Three hundred thousand in Charleston, West Virginia are without access to clean water after 7, 500 gallons of crude 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) were leaked into the Elk River. The health effects of the chemical are largely unknown (but we can certainly assume this shit isn’t going to make your dick bigger or cure cancer), so West Virginian authorities have adopted an understandably conservative stance: except for the flushing of toilets, the effected water should not be used. This means no drinking, no bathing, no brushing teeth, no washing of dishes, pets or clothes. The official stance of the State of West Virginia is the water shouldn’t even be touched.
Though you wouldn’t have known it from the major news outlets, this all happened last Thursday. These people have been without clean water for a fucking week.
In a recent Op-Ed, CNN columnist John D. Stutter ponders why such a catastrophe didn’t warrant more immediate coverage.
Where’s the national outrage?
Our collective indifference is troubling.
It’s like we think: It’s OK, the water’s safe to flush.
Or: Whatever, it’s just West Virginia.
I’ll be the first to admit West Virginia is an oft-neglected state. It is small, rugged, isolated, and relatively unpopulated by the standards of its immediate neighbors, and West Virginians have long been unfairly stereotyped as uncouth, inebriate and incestuous mountain men, prone to violence and incurably stupid.
Perhaps more importantly, West Virginia is not, by any objective measure, a wealthy state. It’s Appalachian counties are among the poorest in the country, and its people are so far removed from the realities of life in the elsewheres of the country that what little face time they do receive is relegated to embarrassingly exploitative “reality” TV.
But come on. We’re talking about 300,000 people who are severely put-out. Even taking into account the aforementioned bias, this should have warranted a mention on one of the Sunday morning shows. Christ knows David Gregory wasn’t busy tackling difficult issues; the least he could have done was mention the chemical spill.
Stutter has his own explanation:
They were too obsessed with Christie, which, as he points out, has plenty of time to play out before the presidential elections, two years from now.
This stuff goes way beyond the media and its handling of events. Major newspapers and television networks, including CNN, sent reporters to West Virginia to cover the story. Information is out there. It’s not that no attention has been paid. But West Virginia is so maligned in our national consciousness that some people probably expect environmental contamination like this to happen there. The country should be in the middle of a national debate about how to ensure chemicals are kept out of our drinking water. It’s one of the most basic of government services.
Kudos to Stutter for taking CNN to task. Though more limp-wristed than I would have liked, it is nevertheless more than I expected.
Beyond that, Stutter falls a little flat. Regional favoritism may play some role in what stories news outlets choose to run, but there’s much more to the story.
There’s viewership, for one. And viewership means money.
For profit-seeking media outlets it makes sense to cater to your largest demographics. Almost 20% of the nation’s population inhabits the tiny stretch of land (2% of the nation’s surface area) between Boston and Washington, D.C., more than half of whom live within the New York-Newark Combined Statistical Area. Bridgegate may have directly affected slightly less people (just under 300,000 travel the GW Bridge daily) in a much less significant way, but tens of millions are able to identify with the story on a personal level.
Even if you could magically rid the brains behind CNN and MSNBC and FOX of their ingrained prejudices towards the men and women of the Mountain State, West Virginians would still need to compete with 42 million people for a moment’s attention. It’s understandable Stutter didn’t think to address this. A prejudicial attitude is something that can be corrected–rather easily with the right number of pink slips and recruiting campaigns–but the drive to acquire more cash than the other guy is a problem endemic to American corporate culture. This can’t be fixed, or at least not easily, and to address that would be to impugn the integrity of not just the morning show hosts, but the unseen bigwigs and the many shareholders to whose interests they are, above all other concerns, bound.