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Diacetyl Media Coverage Rant

06Sep07Capture.jpgFeel free to disregard if you don’t like rants, but the NY Times story of one man’s at-home exposure to diacetyl and the resulting case of bronchiolitis obliterans has made the most emailed list as of 06-Sep-07, and propelled diacetyl into the big time. Now, anyone who keeps half an eye on occupational health issues (or reads the pump handle) would have known that at least 5 workers in the flavoring industry had died of this disease, and many many more were afflicted by bronchiolitis obliterans. Yet, the press completely ignored this issue. As soon as one person had the same problem at home, it suddenly became a frontpage issue, causing all kinds of backpedalling by Conagra and big popcorn (gotta love that phrase!!).

There is a casual and systemic disregard for blue collar worker’s rights in this country, starting from an institutional distaste for unions, lack of health coverage, job security, pensions, playing one set of workers against the other, using selectively and arbitrarily enforced immigration laws to keep workers pliant, putting industry executives and lobbyists in charge of agencies that are supposed to keep workers’ welfare in mind, stressing “voluntary” regulation. failing to react to new information, I could go on and on, but you know the deal.

Why is it that the US national press can identify so much easier with one isolated case of popcorn lung while having ignored all the other occupational exposure cases? I am just a scientist, no sociologist/economist/anthropologist, but it seems to me that the press here is way too white collar and just cannot relate to the average agricultural/industrial worker. The average journalist is a white man with a journalism major from a reputable school who cut his chops doing unpaid work for the school paper. These kinds of educational and apprenticeship requirements filter the journalist worker pool to a rather homogeneous white, middle class tepidity. Because the average journalist can’t identify with issues faced by blue collar America, there’s this unstated assumption that somehow, their lives are hard and fraught with danger and uncertainty, but they don’t really deserve much better, it’s their lot in life. It’s probably because they did not study hard enough or were smart enough.

As usual, there are no easy answers. I would say Agitate, Agitate, Agitate!! But what do I know about blue collar America? People are working so hard to make ends meet without a safety net or anyone looking out for them that they have just about enough energy to get through the day and face the next one.

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One Comment

  1. I think you’ve hit on it. Workers issues in general don’t make the headlines very often. This class consciousness among journalists and the “educated classes” isn’t universal (see Democracy Now! for an alternative) but it is pervasive and largely invisible. There once was a day when workers had their own press, published newspapers and had radio shows specific to issues that affected their lives. Those were all crushed or run out of business by the William Randolph Hearsts and Rupert Murdochs of the world. Unfortunately, the digital divide still makes blogs the domain of the privileged. Hopefully this won’t be the case for too much longer because the low cost and universal distribution offers the potential for a genuine social movement.

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