Politico reported Tuesday that the CDC had concluded formally that Arkansas failed in dealing with virus hot spots among Hispanics and the Marshallese in northwest Arkansas a couple of weeks ago.
The report provided a helpful small-scale case study of a classic conflict, that of a proud American province and the national media coming around that proud province either to expose or exploit, depending on who's judging.
Sometimes the fresh outside perspective, focused resources and expertise of the national media can shine light either repressed or unseen by the resourceless, myopic, protective, incompetent or biased local media. That was the historic case with national journalists covering the civil rights struggle in the South.
It also was the case recently with The New Yorker magazine focusing on the inside story of the coronavirus in our state prison system's Cummins Unit. Our sometimes-moderate Republican governor complained, as if an air-brushed Southern segregationist governor of the '50s or '60s, about outside agitators from New York coming in predetermined to find 1960s-style corruption and producing a piece that he said was wrong without ever saying how.
But, sometimes, the national media can be full of it. Excuse my defensiveness, but ... Whitewater.
It's a story that I and others in the Arkansas press in the 1980s supposedly missed. We were told by our national media betters that we hadn't properly covered the incestuous nature of business and politics in our remote little province.
We were told that by missionaries from Washington, D.C., where a big-time lawyer once wrote me on behalf of First Lady Hillary Clinton that she would not grant me an interview for a book I was writing--which was no surprise to me. But, as I emerged slowly and dimly from my naivete, I discovered that the lawyer writing the letter as Hillary's legal representative was the agent for Bob Woodward, who was writing a similar and remarkably better book about Clinton's early days as president.
I'm not complaining. It's been decades. I'm just explaining. Incest can occur at all levels.
There never was anything to Whitewater except that a young Bill and Hillary Clinton, obsessed with politics and not business, lost money in a land deal with a guy they considered a friend who was a little ... erratic, let us say. But The New York Times got its claws into the story and wouldn't let go until it had morphed into Bill's inevitably overheating sexual radiator.
That led to impeachment that resulted in acquittal and a spike in Clinton's job approval rating.
So, the new small-
scale case study: The national outlet Politico published an item citing the CDC report faulting Arkansas for its handling of the alarming spike in the minority Hispanic and Marshallese communities in northwest Arkansas.
This was less than a major report. It was a low item in a roundup. But it was valuable.
Politico told us right away that the CDC had come in not merely to help, as the governor and state health director told us at the time in their daily happy-talk sessions, but to investigate.
The report faulted the state for mixed messages, confused guidance and more generally in permitting a culture by which infected people kept working because they felt they had no option.
The report asserted that the federal government needs to pump more resources into such situations.
Asked about that at their daily happy-talk session Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the health director, Dr. Nate Smith, responded ... fairly well.
Their only whine was not entirely a whine but a legitimate criticism that the Politico item attributed to CDC investigators certain findings that were, in fact, from a section of the report quoting complaints offered by persons from those minority communities during focus-group discussions.
That's to say the national media report may have erred on a key detail. But Hutchinson and Smith acknowledged--that detail aside--that it's not good that those affected people felt they were not communicated with well, guided responsibly or served in a timely way.
Hutchinson said the language barrier was a problem. Smith said guidance was unclear because the situation was unclear. He said things were happening so fast that missing a day of work made you think you were in a different world when you returned.
Thus, this particular national media report seemed fresh and helpful, less a matter of moot Monday morning quarterbacking than a useful debriefing.
The state response seemed healthfully introspective except for a presumably valid complaint about erroneous sourcing of some of the content, for which Politico could be faulted appropriately.
Ideally, should such an outbreak recur, the state would do better. The CDC would help earlier.
The state media might be newly inclined to ask a couple of follow-ups.
And the national media could always come in and show us how it's done, generally, and not necessarily every time or on all details.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.