E-mails: Snyder’s PR team mocked media, misled reporters about Flint Water Crisis

Photo by Steve Neavling.
Photo by Steve Neavling.

As members of Gov. Rick Snyder’s inner circle quietly acknowledged the health dangers of Flint’s drinking water, his public relations team privately mocked journalists for reporting on the growing crisis.

New e-mails show how callous, defensive and misleading some in the administration had become as it became increasingly clear that Flint residents were subjected to dangerous levels of lead and other chemicals in their drinking water while under state control. In e-mails to each other, the communications teams of the governor’s office and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) even scoffed at ministers and experts who expressed concerns about the water.

Brad Wurfell
Brad Wurfell

“The ACLU’s fear campaign on this issue is an embarrassment,” Brad Wurfell, then-spokesman of the DEQ, wrote in response to stories by watchdog journalist Curt Guyette, who a year later was named “Journalist of the Year” by the Michigan Press Association for his revealing work on the Flint water crisis.

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray, who was removed from his position last week, blasted his former MLive.com colleagues, accusing them of “milking” the crisis for web hits by writing three stories in one day about the implications of Flint’s contaminated water.

Dave Murray
Dave Murray

“Based on my MLive experience, I can tell you this means A) the stories are getting a lot of hits, and they are milking it in an attempt to B) get the stories to go viral,” Murray wrote on Jan. 26, 2015. “Journalism has taken a backseat to hits.”

Just three days earlier, a top Snyder aide warned the communications team of a brewing “public relations crisis” that is “waiting to explode nationally.”

Ari Adler
Ari Adler

“If Flint had been hit with a natural disaster that affected its water system, the state would be stepping in to provide bottled water and other assistance. What can we do given the current circumstances?”wrote Ari Adler, then-special projects manager for the governor.

Those concerns weren’t passed on to the public or the media. Instead, the PR teams understated the problems, dismissed studies that showed serious health dangers and ridiculed journalists for writing about the crisis.

Eleven months later, after mounting evidence that Snyder’s inner circle failed to act timely to one of the nation’s worst water crises, the criticism of the media continued. On the same month she was hired as Snyder’s communications director, Meegan Holland called documentarian Michael Moore, a Flint native, “a pot stirrer and attention whore” after he called for Snyder’s resignation and arrest on Twitter.

A day later, Holland, also a former MLive.com journalist, criticized MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for Flint coverage that “stirred the pot.”

Meegan Holland
Meegan Holland

“To answer all her inaccuracies would take more time than what you’d want to give,” Holland wrote to members of her communications team.

Earlier this year, Snyder accepted responsibility for the Flint water crisis and hired two outside public relations firms to handle the political fallout. But the beleaguered governor has refused to resign, shifting blame to the DEQ, Flint and the EPA.

Last week, the state approved language for a recall petition to remove Snyder from office.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • thee1truth

    Rick Snyder and Dave Murray knew about Flint. Hope to see Dave Murray indicted for his role and crimes in the cover up of Flint.

  • Factotum

    The more that comes out, the more I think that the Governor deserves the criticism for his poor leadership and toxic culture among his inner circle, and should resign. That said, the total focus on his errors takes deserved focus off Dane Walling and his buddies on the Genesse County water board for embarking on the ill advised separation from the DWSD. They were hell bent on creating a new local bureaucracy, and have yet to provide firm documentation of the cost savings that the KWA promised. Has anyone followed up on the lack of response from Flint and County officials to repeated attempts by DWSD to negotiate a favorable deal BEFORE any of the talk of using the Flint River as a source came up? Also, who is calling out the poor management of the Flint Water department throughout this mess, including the failure to document the location of lead pipes?

  • Factotum

    The more that comes out, the more I think that the Governor deserves the criticism for his poor leadership and toxic culture among his inner circle, and should resign. That said, the total focus on his errors takes deserved focus off Dane Walling and his buddies on the Genesse County water board for embarking on the ill advised separation from the DWSD. They were hell bent on creating a new local bureaucracy, and have yet to provide firm documentation of the cost savings that the KWA promised. Has anyone followed up on the lack of response from Flint and County officials to repeated attempts by DWSD to negotiate a favorable deal BEFORE any of the talk of using the Flint River as a source came up? Also, who is calling out the poor management of the Flint Water department throughout this mess, including the failure to document the location of lead pipes?

  • maggiemay

    Not all Flint water is contaminated. 52.7% of samples show 0 lead and 30.5% show acceptable levels. Only 0.8% show dangerous levels that can’t be treated by filters. I’m not trying to minimize the problem, just pointing out that 82.9% of Flints water is safe. The 17.1% that’s not is still unacceptable. I think it’s a combination of old homes with lead pipes and corrosive water. Be interesting to see the results if they tested Detroit’s or Grosse Pointe’s water on a home to home basis. A lot of older communities have homes with corroded lead pipes.

  • JC

    Is that guy really wearing Google Glasses?

    • Harry Palmer

      Right.
      Not really surprising, is it?

      • Klann Killa

        Not at all. They call that the ” I’m rubbing my privileged, entitled ass in your face look.” Stinks don’t it? ???

      • Klann Killa

        Not at all. They call that the ” I’m rubbing my privileged, entitled ass in your face look.” Stinks don’t it? ???

    • Harry Palmer

      Right.
      Not really surprising, is it?

  • Klann Killa

    All of these privileged, smug, entitled assholes, and their families should be forced to drink, and bathe in that toxic sludge for the same amount of time as the Flint residents have. I guarantee that will knock the smirk clean off of their “smug mugs.” After the toxins take their tolls on their bodies, throw ALL INVOLVED in the state pen, and lets see how well their sick asses can fend for themselves. Welcome to Sparta!!! ?

    • Dongald Trumpenis

      Agreed. These fascist, pompous a-holes need some medieval justice inflicted on them.

      • Klann Killa

        Dude I can’t imagine my children, or anyone else’s children going through this, and their parents not feeling “Homicidal Rage”, towards ALL INVOLVED. ?

      • Klann Killa

        Dude I can’t imagine my children, or anyone else’s children going through this, and their parents not feeling “Homicidal Rage”, towards ALL INVOLVED. ?

    • Dongald Trumpenis

      Agreed. These fascist, pompous a-holes need some medieval justice inflicted on them.