes might have been averted had national media outlets stepped in sooner—and why it took so long for the Flint water crisis to become a story worthy of national attention.
He points to a lack of newsroom diversity, a history of national media paying little attention to environmental justice in communities of color, and the tendency to act only after harm has been verified by doctors and scientists—rather than in response to widespread citizen concern.
The crisis began in April 2014, and was covered diligently by local press from the outset; Jackson details local reports of resident complaints, community meetings and protests.
Yet it was not until March 2015—nearly a year after complaints began—that national media began to pay some attention.