Muckraker: Wasco’s bloody worms

Muckraker: Wasco’s bloody worms

WE had barely recovered from the shock of long and thick bloodworms tumbling out of Wasco taps when some senior official from the company thought it prudent to open his mouth on national TV.
He opened his mouth so wide that Muckraker could see his brains. And indeed when Muckraker peeped in there it was difficult to find anything by way of substance.

Sadly, the official thought he was being smart. That is always the case when someone has a microphone thrust in their face.
That’s what happens when you mistake education for wisdom. There he was, telling us with gusto that the water teeming with worms is safe to drink.
You can boil or strain the water but the worms are harmless, he said with a straight face devoid of any speck of shame.
He was probably right in science because the worms don’t make you sick.

But he was missing the point of the public outrage at the worms-in-water incident.
His gobbledegook was not going to wash with a sceptical public that has learned to take everything that comes from company or senior government officials with a pinch of salt.

Watching the man speaking, Muckraker understood that we always have a huge reservoir of insincerity in this country.
Our supply of insincerity does not come in tanks but a pipeline. We have it in abundance.
Yet that is not what really startled Muckraker. The most dreadful part was not what the man was saying but a little exhibit sitting on his table.
As he preached the virtues of drinking worm-full water, a bottle of purified water sat there for all viewers to see.

So this Wasco official was telling us to drink from taps spewing worms yet he was sipping bottled water. The mismatch between his words and behaviour was staggering.  He was clearly oblivious to the fact that he was committing a cardinal sin in public relations and crisis management.
In other words he was saying: I too don’t trust that shitty water but I have to tell you that it’s perfectly safe because I am paid to utter such bunkum.

You may ask what Muckraker expected the man to say or do to make his story believable. Well, this is a simple matter: if you say something is safe then you should partake it.

It’s also a cultural thing. We eat and drink together. If you bring a bucket of hopose to a gathering you must take the first sip before you hand it to the other people.

The idea is that if you have not laced the drink with something toxic then you should have the confidence to take the first sip. It puts everyone else at ease.

To prove his claim the Wasco official should have simply walked to the nearest tap, with the cameraman in tow, filled his glass and drank from it.
But because the issue was now beyond the debate about the water being safe the man should have gone an extra mile.
Remember his message was that worms are harmless. So before coming to the studio the man should have gone to Mpilo reservour and filled a container with bloodworms.

Then he would have deposited some of the worms into a glass full of tap water and gulped it with a smile. Only then were people going to accept that the bloodworms are harmless.

If he was not thirsty he could have just brought papa and bloodworms to the studio. If those worms are not harmless then they should be good enough for relish. The point is that he should have consumed the worms to prove that they are indeed harmless. Imagine the impact of a Wasco man starring into a camera with worms dangling from his mouth while he asks for a toothpick. Mmmmmm, delicious!

There is nothing disgusting with that because there are probably some people who have already gobbled those worms.
Frankly, we don’t know what else should be in our water. We are furious about the bloodworms because we can see them. How about the other little creatures our eyes cannot see?

Muckraker wondered what had informed the official’s statement of TV until a Wasco statement landed in her mailbox.
The source of the message he was trying to foist on the public became clear. The man was merely repeating what the Wasco management had briefed him.

If the man had done a terrible job of selling the Wasco story then the statement took the matter to another level. To be fair, the statement started well.
Muckraker was slightly impressed that Wasco, unlike other state institutions, has accepted responsibility and promised to sort out the mess.
But somewhere along the way things went haywire.

A basic rule in crisis management is that you should only say that which is necessary. You take ownership of the problem and commit to finding a solution.

You then shut up until you have something new to tell the people. In the statement Wasco forgot to zip it.
Somewhere towards the end customers were given a lecture on how to deal with the worms.
“Customers are encouraged to strain and or filter water at their taps if they still observe bloodworms in their supply. While it is not necessary, customers may boil their water,” the statement suggested.

So we are being told to sieve the water at the taps. Muckraker assumes that you can use a cloth or a real sieve.
Obviously Wasco doesn’t think it’s their problem where you get the sieve. Maybe we should take the water to the grinding mill, just to be sure.
But the statement did not end there.

“The Chironimid larvae are harmless and if one is accidentally swallowed it would be as harmless as swallowing an ant. They pose no health risk,” the statement declared.

So there we have it: we are screaming over harmless worms in our water. We should just gulp them because they don’t make us sick. The operative word in the sentence is “accidently”, meaning something that happens by chance.

But when worms are pouring from the tap swallowing the worms cannot be considered accidental. They are in your Oros and food. They are your meal. The thought of your water dashed with worms is revolting.

The most fascinating part though is the comparison with swallowing an ant. Yes ants are harmless but we don’t go around swallowing them.
Wasco is a water company not a worm company. To suggest that we should swallow worms in the water because they are harmless is to be arrogant.

It’s like a hotel telling you to calm down when you see a mosquito in your food because the insect is not harmful when swallowed. It is to miss the real reason why people are disgusted.

The point is that water should not have worms. Muckraker sees the hand of a decent public relations manager in the statement but suspects someone in the high office tried to be too clever by half.

It is clear that the part about the worms being harmless and ants came from someone who knows zilch about public relations. It is those excitable fingers that messed up an otherwise good statement.

Next time Wasco bosses should stick to their roles of delivering clean and safe water to the people.
They should stay away from the camera and statements when there is a crisis to explain to the public.

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