Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 29, 2016

Flint: Raise Your Glasses

City and state officials toast Flint's switch to Flint River water in April 2014.

These are not happy days for the establishment anywhere.

This photo, if you haven’t seen it before, shows Flint legislators raising their glasses in April 2014 to toast their independence from the Detroit water system.

If the picture has been circulating for sometime, it’s appearance in the New York Times in May 2014 was surely taken at face value. The business article mostly addressed Detroit’s loss of revenue. Flint’s new source of water, the Flint River, on the other hand, was only mentioned in the second-to-last line without a hint of the health crisis to follow.

…That’s in contrast to photo’s vibe as it lead off this Mother Jones article yesterday. That piece details how officials in Flint were providing fresh water to state employees (including, the water coolers in the halls of power) well before the public was made aware of the deadly contamination. (You can see different inflections in the 2014 and 2016 captions below.)

In the present context, it’s a snapshot of officer holders and insiders who not only hold it over the populace, but celebrate the fact. Whether or not they’re swilling the river brand (though I doubt these guys have even suffered a rash), it also catches the bureaucrats red-handed.  Just as cynically, it’s a view of institutional negligence through the metaphor of “the glass half empty.” Finally, is there a chance in the world that cell phone photo is still in existence?

By the way, the link in the opening sentence goes to a Politico story about, who else now, but Donald Trump. However little people think of the GOP’s bedlamite, he’s managed to take the political and the media space hostage by tapping into another toxic river — the one people harbor to “throw the bums out.” Because the timing of a photo counts for so much, the Flint crisis, and the reappearance of this picture, is still another conduit for that ire.

(photo: Samuel Wilson/The Flint Journal/AP. Original NYT caption: Officials in Flint, Mich., raised glasses of treated water to celebrate the city’s breakup with Detroit’s water system. Mother Jones caption: City and state officials toast Flint’s switch to Flint River water in April 2014.)

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