Press Downplays, Hides EPA's Responsibility for Western River Contamination

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committed an act which would have likely become instant national news if a private entity had done the same thing.

On Friday, John Merline at Investors' Business Daily succinctly noted that the EPA "dumped a million gallons of mine waste into Animas River in Colorado, turning it into what looked like Tang, forcing the sheriff's office to close the river to recreational users." Oh, and it "also failed to warn officials in downstream New Mexico about the spill." Yet here we are four days later, and the story has gotten very little visibility outside of center-right blogs and outlets. That's largely explained by how the wire services have handled the story. After the jump, readers will see headlines and descriptions of the stories which have appeared thus far at the web site of the New York Times:

NYTwireHeadlinesOnEPAcoloradoSpill080915

No headline acknowledges the EPA's admitted responsibility for the spill. Only one headline mentions the EPA at all.

As to the story teases above, only the second item, from the Associated Press, recognizes the EPA's responsibility.

The AP has, from what I can tell, filed four stories on the spill:

  1. (Time-stamped as "Updated" August 6 at 5:30 pm) "Mine plug blows in SW Colorado, dumps 1 million gallons of waste"
  2. (Time-stamped August 7 at 8:08 PM EDT) "EPA: No word yet on health risk from Colorado mine spill"
  3. (Time-stamped August 8 at 3:45 PM EDT) "EPA accidentally spills wastewater from Colorado mine into nearby river"
  4. (Time-stamped August 9 at 5:05 AM EDT) "WASTEWATER FROM COLORADO MINE REACHES NEW MEXICO"

Only one has a headline identifying EPA's responsibility, and it appears to have had limited exposure.

Only the second and fourth stories have made it to the wire service's "Big Story" site, indicating that the first and third likely got non-national treatment. It's impossible to know for sure, because AP often sends older stories posted at its main national site down the memory hole when a new related story is written. At the time of this post, based on a search on "EPA Animas" (not in quotes), only the fourth story was found there.

But the wire service usually does not engage in the "memory hole" practice at its "Big Story" site, indicating that Item 3, the one actually headlining EPA's responsibility, "somehow" got skipped.

Although the first AP report parroted the EPA's claim that "that there was no threat to drinking water from the spill," a story at the Denver Post yesterday indicated that "Tests show (Animas River) water (is) acidic as coffee," and that "EPA officials on Saturday morning also said they are bracing for another surge of acid discharge from mines above Silverton." In other words, the ordeal is far from being over.

Additionally, TV station KOB in New Mexico is reporting that "San Juan County has issued a declaration of emergency in response to the massive pollution spill into the Animas River," and that "Potable water stations have been set up for residents."

IBD's Merline believes that if a private company had done ths, "Such a calamity would probably lead the nightly news, with calls from environmentalists and the EPA for investigations, fines, lawsuits, and tougher pollution controls." It's hard to disagree.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.