September 10, 2017

AP, Media Show They Can Dish It Out But Can’t Take It in Trump EPA-Harvey Spat

As of late Sunday afternoon, the Associated Press’s coverage of potential contamination resulting from Hurricane Irma in Florida, certainly a legitimate issue, was remarkably measured. That tone starkly contrasts with how the AP, without genuine basis, went after the U.S. EPA after Hurricane Harvey, and how childishly it reacted when Trump’s EPA pushed back hard against the wire service and reporter Michael Biesecker, who had not only filed a fake news story about Trump administration EPA head Scott Pruitt in late June, but who appears to have a personal vendetta against Pruitt.

Here are the most relevant paragraphs from the AP’s Sunday afternoon story by Tamara Lush and Jason Dearen (bolds are mine throughout this post):

IRMA BRINGS FEARS OF SURGE, SEWERS AND TOXINS TO TAMPA AREA

… Toxic waste sites in the Tampa Bay region also pose risks to public health if they are flooded or damaged.

Florida has the nation’s largest phosphorus mining industry, and it’s based in the area. A byproduct of the industry is 27 hill-sized piles of waste containing low levels of radiation and other toxins, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Some of the piles are 500 feet tall.

The region is also home to more than half of Florida’s 51 Superfund sites … Many are old chemical or oil storage facilities that left behind a legacy of dangerous contamination in soil and groundwater. State and federal government agencies have been working to clean them up for decades.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection said it would be testing groundwater as soon as it’s safe to do so after the storm. EPA said it will also be on the ground after the storm.

EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an email that “these facilities will be properly assessed to ensure there are no potential adverse impacts to human health and the environment.”

Note that the AP included a comment from the U.S. EPA.

In earlier, unexcerpted text, it also included a quote from a company which saw millions of gallons of its contaminated mine wastewater flow into the Floridan Aquifer last year after a sinkhole occurred. The company involved stated its belief that its “efforts to reinforce and strengthen the [sinkhole] seal in anticipation of the hurricane are proving effective.”

This is not how the AP went about its business earlier this month in Texas, when it all but told its readers and subscribing outlets that the EPA was asleep at the switch.

The wire service’s original September 2 report (since revised) did not include a comment from the EPA. But AP ambushers, I mean reporters, Dearen and Biesecker went ahead and decided to accuse the EPA of negligence anyway, as they breathlessly claimed: “Toxic waste Superfund sites near Houston flooded, EPA not on scene”:

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.

… 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.”

Leaving aside the issue of how reporters can claim to have genuinely “visited” places that are fenced in with “No Trespassing” signs (as seen here), the AP reporters seem to have forgotten that aerial photography, conscientiously performed and reviewed, can often reveal quite a bit about an underwater contaminated site’s condition and the degree of water pollution that may be occurring. It’s also a lot less dangerous than sending officials out in motorboats in waters containing all sorts of items which might clog the engines or run them aground.

We should also 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. If so, what’s the point in having EPA officials take a boats to these sites in dangerous conditions when high-resolution, zoom-in aerial photography is available?

On Sunday, September 3, the Trump administration’s EPA struck back hard in a press release, in the process reminding AP that individual reporters living 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 EPA got personal:

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.

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” questionably claiming to have made genuine “visits” doesn’t change that fact.

Much of the press, including the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, took serious offense at the EPA’s conduct after the AP’s story appeared. But after reciting a fuller litany of the agency’s experience with Biesecker, I would suggest that most observers would agree that the EPA’s response was perfectly defensible. In addition to the meeting that didn’t happen described above:

  • In June, Biesecker and another AP reporter posted a story about how (quoting from that story) “Pruitt coordinated with fossil fuel companies while serving as Oklahoma’s state attorney general, a position in which he frequently sued to block federal efforts to curb planet-warming carbon emissions.” Imagine that. As an editorial in The Oklahoman noted, “The fact Pruitt regularly corresponded and dealt with energy industry officials as attorney general of a state where energy is the No. 1 industry should not be surprising nor should it, by itself, be considered nefarious.”
  • (Quoting Temple) “In June, Biesecker forwarded to the EPA press office a news release from Investigative Reporters and Editors announcing that Pruitt had won the organization’s “Golden Padlock” award ’recognizing the most secretive U.S. agency or individual.’ Noted the EPA official via email, ‘this unnecessary email reiterates his dislike for Mr. Pruitt.’” This isn’t “reporting” (as if Pruitt didn’t know this already, or even that he would have cared if he didn’t know). This is flat-out harassment and trolling by a supposedly “objective” journalist.

After episodes such as these, that ”the EPA pulled Biesecker from its master email list”? An even better question is how Biesecker has managed to avoid visible negative consequences for him or his career as a result of his conduct. It seems long overdue.

Wemple is offended, likely along with many of his colleagues in the press, that the EPA went after not only “a news outlet, but a specific reporter. With attitude too.” He will only admit that the original AP headline noted earlier (later changed to “Toxic waste sites flooded in Houston area,” according to Wemple) “was a touch on the harsh side.” No, Erik. It was bogus.

Of course, as CBS News has reported, “The AP is standing by its story and its reporters.” Biesecker tweeted the AP’s full response, but EPA Associate Administrator Lisa Bowman had the best take on all of this in the final paragraph of that September 3 press release:

“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.”

Biesecker’s pattern of reprehensible conduct has, from all visible appearances, resulted in no negative consequences for him or his career.

The Associated Press and its reporters are coming off as determined, powerful bullies who instantly morph into childish whiners when they’re on the receiving end of legitimate and justifiably harsh criticism.

The more measured AP report from Florida could be a sign that the wire service has learned something. We’ll see, but don’t get your hopes up.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Sunday Off-Topic (Moderated) Open Thread (091017)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 6:00 am

This open thread is meant for commenters to post on items either briefly noted below (if any) or otherwise not covered at this blog. Rules are here.

Positivity: How visiting prisoners can change your life (and theirs)

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:55 am

From Denver:

Aug 31, 2017 / 06:15 am

Sometimes people surprise us for the better.

For Lorenzo Patelli, leader of one of the Communion and Liberation (CL) communities in Denver, and a man called “J,” a former inmate who is now on parole, the surprise of friendship turned into a deep encounter with Christ through one another — all in the setting of prison ministry.

But the meeting had just happened to fall on Patelli’s lap. At that time, J had been in prison for several years and requested the CL magazine, Traces, in German to learn the language, only to find that he also needed the English one to help him better translate with his German dictionary.

J contacted the Human Adventure Corporation, the legal entity the CL movement uses in the U.S. to run Traces and other various events, to ask about getting the English subscription.

“We got a phone call or an email from [a woman] saying, ‘Hey, I got this request to send Traces to this prison in Colorado, I have no clue who this person or prison is, I can definitely send the magazine, but you guys want to get in contact with him?’” Patelli said.

Not long after, another member of Patelli’s Denver community reached out to J by letter and said that the group wanted to visit him in prison. After a long process of applications and verification, eight from the community were added to J’s list of people he was allowed to see in prison, although he couldn’t see more than four at once. So they rotated.

A surprising friendship

Patelli recalled that at first, he didn’t want to know J’s crime, but then realized that not knowing someone’s full story “is like not even knowing your name.”

“We were really struck by his story and so I knew at that point, even if he had told me he killed 200 people, I would have been, not fine, but, ‘Okay, this is it,’” Patelli said. “But before, I didn’t want to have the opposite thing, looking at him with his crime in my mind. And a beautiful friendship started.

“I thought I was going to find someone desperate or really struggling. And I remember we met a man who was busy, certain of his faith more than me and all of us together, and it was immediately clear to all of us that we didn’t go to help him, but that something was given to us,” Patelli continued. “[We left] every time way more aware of the love of God for us. That God could have said, ‘J I free you right now,’ and he was not doing that, but yet, J was loving his life.”

“Think about J” became a saying in the community to one another when they were struggling with things big and small.

“He became a presence, a something in our mind,” Patelli said. “Everything took a new perspective.”

For both J and Patelli, as well as the others that visited him, the friendship was a surprising encounter, Patelli said. …

Go here for the rest of the story.