Detroit Reporter Promises Truth Behind Flint Water Crisis, Fails [OPINION]
Detroit reporter Simon Shaykhet claims he's "exposing the truth behind Flint's water crisis," but he's really just dressing up tabloid journalism as the second coming of Watergate, pun intended.
The Flint Water Crisis is complicated. That much we know. It's the parts that we don't know that still has everyone asking questions. The problem is that most people are still asking the wrong questions. Enter WXYZ reporter Simon Shaykhet.
His report from last night's 11p newscast, which he promised would blow the doors off the Flint water crisis, was nothing more than an assortment of hack newsman parlor tricks. Smoke, cleverly-positioned mirrors, and sleek editing to help sell what is, at best, shaky reporting. I'm assuming that his producers saw his report, and decided to bury it at 11p instead of running it at 6p or 7p when people would actually notice it.
Now I hate calling someone's journalistic integrity into question, because I often get called out for "crappy journalism," and it sucks... but I'm no journalist. I'm a commentator, a blogger, a personality, just a dude that writes stuff, whatever you want to call me. I don't play by the same rules as these guys are supposed to. When I offer an opinion on something -- I make it clear that it's my opinion. If I were a professional newsman, I wouldn't be dressing my opinions up as facts. I also wouldn't cry wolf to cover up the fact that I went hunting and came home empty-handed.
Here are a few of the problems with this groundbreaking report:
- Shaykhet's talking to regular people on the street, who offer answers even they seem unsure of and he's reporting them as fact. He even Brendan Dassey'd that lady around the one minute mark in the video. If you haven't seen 'Making a Murderer,' that's where you suggest the answer you want to receive from an unsure witness, who then will likely just agree because it sounds better than "I don't know."
- Dayne Walling says that Flint saw double digit increases in water rates from Detroit while mayor, a position he held from late 2009 to late 2015. While he didn't have specific figures at hand, Walling said he stood by that statement when we reached him for comment.
- The former Detroit Water and Sewer Director says that over 10 years, the average rate increases on Flint were "about 6.3%," which is presented only to say that Walling lied, making him look bad throughout the rest of the report. They reinforce that by doing the Jean Claude Van Damme triple-take replay to show Walling saying "double digit increases." However, he was talking about a 4 year period during his time as mayor, and the the former DWSD director was talking about a ten year average. Obviously those will be two different figures, but they had their moment that makes Walling look like a liar -- so who cares about things like accuracy and consistency?
- One of the regular citizens is brought back, to confirm that even though the Flint water switch was done to save money -- the rates didn't go down. Then Walling is shown saying that "this" is a savings of $15 million for Flint. I'm assuming this is meant to imply that those "savings" were kept by local officials, when actually, we have no idea what Walling is referring to here because it is edited out of context. Besides, the savings were never expected to be immediate, as the city still had to cover costs of recent upgrades to the system, etc. What's conveniently left out is that part of that savings figure Walling offered likely included the avoidance of the 10% increase in rates Detroit wanted after ending Flint's contract over us joining the KWA. The DWSD said in a press release that by making an attempt to save money in the long term, Flint had "launched the greatest water war in Michigan’s history."
- Shaykhet then, without making any logical connection whatsoever to the rest of his story, asked if Walling received campaign contributions from the KWA and pipeline contractors, which Walling vaguely admits to. This is an interesting point, but it's only used here to paint Walling as a bad guy. That doesn't add up though, because whether or not the decision to join KWA was supported by Walling or the City Council -- it was ultimately made by the Snyder-appointed Emergency Manager because Flint's elected officials had no authority.
What wasn't mentioned is that Shaykhet's promo for the story highlighted how the Flint water crisis made Detroit the "bad guy." None of that was mentioned in the actual report, but it clearly had that agenda. It is mentioned that the crisis is a failure at multiple levels, but unfairly paints Dayne Walling as the man behind the curtain. The guy pulling all the strings. I'm not saying that I can personally vouch for all Walling's actions, but if you know anything about Flint's political makeup since 2011 -- you know it's impossible for it all to be his fault... or even mostly his fault.
This reporter did what reporters do -- sensationalized a story of great local interest. The problem is he's insinuating a narrative he knows to be mostly Scooby Doo B.S. to manipulate the Detroit viewer's perception of the water crisis. This isn't the first time we've seen Detroit media try to turn residents on the people of Flint over the water crisis. Earlier this month, a radio station implied that Detroit residents had to pay Flint's water bills for a month. Detroit Vs. Everybody looks cool on a shirt, but it looks desperate on the news. The Flint water crisis is complicated enough without Charlie LeDuff wannabes spreading misinformation.