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How MSNBC Gets Detroit Wrong

How MSNBC Gets Detroit Wrong

By David Russell - July 24, 2013

MSNBC hosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Ed Schultz have offered ill-informed opinions on Detroit’s circumstances, and the network has failed to disclose an enormous conflict of interest in its coverage. Al Sharpton, who hosts a weekday program on the network, is also the president of the National Action Network, which filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan in opposition to the law used to appoint Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. This is a conflict of interest, and the network should disclose that one of its employees actively opposes Orr’s management of Detroit.

This past Friday, on “Now With Alex Wagner,” Melissa Harris-Perry argued that the rest of country would look like Detroit if it follows small government policies. Detroit levies the highest per capita tax burden in the state, but residents have still left, and the city could not generate enough revenue to remain solvent. The city was also the only one in Michigan to levy an excise tax on utility users. Despite this the city’s public lighting department ran an annual $150 million dollar loss for the last five years. The service was subpar and streetlights were consistently out. The system is being taken over by DTE, a utility company serving the rest of the metro area. None of this is small government. Harris-Perry chose not to cover Detroit on her own show, which has four hours on the weekends.

Ed Schultz, another weekend host, has provided the worst commentary. Schultz began a 12-minute rant by telling viewers there’s “lots of misinformation surrounding this story” and then proceeded to fulfill that prophecy. He attacked Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, accusing him of trying to “swindle” retirees out of their pensions. This argument is easily refuted by Rochelle Riley’s column in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. Headlined “Retirees must share some of the blame” the column noted that the city’s pension system has 21,000 retirees receiving deferred compensation, and only 9,700 workers paying into the system. That’s an untenable situation, no matter who is governor.

Schultz’s most clueless analysis came on the issue of blight. The federal government has granted Michigan $100 million to fight blight in cities throughout the state. This is not a new development. In 2010, as part of the federal economic stimulus package, Michigan received $224 million for blight projects, including the demolition of 2,500 structures. Then-Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, called the news “a really good day for Michigan.”

In Schultz’s world though, Snyder’s blight removal efforts are an evil conspiracy “to tear down the city” and “to destroy the city.” Detroit has 78,000 abandoned structures, and Schultz apparently believes all of them should remain standing. He also appears to be naïve to the dangers these buildings pose to law enforcement and residents, especially children. Often, these structures are set ablaze, stretching the resources of the city’s fire department. There are local groups, including Motor City Blight Busters, that are taking down buildings and removing trash from neighborhoods. Schultz’s argument that blight removal is an effort to “tear down the city” is not serious, and he should be embarrassed by his ignorance.

Some MSNBC programs have used Detroit writers and reporters, and those segments have done a much better job of informing viewers about the challenges facing the city. The network should have more segments like those. It should also inform viewers before each Detroit segment that one of its hosts is suing the state of Michigan in opposition to the law that the emergency manager was appointed under. Taking these steps would better inform viewers about the situation in Detroit and allow them to make their own judgment about the fairness of the coverage.

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David Russell

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