In the past five days, millions of words have been written and spoken relating to media mistakes and failures in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings. So far relatively little has emerged concerning the even more deadly explosion in West, Texas, last Wednesday. But now, in an interview this week, one of the leading government “whistleblowers” of the past four decades, who still (somehow) holds his job, has sharply criticized the lack of deep media probing of the Texas disaster—and the alleged “lies” in key Reuters and New York Times articles.
Managers of the West Fertilizer plant that ignited, killing at least fourteen (with others still missing), mainly first responders, should face a federal grand jury “but you can’t get to that if the media won’t even give people the facts—and in the case of the Times and Reuters, have given people false facts,” says Hugh B. Kaufman, a senior analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency since the 1970s. He also criticizes a new Huffington Post report but does praise some other reporting.
“Don’t forget, unlike Hurricane Sandy, this is a man-made disaster,” Kaufman declares. “The bottom line is: It’s a law enforcement, criminal violations issue, that resulted in needless loss of life. These guys in Texas broke the criminal statutes of the United States, but the media and Texas politicians are pretending it’s a regulatory policy issue. It’s like Alice in Wonderland—or maybe Dallas in Wonderland.”
Kaufman is a legend in whistleblower circles. When I first met him, he was, in the wake of the Love Canal toxic dump disaster of the late 1970s, exposing via the media and Congress the full extent of the chemical waste disaster around the United States, leading to the creation of the Super Fund to deal with them. (He was featured in my first book Truth or Consequences, about whistleblowers, in 1981.) His agitation within the agency, and creative work with hundreds of reporters and members of Congress (including the young Representative Al Gore), became the stuff of legend, as he blew the whistle on numerous other hazards and cover-ups.
This led to the widely covered attempt to fire him during the Reagan years, which instead ended up with EPA chief Rita Lavelle going to jail for perjury. Then he alerted the public to EPA misstatements on the toxic hazards for clean-up crews and residents around Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks—and the chemicals approved by the US in responding to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf. At the age of 70, he remains at the agency advising administrators but with no real power—after the Bush team eliminated EPA’s ombudsman—beyond his continuing efforts to get reporters interested in vital stories.
Following his usual pattern, he has contacted many journalists in the past few days about the Texas explosion, but this time “it seems editors are scared of it,” he asserts. “They either don’t want to piss off Republicans or don’t want people to know that President Obama is halfway between the center and the Republicans.” Obama has often been courageous, considering how many “nutcases hate his guts,” Kaufman observes, but he needs to be pushed by media that “have the responsibility to accurately cover important stories, like an explosion that blows up a Texas town.”