-By Warner Todd Huston
Proving once again that Hollywood always gravitates to the wrong causes, Tim Cavanaugh of Reason.com reported on Dec. 14 that the California town made famous by Erin Brokovich — an activism that Hollywood embraced with a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts — has proven not to have lived up to all the anti-corporate fearmongering that brought the town to the country’s attention.
For those of you that are hazy on the story, local activist Erin Brokovich successfully took Pacific Gas and Electric to court forcing it to pay a record $333 million class-action settlement because it was determined that the company allowed a toxic plume of hexavalent chromium 6 to be released from the natural gas pipeline based in Hinkley, California. The charge from Brockovich and her supporters was that this cloud of hexavalent chromium 6 was surely going to unleash a wave of devastating cancers on the unsuspecting residents of Hinkley. The courts tended to agree. The court of public opinion also agreed. Interestingly, there wasn’t any real scientific proof to give the contention veracity, but everyone was just sure that increased levels of cancer would befall these poor people. The company lost and paid dearly.
It was just the sort of David vs Goliath story that drew Hollywood to the tale. A 2000 film starring Julia Roberts, one of the highest paid actresses of her day, was crafted to make a hero of Miss Brockovich.
Hollywood loves these anti-corporate stories. From actress Meryl Streep testifying before Congress on the dangers of the chemical Alar on apples and produce, to movies like The China Syndrome, a film about catastrophic safety lapses in the nuclear power industry, even to sci-fi shows like Robocop, a film that made a villain of corporations, Hollywood loves to think of itself as fighting “for the little people.” Sadly, in almost every case the denizens of Hollywood whip up sentiment against things without any truth or proof supporting their position. Meryl Streep was wrong about Alar causing wide-spread cancer, The China Syndrome wholly misrepresented the safety record of the nuclear power industry causing an entire generation of Americans to eschew nuclear power when the rest of the world was fully investing in it (without safety troubles, mind you), and Robocop was simply hyperbole gone wild. Oh, but Hollywood was fighting for you, don’t you know?
Well, as Cavanaugh reveals, we have yet another example of a Hollywood movie getting it wrong. Julia Roberts’ film Erin Brockovich is coming up a bit short because the rates of cancer in the town have not gone up sharply due to the chemical release by Pacific Gas and Electric as the activists claimed they would.
As it happens three different cancer studies found that cancer rates in Hinkley, California have remained normal between the twenty year span beginning in 1988. No wild growth in cancer has occurred.
From 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — a slightly lower number than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics, said epidemiologist John Morgan, who conducted the California Cancer Registry survey.
The survey did not attempt to explain why any individual in Hinkley contracted cancer, nor did it diminish the importance of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. cleaning up a plume of groundwater with elevated levels of chromium 6, Morgan said.
“In this preliminary assessment we only looked at cancer outcomes, not specific types of cancer,” Morgan said. “However, we did look at a dozen cancer types in earlier surveys of the same census tract for the years between 1988 and 1998. Overall, the results of those surveys were almost identical to the new findings, and none of the cancers represented a statistical excess.”
Cavanaugh also notes that the L.A. Times reported that the cancer rate is lower “than expected.” But I wonder whose stats the L.A. Times is using to gauge what is “expected”? For the L.A. Times’ report to ring true they would have to have been using the “expected” stats of the activists to gauge their reaction! In other words, the Times took the word of the activists and used their assumptions as the baseline from which to find cancer rates lower “than expected.”
That baseline is simply incorrect, obviously, yet the Times still used that baseline to determine its reaction! Even with the cancer scare being wholly disproven, the Times still reported the story from the activist’s point of view. That shows the bias of the Times, if nothing else.
To further reveal the Times’ bias, its story goes on to “report” the anecdotal stories of fearful Hinkley citizens that shows that they simply refuse to believe their lying eyes when they read the three different health reports that show no higher rates of cancer has befallen them.
Even as it reports the facts proven that cancer fears are overblown, the Times is still reporting the story from the activist’s incorrect point of view. Just like Hollywood did with its movie.