National media’s narrative on the Jackson water crisis breaks along ideological lines
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - National media outlets are wading into Jackson’s water crisis, and exactly who is to blame depends on the outlets’ ideological leanings.
Left-leaning media, for instance, say the problem is the result of Mississippi’s history of racism, coupled with a white, Republican-led state government that has refused to help a majority Black, Democrat-led city.
Ja’Han Jones, a writer for the ReidOut Blog, which is associated with the ReidOut program on MSNBC, says that “Mississippi conservatives like Reeves have for years directed funding away from the state’s capital to predominately white, right-wing strongholds on the outskirts, continuing a legacy of racist exploitation” in the state.
Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, said on his August 31 broadcast that Jackson’s water problems can be put at the feet of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. Carlson’s comments were posted on the Media Matters website on September 1.
He said Lumumba had fulfilled his promise of making Jackson “the most radical city on the planet... so radical that it no longer has drinking water,” and then brought up what he said was the “Soviet-level” result of the 2017 general election that swept the mayor into office.
Lumumba previously said that he wanted to make Jackson the most radical city, and even campaigned on it. The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Website showed that Lumumba won 23,242 of the 25,007 ballots cast, or 93 percent of the vote.
Lumumba’s late father, Chokwe Lumumba, was elected in 2013 but died after less than a year in office.
“Most politicians don’t follow through on their promises, but Chokwe Lumumba definitely did,” Carlson continued. “He has made Jackson so radical, that it no longer has drinking water... or any water. For the third day in a row, you just can’t get any water in Jackson.”
Lumumba said he had not seen Carlson’s comments and it was up to others to evaluate them. “Right now, my job is to return water to our residents, and that is what I’m focused on,” he said, standing under a tent [on Thursday] at a water distribution site at the Mississippi Coliseum. “I don’t have much energy toward [those comments] right now, because my energy is committed toward the residents of Jackson.”
Recently, the equipment at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant failed, leaving tens of thousands of Jackson and Byram residents without water.
On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves announced that the state was stepping in to help address the problem and was bringing in experts to help assess and address failures at the Curtis plant. The National Guard and MEMA, meanwhile, have been brought in to help distribute water to customers.
Lumumba said Tuesday he was grateful for the state’s assistance but added that Jackson had been “going it alone for the better part of two years when it comes Jackson’s water crisis.”
“I have said on multiple occasions it was not a matter of if our system would fail, but a matter of when our system would fail,” he said. “So now, we are finally excited to welcome the state to the table and the valuable resources they bring.”
During a governor’s press conference on Thursday, some members of the international press were still trying to figure out how Jackson’s water system fell apart. When a reporter from the United Kingdom-based Sky News, a conservative outlet, asked how the city and state could allow the system to get to this point, Reeves said reporters were trying to play the “blame game.”
“I know you in the press really want to play the blame game and you really want to focus on pitting different people against one another, and that’s certainly your priority. That’s fine. What we’re focused on is the immediate health and welfare of Jackson residents,” Reeves said. “There will be plenty of time in the future to play the blame game... and y’all can do all of that you want to do. You can do that in real-time... but I ain’t got time for it.”
Meanwhile, a Media Matters analysis shows that of the three main cable news networks, the majority of coverage was on CNN and MSNBC. CNN had 35 minutes of coverage on Jackon’s emergency, while MSNBC dedicated 21 minutes to it. Fox News dedicated less than a minute, according to an August 30 Media Matters Tweet.
Time spent today covering the water emergency in Jackson, MS:— Media Matters (@mmfa) August 30, 2022
CNN: 35 minutes
MSNBC: 21 minutes
Fox News: Less than a minute
National outlets have also reported on something we’ve reported numerous times, that the city’s water crisis was a long time in the making.
An August 31 post at CNN.com does just that, and also draws comparisons to Jackson’s crisis with that of Flint, Michigan.
The article points to the various EPA infractions faced by the city over its water treatment facilities, as well as the February 2021 storm that crippled production at the O.B. Curtis PLant, Jackson’s main treatment facility.
This time, the mayor says the plant was crippled due to an equipment failure related to the Pearl River flooding. The flooding changed the pH of the water coming into the plant, making it more difficult to treat. Meanwhile, the plant itself was running on two backup pumps, after the two main ones went down.
Emails obtained by WLBT in July showed that state health officials were worried that a critical system failure would occur due to a lack of maintenance at the plant. Gov. Reeves also was aware of the plant’s critical condition.
“We were told on Friday that there was no way to predict exactly when, but that it was a near certainty that Jackson would fail to produce running water sometime in the next several weeks or months,” he said at a media briefing on Monday.
When asked Thursday how often the city had attempted to seek help from the state prior to the failure, Reeves instead talked about a grants program set up for all cities in the state during the 2022 legislative session.
Lumumba did answer that question following the press conference. “I can’t give an exhaustive history, but I can say since we’ve been in office, it’s always been part and parcel of our legislative agenda... we’ve always pushed for a robust funding of our infrastructure and we will continue to do that.”
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