Kary Moss, an Ann Arborite, is just back from a recent speaking engagement. And she was talking about Flint because the constitutional rights group played a decisive role in uncovering the city’s water crisis.
In 2013, Moss hired former Detroit Metro Times editor Curt Guyette as interim media liaison. He soon made the transition to investigative reporter–the only one employed by the ACLU anywhere in the country. His assignment: to delve into the impact of state-appointed emergency managers on residents of Flint, Detroit, and other Michigan cities in financial straits.
By early 2015, Guyette began focusing almost exclusively on Flint residents’ alarm over their discolored tap water–and the indifferent and even hostile response they were getting from local and state officials.
At first, his reporting on an ACLU-backed website and in the Metro Times attracted little attention. Frustrated, Guyette reached out to other media, including Michigan Public Radio, which, Moss recalls, “started to do their own work. Drums started getting pounded.”
When tests found that Flint children had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, the story exploded globally. People were fired, a shaken Governor Snyder was grilled by Congress, everyone donated water to Flint–and in January, the Michigan Press Association named Guyette its Journalist of the Year.
After eighteen years on the job, controversy is not new to Moss. But the Flint story “has been the most devastating and impactful in many ways,” she says. “People were poisoned. Children were poisoned.”
She realized the story was finally breaking one day when “I took probably a dozen media calls, and I also spoke to a few residents and a few other nonprofits. I realized that something big was happening–people really pulling together to get the story out … It was almost like being in the middle of magic happening.”
The Michigan ACLU has stayed involved. It’s currently lead plaintiff in a lawsuit asking a federal court to step in to secure safe drinking water for the citizens of Flint
Ann Arborite and ACLU attorney Mike Steinberg points out that Guyette’s research has served its original purpose: “Flint is Exhibit A for what happens when a state suspends democracy and installs unaccountable bean counters to run a city.”