Saturday, May 08, 2010

Contrarianism And Coliform [Anthony McCarthy]

Last week Boston had a water emergency because a large supply pipe from the reservoir they usually draw from broke. So the city and many other communities were under an emergency order to boil any water before using it. Boston TV and radio, predicably, hyped the disaster and the sudden, panicked search for bottled water by people who, apparently, can’t even boil water. It would seem there are way, way too many of them these days. Perhaps that points to the need for all public school students to have at least that level of home economics instruction.

Boston also has Emily Rooney, the daughter of Andy Rooney, America’s favorite grouchy old man. Emily Rooney has local programs on both WGBH radio and television. Along with the profession of her father, she seems to have inherited the family contrarian act. I’ve thought for years that her eccentric idea of journalism, often replacing factual reportage with her hunches, opinions and predetermined altitudes were a pathetic excuse for news.

However, her declarations this week that the press should have been “skeptical” of the official announcement that the water should be boiled, her announcement that she’d drunk the water unboiled and it didn’t kill her, passes out of the occasionally annoying into the obviously irresponsible. On her media roundup, which I just got done listening to, she wondered why they couldn’t have immediately tested the water.

Perhaps someone at WGBH should recommend to one of their most visible “journalists” that she do something called “research” before she pooh-poohs the possibility that the people who run the water works might know more about their business than a shoot from the lip media contrarian.

Many of the tests which could tell if the water flowing through pipes that had been unused for decades was safe for consumption from the tap, take from 24 to 48 hours, more time than most people can do without water. Levels of bacteria and other pathogens that might leave her with an upset stomach can kill people with increased susceptibility. Perhaps she should look to find out how many infants die of diarrheal infections.

Notification of possible contamination in the water supply is mandated by law. Even if it wasn’t, it is, beyond any rational question, a responsible thing for local and state officials to do.

If she said that she’d called anyone who would actually know what the hell they were talking about before she advocated bravely stepping back to the 1880s on WGBH, one of the most trusted sources of news in New England, I missed it. It would be hard for me to imagine a city which would have a higher concentration of people who knew that than the Boston area, it would be hard for me to imagine a television station with more contacts with universities and colleges with relevant departments than WGBH. Though they clearly had their hands full with an accute emergency in Boston, she might have called just about any other municipal water works in the state to ask them.

Emily, people do, actually, die from drinking water which hasn’t been certified as safe for consumption. And they can’t know that until they know it. And they can’t do it to fit into the next news cycle. I’m sure if you had become sick from your determined and announced stubbornness to keep drinking the water straight from the tap, you’d have been singing the blues instead of crowing your contrarian hokum. Though I can also imagine you blaming the local or state governments or other officials on your next program just as easily.