Just in case you were tired of all the upbeat Pittsburgh coverage from the likes of The New York Times, along comes CBS News tonight with these grim tidings from the Rust Belt:
An abandoned steel mill on the outskirts of Braddock, Pa. is all that's left in a river valley that once hummed with the sounds of metal -- and money being made.
"Steel meant everything to the area," says Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. "It meant jobs. It meant a source of pride."
A-n-n-n-n-d-d-d-d we're off, to another tale of Mon Valley woe. For a couple minutes of tonight's broadcast, it's like we were back in 1982, with a few nods to the current banking crisis tossed in to bring us up to speed.
It's sort of an odd piece. For one thing, I'm not sure how CBS missed it, but there's a very active steel mill right inside Braddock, PA. It's called the Edgar Thomson plant, part of the Mon Valley Works. And the Irvin Works, another part of the same facility, isn't very far upstream.
CBS does let Fetterman strike the requisite populist note: "If the government has $140 billion for AIG, these communities deserve a greater share of the attention and the dollars," he tells correspondent Cynthia Bowers. But overall, the story is kind of a muddle. For one thing, the segment briefly shows a banner that sarcastically praises the Mon-Fayette Expressway for its impact on Braddock, but Bowers doesn't really explain what "MFX" means.
Which is too bad. Bowers talks about bringing "much-needed sewer, road and bridge improvements to Braddock," but Fetterman argues that the wrong road improvement would doom the town, probably more thoroughly than anything else.
What's more, Bowers talks about the need to "salvage a steel industry that has seen prices drop 50 percent" in recent months. This coming one day after US Steel reported stronger-than-expected earnings for 2008. In fairness, US Steel also warned that 2009 will be ugly, but the larger point is that Braddock's fate was severed from that of the steel industry long ago. Edgard Thomson could be running full-blast around the clock, and it would barely make a dent in Braddock's unemployment.
Speaking of local industries that have severed themselves from their communities, CBS also had a story tonight about the total lack of transparency in the bank bailout. The story details how federal bank officials have made it almost impossible to figure out who is getting bailout money, or how much. As Sharyl Attkisson reports --
[I]n one contract after another, vital information is blacked out [from public documents], such as how much people are getting paid and who the key players are. There's even the Bank of New York Mellon which got $3 billion in bailout money -- and got hired to manage the bailout, too. How much are they being paid? Blacked out.
Maybe this is one reason local business leaders at, say, the Allegheny Conference don't challenge Mayor Ravenstahl shadier dealings more often: We wouldn't want demands for transparency to start spreading, would we?