September 6, 2017

Trump’s EPA Strikes Back at AP Over ‘Yellow Journalism’ in Harvey Potential Contamination Coverage

BIZZYBLOG-ONLY UPDATE: OMG, Luke Darby at GQ actually believes that because a flooded Superfund site can be reached by boat makes it “accessible.”

Tell you what, Luke, YOU put on the wetsuit, dive right in, and tell us what’s going on.

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Based on their output during the past several days, the Associated Press’s overwhelmingly left-leaning reporters are acting as if they’re infuriated that the nation’s perception of governments’ and citizens’ responses to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath has been predominantly positive — and perhaps even that AP photos taken during often courageous rescue efforts have fed that positive reaction. It could hardly be more obvious that its beat reporters are searching for a story angle which will make the Trump administration and the predominantly Republican and conservative politicians in Texas look bad.

Saturday evening, the wire service’s Jason Dearen and Michael Biesecker, in an item updated to include a US Environmental Protection Agency response which the pair admits they did not obtain before publishing their original work, breathlessly claimed: “Toxic waste Superfund sites near Houston flooded, EPA not on scene.”

As has been pointed out in so many other instances, this is misleading clickbait. The pair’s first few paragraphs are also sensationalized and misleading:

Floodwaters have inundated at least seven highly contaminated toxic waste sites near Houston, raising concerns that the pollution there might spread.

The Associated Press visited the sites this past week, some of them still only accessible by boat.

Long a center of the American petrochemical industry, the Houston metro area has more than a dozen such Superfund sites, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as being among the most intensely contaminated places in the country.

On Saturday, hours after the AP published its first report, the EPA said it had reviewed aerial imagery confirming that 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm.

The statement confirmed the AP’s reporting that the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites, saying the sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.”

The AP claims to have “visited” these sites. Really?

If you don’t get past the fences, the signs that say “NO TRESPASSING,” and are not accompanied by a responsible official, have you really done that? No. What you have done is trespass. The AP photo and its caption seen here indicate that, unless the wire service’s reporters and photographers chose to trespass, they did not “visit” these sites. If a reporter or reporters cleared the fence at the linked photo with their boats and ventured inside, it would be more than fair to charge them with the crime of trespassing. I doubt that the Founders believed that the First Amendment’s freedom of the press includes the uninhibited freedom to trespass.

Genuine EPA visits to the sites with scientific value would require a bit more than a kayak and a couple of oars. The point of such a visit would be to try to take water sample readings and the like, and would involve the use of expensive, complex and likely heavy equipment. We should all recall that two years ago, the EPA was in the process of cleaning up a toxic site and made a “mistake” which turned the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico bright orange with a million gallons of toxic waste. Poking around in a Superfund site which is currently flooded intuitively seems like a bad idea, and if I’m right, what’s the point in having an EPA official take a boat up to the “No Trespassing” fence and doing nothing else when high-resolution aerial photography is available?

Sunday afternoon, the Trump administration’s EPA struck back hard in a press release, in the process reminding AP that people in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones:

EPA Response To The AP’s Misleading Story

Yesterday, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker wrote an incredibly misleading story about toxic land sites that are under water.

Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.

Here’s the truth: through aerial imaging, EPA has already conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites – 28 of those sites show no damage, and 13 have experienced flooding. This was left out of the original story, along with the fact that EPA and state agencies worked with responsible parties to secure Superfund sites before the hurricane hit. Leaving out this critical information is misleading.

Administrator Pruitt already visited Southeast Texas and is in constant contact with local, state and county officials. And EPA, has a team of experts imbedded with other local, state and federal authorities, on the ground responding to Harvey – none of which Biesecker included in his story.

Then the real fun started (link is elsewhere in original and is added below):

Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story. Earlier this summer, he made-up a meeting that Administrator Pruitt had, and then deliberately discarded information that refuted his inaccurate story – ultimately prompting a nation-wide correction.

More background on Biesecker’s made-up meeting is here. This was a major botch on Biesecker’s part which, from all appearances, has resulted in no negative consequences for him or his career — and should have.

The EPA is absolutely right in stating that Biesecker was perched in Washington for the above dispatch. The fact that Dearen and/or perhaps other AP photographers were on the scene pretending to have made “visits” they really didn’t make, unless they want to admiit to having committed criminal acts (as explained above), doesn’t change that.

Of course, as CBS News has reported, “The AP is standing by its story and its reporters.” Biesecker has tweeted the AP’s full response, but EPA Associate Administrator Lisa Bowman had the best take on all of this:

“Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey. Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”

Has the AP has been at all chastened by this experience? You must be kidding. Of course not.

Monday morning, reporter John Flesher wrote a report headlined “HARVEY’S FLOODWATERS MIX A FOUL BREW OF SEWAGE, CHEMICALS.” The obvious implications were that all of Harvey’s floodwaters presented that problem, and safe drinking water was dangerously scarce.

Later paragraphs contradicted the hype:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported Sunday that of the 2,300 water systems contacted by federal and state regulators, 1,514 were fully operational. More than 160 systems issued notices advising people to boil water before drinking it, and 50 were shut down.

The public works department in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, said its water was safe. The system has not experienced the kind of pressure drop that makes it easier for contaminants to slip into the system and is usually the reason for a boil-water order, spokesman Gary Norman said.

On Sunday, the AP tried to put “divide and conquer” into readers’ minds in an unbylined report headlined “Texas expects EPA to ‘get on top of’ toxic water risk.” Well, of course the states does, and there’s no current reason to believe that this won’t happen. But the implication is that Texas believes that EPA hasn’t done enough. There is no evidence that this is the case.

The AP and its reporters are coming off as childish whiners who are upset that no one has yet been able to successfully go negative on Trump or Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott during Hurricane Harvey after the “success” the establishment press had in 2005 making much of the nation believe that then-President George W. Bush was somehow to blame for the carnage and poor follow-up after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana.

As explained in a NewsBusters post Tuesday, those who accurately recall what really happened during and after Katrina know that the overwhelming share of the blame for the hurricane’s death toll and its ugly aftermath goes to then-Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco and then-Democratic New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Additionally, NB commenter “Direwolf” at that Tuesday post noted that  the Army Corps of Engineers did not provide enough strength in that city’s levee system (dating back to a long series of mistakes made as far back as the mid-1960s), and the environmentalists had stopped “a proposed flood control structure to be built at the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain to protect the north side of the City” in 1977 — even after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

Unfortunately for the Associated Press, it’s 2017, and not 2005:

  • Now there’s an administration in Washington which obviously won’t just sit there and let uncalled-for abuse by the press stand and forlornly hope that the truth will somehow win out.
  • There’s also an administration which (horror of horrors!) won’t hesitate to single out reporters for sharp criticism when they deserve it. Michael Biesecker, meet Saul Alinsky’s Rules 5 and 13. Alinsky may have meant his “rules” to apply to radicals, but his “rules” can work quite effectively in other arenas.
  • There’s also a public which, which with the help of many (but still not enough) center-right watchdog outlets and citizen journalists, has learned in the intervening dozen years that all too much of what the AP and the rest of the establishment press produces is fake news.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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