West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA

Disregard for state’s environmental and health problems by mainstream media is shameful

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all, you know that in Flint, Mich., residents have been unable to drink and use water because it is deemed unsafe. In fact, just today, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced he has opened an investigation to get to the bottom of the disaster – lead poisoning which makes the water unsafe.

Meanwhile, CBS News has reported that the Southern California Gas Company “ … acknowledged Thursday that it understated the number of times airborne levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene have spiked during the crisis.” That leak, affecting Los Angeles-area residents, is approaching three months without a resolution.

I’m pleased that journalists are uncovering these corporate shenanigans which threaten public health and safety, as well as the environment. But I do have a couple of questions for the mainstream media – Do you know that West Virginians have faced both of these problems for years, decades even? And, if so, why are you not covering this?

The questions are rhetorical, for I already know the answer. West Virginia is the Rodney Dangerfield of the United States and the media simply doesn’t care about the rural, mountain poor. Reporting on the misery caused to West Virginians by the energy extraction industry just doesn’t generate the ratings to justify upsetting advertisers (in case you have not been paying attention, the natural gas industry has launched a media blitz about its so-called “clean energy,” including on public broadcasting. Even the people’s network, it seems, has been hijacked by the industry).

Meanwhile, here in Doddridge County, West Virginia, groups like West Virginia Host Farms and the Doddridge County Watershed Association have been educating public health officials, journalists, researches and the general public about the dangers of fracking. Children are experiencing nose bleeds, people can’t sit outside in summer evenings for developing splitting headaches, and cancer rates are increasing. Indeed, I have interviewed a family whose daughter died of leukemia after being exposed to benzene. The benzene leeched into her well water from a fracking pad. Of course, the gas companies are hiding behind their lawyers in denial.

Simultaneously, all over the county, people drink water from storage tanks called water buffaloes. The water is simply not safe for human use because fracking pads dot the landscape, leeching and releasing untold amounts of benzene daily. Many of these families have had to use these storage tanks for years. Where is the outrage for them?

Meanwhile, in the southern part of the state, in Mingo County, a small community on top of a mountain near Kermit captures rain water, filters it, and stores it in water buffaloes. Yes, in the Unites States – “The greatest nation on the face of the earth. Period.” – as our president said the other night, West Virginia residents live as if they are citizens of a third world country.

And the media does nothing.

So, here is a plea to the mainstream media: Get out of your offices, put on some boots and jeans, rent a four-wheel drive and start visiting the shale fields, the mountaintop removal sites and the abandoned deep mine sites in West Virginia. Talk to the residents. Do not concern yourself with meeting with public officials unless you just want to get them on the record for admitting they can’t or won’t do their job, as in this story. Ironically, as you will read, the referenced story is about West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman visiting this very county last summer to investigate concerns about public health and safety.

If you want, I can introduce you to dozens of West Virginians that will be happy to tell their stories to you. They, then, will introduce you to their neighbors and friends. Then, before long, you will realize that poisoning people and the planet is “business as usual” in West Virginia.

As I noted in a recent article, the people get it – our institutions are failing from what I term “The Momentum of Mediocrity.” And yesterday, I posted an article reporting that two years after Freedom Industries made the water of the Kanawha Valley unusable for 300,000 people for over a week, virtually no progress has been made to address the root cause of that disaster. So, it is up to the people to tell their stories. Fortunately, West Virginia has numerous groups and individuals doing just that, every way they can.

Would we like to see the mainstream media report that West Virginias are dying from exposure to benzene and can’t drink their water because the energy industry pollutes it? Yes. But, we’re not holding our breath – for that. That’s because we’re too busy holding our breath every time the wind blows over a gas well.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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6 responses

  1. Michael M. Barrick does an excellent job of “telling it like it is” and he is correct…WV is becoming uninhabitable…it isn’t any wonder WV is losing population. The problems look insurmountable. I grew up loving our woods, rivers. In fact I would like to find another state that resembles WV…one that protects the environment and not destroy it. Having lived here nearly 80 yrs. I have only seen the problems get worse….muddy rivers, deforested hillsides and now contamination of our drinking water and even the air we breath. Personally, without major changes in thinking by our govt. and joining with citizens groups to help turn the tide I think WV is fast becoming a second rate area in which to live or should I say exist. Oh, West Virginia, my home, what is going to happen to us ?

  2. Local media are owned and operated by corporatists who hijacked the local stations and newspapers long ago. Here’s my op-ed that ran in the Charleston Gazette about how derelict local news outlets really are: Ed Rabel: Local TV ‘news’ is a waste of your time
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Not to be dispiriting, but there is very little reason to watch the local news. If you’re satisfied to simply see the day’s digest of house fires, fender benders and high school reunions, fine. Otherwise, the regional boob-tube newscasts are nothing more than a “vast wasteland” in the words of one-time FCC Chairman Newton Minow. Using my words, I would say the so-called newscasts are a colossal waste of time. Basically, the items they flog as news are merely undemanding fillers located between used-car commercials and mattress ads. Not to mention the announcements for male enhancement.
    Okay, you say, what about the weather? Well, what about the weather. First of all, the weather, most of the time, is not news. Most of the time, it’s a drip. Yet the weather is very big on the local stations. They even lead their newscasts with the forecast, like, “Very sunny today, but that could change.” Holy headline! One local station even tries to shock its audience out of the “news” — induced somnolence with this grabber: “First Warning Weather.” Aside from my admonition to always avoid alliteration, they shouldn’t be warning weather unless there is weather to be warned. Listen, people, you’d be better served just glancing out your window for rain than staring at the pedestrian climatological ho-hums they pass off as news.
    You see, the definition of news is that which is unusual, out-of-the-ordinary, surprising, scoop. And the definition of a news reporter is someone skilled at ferreting out that which is unusual and, then, communicating it. But what you have on the local stations is a failure to communicate. Not only that, but the so-called communicators, or newscasters, are nothing more than those who mumble the mundane, mannequins of mendacity. Oops, there I go alliterating again.
    Instead of focusing on original reporting, the local stations are focused on cosmetics. Not a country for old men and women, the local television “news” landscape is populated by bubble-heads and glib, young, sometimes pretty know-nothings. The truth is, they wouldn’t know a news story if it slapped them in the face. When was the last time you saw an investigative piece about, let’s see, the Massey Mine disaster? Or, how about, God forbid, an exclusive story that penetrated the precincts where politicians hide their secrets from the public?
    There are reasons you don’t get the news on local TV. Station owners and managers forbid their news departments from stepping on toes and ruffling feathers, out of fear that such stories might insult local advertisers or offend politicians on whose toes reporters might stomp. And investigative or original reporting is costly, meaning real reporters must be hired to do real reporting, a job that requires lots of time and money that the stations have no time for. Instead, I remember one Huntington TV station leading its newscast last December with the astonishing news that Christmas tree sales were on the rise. Hold the presses!
    Someone once said that owning a local TV station is like having a license to steal. But the real license to broadcast calls for the people to be informed. People, isn’t it time to revoke the license?
    Rabel is an author and Emmy Award-winning former television news correspondent who lives in Lincoln County.

  3. I second everything Ed Rabel has said so beautifully.

  4. One of my best friends died in December 2014 of acute myeloid leukemia. She grew up in Charleston, WV.

  5. […] West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA […]

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