From the headlines, it seemed apparent that lo, unto Flint has come a savior, and his name is Elon Musk.
Freep: Will Tesla CEO Elon Musk fix Flint water? And in The News: Elon Musk vows to fix water in Flint homes.
How did this happen? Pull up a chair, because it’s a perfect nonstory for our stupid age.
This is a story about Twitter, where words mean nothing and everything, and amount to little more than chirping from the trees outside your window at sunrise. Anyway, late Wednesday afternoon, someone who goes by BabyD tweeted this to the savior:
Hey @elonmusk I heard a bunch of people saying there’s NO WAY you could help get clean water to Flint, Michigan. Said you wouldn’t be capable idk
Musk, who has 99 problems of his own, must have been checking his phone over there in China — he was in China when this happened — and would not let this playground taunt go unanswered. NO WAY?!? This is the man who will soon put a Tesla in every driveway, just as soon as he figures out manufacturing. Why, the problems of an economically depressed city with a critically damaged underground infrastructure is child’s play to such a man.
Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels. No kidding.
Here’s where the problems start. He said he’d fix water “in any house,” not Flint as a whole. But OK, admirable.
But as any Michigander who’s read a damn newspaper in the last . . . what, four years? . . . should know, the EPA, not the FDA, monitors drinking-water safety.
Maybe that’s a smartypants quibble. (Ha-ha, you confuse pour/pore in that tweet, Mr. President! BURN!!!)
BabyD seemed rocked back on his heels. If Twitter could stammer like Jackie Gleason on “The Honeymooners,” this is what it would sound like:
Let me know how I can help, in any way
Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Musk had replied to that, and maybe asked BabyD for a list of addresses where the water still isn’t safe, or maybe the “FDA’s” current standards? But he didn’t. Instead, a shitstorm exploded.
A reporter from CNET tweeted at Musk — basically, dude, for real? Cuz the government says the water is safe now.
And Musk replied again:
You’re right on both counts. Most houses in Flint have safe water, but they’ve lost faith in govt test results. Some houses are still outliers. Will organize a weekend in Flint to add filters to those houses with issues & hopefully fix perception of those that are actually good.
Here’s where Musk really gets in over his depth. “Most houses are OK, but faith has been lost” is a statement no local would argue with. Faith and trust left town in 2014 and haven’t booked a return trip.
“Some houses are still outliers?” No idea what that means; Flint switched back to treated Detroit water in 2015, although that didn’t fix the problem of corroded pipes, which is why the city and state began providing free bottled water and filters to all residents at the same time.
And then comes the promise: Musk — or more likely, some underling who just got this assignment — will come to town on some weekend TBD to . . . install filters. On “houses with issues.” It will fix perception.
We bet these will not be any old filters. They’ll be better somehow. They’ll be installed by staff for the 21st Century’s Henry Ford, and they will fix perceptions. Hopefully.
So that’s what happened: Some guy taunted Musk, he responded and promised to do something that’s already being done. That’s Twitter for you.
But we don’t want to pile on Musk, who after all was in China, probably just dicking around during a break in meetings, and thought, what’s the harm? Those people deserve clean water. That is a generous impulse.
No, the problem is with the journalists, trained now to respond to Twitter like a Category 5 hurricane, who moved like heifers at the end of a cattle prod.
The question mark in the Freep headline is really everything. Will Musk fix Flint water? (Just asking.) No. The only thing that will fix Flint water is the slow, labor-intensive process of digging up every last lead pipe and replacing it with copper and PVC.
If you really want to read a story about how complicated and fraught the Flint situation is, this piece in The News today is useful.
Have a nice day, Flint.