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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Curt Guyette: The Making of a Big Story

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Image credit: PBS

Here’s how the Flint water crisis began in the media with a damning memo posted by the ACLU of Michigan.

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Last summer, a story with massive public health implications for generations began to unfold in Flint. After the city switched water systems, residents complained their taps were spewing putrid water. Then, children began testing positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood.  

Some news media were slow to pick up on the story even as the larger picture began to take shape.

One writer took heed of a damning memo that landed on his desk, and his investigation is often credited as the start of what has now become an international story about Flint, Michigan politics, the importance of infrastructure, and the condition of water supply in American cities. Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter and blogger at the ACLU of Michigan on the Ford Foundation’s Democracy Watch project. He joined Host Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today to review the crisis, discuss ongoing investigations and look forward to what it all might cost.

The Flint water story begins, Guyette says, in April 2014 when the City of Flint decided to disconnect from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and use the Flint River as the city’s supply. With the change, came immediate reports of issues: discoloration, hair loss and other effects.

As soon as that happened people were complaining about the quality of the water,” Guyette says. “The people running the water treatment plant and the state were really not prepared.”

He characterized one state official’s response, found in an email, as saying “Just relax, it’s not a problem.”

During the segment, Caller Chuck asked Guyette if he really is a “journalist” covering the story, given his funding from the Ford Foundation and his  prior employment at the left-leaning Metro Times. Guyette said that was a fair question. Here’s his answer:

My attitude has always been: So, that liberal bias might — does — show itself in the stories I choose to cover, but if you’re going to be a journalist, then the bottom line is credibility. Once I start an investigation, then the cards fall where the cards fall,” Guyette says. “In terms of this story, the proof is in what’s happening and whether what I’ve reported has been disputed or confirmed. At every step along the way, everything I’ve reported has been nothing but confirmed by the mainstream … journalists.”

Click on the link above to hear the audio of the full conversation.

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