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When disasters hit, why would smiling ensue?

February 5, 2016

 

His nasally voice and hungry body donned the ballroom stage Friday afternoon at the Grand Amway Plaza Hotel.

 

The speech by Gov. Rick Snyder, held Jan. 29 at a luncheon, was supposed to be the week’s conclusion to the two-day journalism Nirvana, a crescendo for the Michigan Press Association’s Awards ceremony.

 

It was a denouement, sure, but it wasn’t the one I imagined. It seemed so odd, so inverted.

The event began with the restless anticipation for Snyder. He had already committed, cancelled and recommitted attending the conference all in less than a week’s time.

 

No tie, grey-textured jacket, black pants and a light blue shirt -- Snyder’s appearance gave way to his pleading voice, an Elton John song about sorry, about loss, about forgiveness.

 

Blinking rapidly, his left hand dribbling the air as he spoke, Snyder said, “We don’t just walk away. We don’t just rollover…”

 

Pause.

 

Snyder’s speech was about “the spirit of collaboration.” His voice, solemn, and his speech, practiced:  everyone in attendance -- and I am being sincere when I say this -- was convinced of the new path Snyder wanted to forge.

 

“We have a crisis in Flint. We have a situation where people cannot drink the water coming out of the tap. That’s wrong. Worse than that people were exposed to lead,” Snyder said.

 

Snyder shook hands with legislators, journalists and students before his speech. An ovation as he stood next to an oak podium. 

 

The man, who according to senators and representatives sitting at our table, never before had socialized with the attendees. Yet, he was playing this “head of state” now. Yet, his new PR firm was working -- literally and figuratively. Yet, there seemed to be sympathy in a room full of calloused journalists (my cynicism included).

 

Because the event -- the speech -- concluded with the signing of a $28-million aid bill, passed unanimously by lawmakers. The bill is co-sponsored by 96 members in the House.

 

A standing ovation. More clapping. More smiles than a dentist office. The click-click of the cameras were too much. My ears couldn’t handle it; my conscience couldn’t handle.

 

Ah.

 

When did it become okay to cheer in the press box? As journalists -- and I have been guilty of this before -- we are not supposed to cheer for a team, even if it is specific, region-assigned coverage.  

There should be no cheering in this metaphorical press box. No smiles at the disaster that hit Flint head-on. But there was. Ew.

 

Where does this leave Flint?

 

According to an article released Jan. 26 on www.abcnews.go.com, “(The) state emergency response officials say about 176,000 cases of water, 93,000 water filters and 29,000 water testing kits have been distributed to residents since Jan. 6.”

 

Flint has everyone’s attention now. I just hope politicians won’t smile and act jovial the next time a disaster arises.

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