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Tilting at Windmills

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January 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SAGO AND THE PRESS....Over at Courant, Roger Catlin examines television coverage of the West Virginia miner-miracle-turned-disaster and comes away unimpressed. Greg Saunders does the same for newspaper coverage, and he's not impressed either.

So what really happened here? CNN has this explanation from mine company chief Ben Hatfield:

"What happened is that through stray cell phone conversations it appears this miscommunication from the rescue team underground to the command center was picked up by various people," Hatfield said. "Simply overheard conversation was relayed through cell phone communications without our ever having made a release. International Coal Group never made a release about all 12 of the miners being alive and well."

Did the wire services and cable news channels simply decide to report this apparently unverified information as fact? Or is Hatfield not telling us the whole story? Hopefully someone out there is working on the definitive story of how this happened.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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Comments

Just heard the most viable explanation. Command center said they found a survivor and are checking vitals of others. A mine foreman mis-interpreted the call and made a call out of school to the church where the families were waiting and said that they were alive and getting vitals checked.
Family ran out of church where the media was waiting. Hope overtook reality.

Posted by: sinop85 on January 4, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Regardless of the communications glitch, the accident likely happened because the Bush administration refuses to enforce work safety laws with more than a handslap, a wink, a nudge, and money exchanged under the table.

Posted by: Advocate for God on January 4, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Slightly off-topic, but I was halfway expecting ABC to break in with the news during the Orange Bowl - if they did, I missed it.

Posted by: Robert on January 4, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Dude, I said: stay focussed.

Sago is a distraction. A tempest in a piss pot.

Focus on the Republican Culture of Corruption.

Yes - there were safety violations, and yes, this underscores the larger issue of the relationship between deregulation and public safety. But it's too subtle and nuanced, compared to the Abramoff and DeLay issues.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on January 4, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Editor & Publisher has a story on the poor coverage, and seems to place the blame on the mine officials, who sat by complacently as misinformation quickly spread.

Posted by: New Talking Wall on January 4, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I miss Steve.

Do you ever hear from him? Does he miss us?

Posted by: Mysticdog on January 4, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Do you think Ben Hatfield is from *that* Hatfield family?

Posted by: Hank Scorpio on January 4, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

That's why I like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It gets its fact straight because it is a day or two behind the 24/7 news binge.

Posted by: Darryl Pearce on January 4, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

From what I read in the N&O this morning (an AP story) it seemed to be the word of the state mine official that caused people to think the men were OK. Unfortunately, the N&O scrubbed its website of the story before the real paper hit the driveway, otherwise I would provide a link.

In retrospect, there is nothing in the paper story that cites any particular source as definitively stating that the men were OK.

Posted by: JRI on January 4, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

My hunch is this is the media's fault. You have all these reporters down there reporting live continuously and with very little news to report. You also have tense and anxious relatives-- being grossly exploited by television-- desparately waiting for some positive news. That atmosphere, combined with the ingrained journalistic desire to scoop the competitors, creates an absolute perfect storm for the reporting of unverified information. Sitting there waiting for official confirmation of the number of survivors while everyone else is on the air celebrating a miracle may be the right thing to do, but it's not something that news producers in the competitive atmosphere of cable news feel they can do.

This is entirely the media's fault-- and it's going to happen again in the future, too.

Posted by: Dilan Esper on January 4, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing prevented the mine company from telling the networks that the rescue was not confirmed and that the news was premature. They could have done that anytime during the three hour cheerfest they allowed to brew up. The coal company seems to have been singularly disconnected from the events happening at the mine, which just seems to mirror their stewardshif of the operation in the first place. The disaster that was the recovery just reflected the disaster that this company's incompetent ownership seems to be.

Posted by: PrahaPartizan on January 4, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

12 found alive in coal mine

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on January 4, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

With all due respect to the unhappy families, the error in communication thread is a small story. Move on.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on January 4, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Add to this the willingness of the media to believe and focus on the "lightning strike" theory of causation--that was lame on the face of it, but didn't draw many questions.

Posted by: lahke on January 4, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

With all due respect to the unhappy families, the error in communication thread is a small story. Move on.

No it's not, and here's why. It's just one example, albeit a pretty horrific one for the families, of the news jumping the gun and reporting fiction instead of facts. In short, becoming part of the story themselves. Remember when thousands were reported to probably be dead in Katrina? And the events at the convention center, as bad as they were, were over exaggerated. People are making decisions based on this crap. And the decisions are wrong because the news is wrong.

The fiction gets page 1 above the fold. The facts get page 12.

Posted by: Red State Mike on January 4, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I don't blame the company for not correcting the situation, so long as they didn't cause the situation. If it was a mistaken information leak, they had important rescue-related things to do besides trying to reign in the media - especially if they were working ont eh recue of the one miner at the time. Furthermore, if they themselves were not positive of the status, they defintely don't want to come out and say "we don't think the 12 are alive" if there was the possibility some might be alive.

Finally, it was up to the media to verify the story before running with it. Did they contact the company for verification before running with it. If they did and the company verified, then yeah, they deserve all the abuse they get. But if they weren't contacted, or refused to verify, then it really isn't their fault.

Posted by: Mysticdog on January 4, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

If they did and the company verified, then yeah, they deserve all the abuse they get.

Fact is, they got it wrong. They deserve the abuse they got.

Posted by: Red State Mike on January 4, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully someone out there is working on the definitive story of how this happened.

Yeah, right.

Posted by: pol on January 4, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

It's just one example, albeit a pretty horrific one for the families, of the news jumping the gun and reporting fiction instead of facts.

Any White House press conference would be another example...

Posted by: Gregory on January 4, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

rsm: Remember when thousands were reported to probably be dead in Katrina? And the events at the convention center, as bad as they were, were over exaggerated. People are making decisions based on this crap. And the decisions are wrong because the news is wrong.


remember mushroom cloud......remember iraq would only cost 26-billion...

nothing funnier than a dead ender upset with the facts

Posted by: thisspaceavailable on January 4, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

It wasn't a small story if you were sitting there watching. TV led huzzahs for several hours. People KNEW it wasn't true, could have corrected it immediately, and they chose to do nothing. This is a complete corruption of the sytem of infomormatin.

I had just said to someone last night, that I thought last year's runaway bride episode encapsulated all the worst flaws of 24-hour news coverage ("We know she's been murdered!" -- WAIT!! She's here! -- "Returning to our top story: why do brides get cold feet?"), but that you can be sure there'll always be a new bottom. I didn't expect to be validated within 12 hours.

Did anyone note the similarity to the girl-trapped-in-a-well segment in Woody Allen's Radio Days?

The reports of company negligence made a wrongful-death lawsuit a likelihood anyway -- but I'll bet, now, the families are so steaming mad, they'll try to take the compnay for every penny.

Posted by: demtom on January 4, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

In the age of live feeds and hyperactive media this is bound to happen.

The company did not quickly correct the media reports as they could have, but to be fair they had a policy of releasing news to the families before the public. 45 minutes sounds like a reasonable amount of time to confirm reports of the miners conditions and get the information to the families. In retrospect they should have raised red flags with the media at least saying "Whoa, wait a minute. You guys don't have the story right. Come back in an hour after we talk to the families."

BTW, CO victims are supposed to have a pretty healthy glow. Could have contributed to the misunderstanding if the first responders were for some reason inexperienced.

Posted by: B on January 4, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone remember when it suddenly became necessary that every event be reported within 60 seconds of occurance, as opposed to when news outlets used to wait at least a few hours to get the actual story? I am thinking it was during Gulf War I. Is that correct? There was a very definate change at some point.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 4, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

It's time for the media to grasp a changing paradigm:

Breaking a story does not mean going with it 5 minutes before the other networks. You get no deserved credit for doing this. Furthermore, you get no actual credit either and don't deserve any.

When you break a story through hard work, contacts and verification to ascertain it's truthfulness, then you deserve credit for that. That's the legitimate enterprise, not the former.

That said, the mine company should have quickly said that the early reports are not verified, and not waited hours to make the correction.

Posted by: david on January 4, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

From what I saw just after the Football game was over Rita on MSNBC started picking up excited chatter from relitives and family members. From there she seemed to go with it as if it was verified. I flipped to Fox and CNN and both held off for about 15 minutes. Anderson Cooper went live as the Ambulance went off carring what must have been the one surviver. By that point they were reporting that rescue people were reporting that they were with the others but it was unclear why and when they would be bringing them up to the surface.

Does anyone else remember that sequence?

Stephen Dulaney

Posted by: Stephen Dulaney on January 4, 2006 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Red State Mike: The fiction gets page 1 above the fold. The facts get page 12.

A fairly close description of Bush administration intel reports, except that instead of the facts being on page 12, they are left out completely.

Posted by: Advocate for God on January 4, 2006 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Finally, it was up to the media to verify the story before running with it.

Hear, Hear... I wholeheartedly agree and also echo the sentiments of several posters who referenced the Katrina news reporting, where news media reacted to hearsay and reported incorrect happenings, creating a longer-term image problem for New Orleans that will be hard to erase from people's minds.

The news media needs to take full responsibility that what it reports, especially in headline segments, is accurate or at the very least, has the necessary caveats to warn the reader/listener that the story is not yet validated.

Posted by: pencarrow on January 4, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK


pencarrow: Hear, Hear... I wholeheartedly agree and also echo the sentiments of several posters who referenced the Katrina news reporting, where news media reacted to hearsay and reported incorrect happenings, creating a longer-term image problem for New Orleans that will be hard to erase from people's minds.


you think some extra time would have made judy miller's reporting more accurate?


as ann coulter says....it would be wrong...not.. to speculate

Posted by: thisspaceavailable on January 4, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Actually thousands did die in Katrina---even worse, the government simply stopped counting, to hide the fact.

Posted by: marky on January 4, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

it appears that the company may have attempted to caution people on the early rumors:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060104/ap_on_re_us/mine_explosion

marky: wear your tinfoil hat much?

Posted by: Nathan on January 4, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan,
ever see the final official tally for Katrina?
Do you know how many people are still listed as missing?

Posted by: marky on January 4, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

just to pick up on marky, red state mike, you need to get your own facts straight before you chastise others.

What the media reported was the fear of the mayor of new orleans that if you "do the frickin' math," there could be as many as 10,000 dead. He thought that because the standard assumption was that approximately 85% of New Orleans had gotten out of town, and when you figured out how many were in the superdome and elsewhere, you had north of 10,000 not accounted for.

Now, in fact, the number currently being tossed about is that 92% of New Orleans evacuated, which takes the likely toll down into the mid-four figure range, and given the dispersal of people who might know if a relative was missing, it's not impossible, as marky notes, given that no one is counting, that that is the "true" count.

Now, the conditions in the superdome did not include knifings and murders and suchlike, but let's ask ourselves how those rumors got started. it couldn't be because the superdome was largely full of poor black people, could it? but yes, that one was not sufficiently reported as "rumor," but the death toll is a different story.

meanwhile, let's remember: the point of the news is to get it to you as the story unfolds. In many cases, that means incomplete information.

i personally have no problem with incomplete information being inaccurate, as long as the news outlet emphasizes the incompleteness of the information.

on the other hand, i have a tremendous problem with reporting that "everyone does it" with respect to abramoff, or reporting that george bush is a "popular" president, or reporting a spending cut as a "deficit reduction" measure when it is accompanied by tax cuts that more than offset the spending cuts.

There is no "breaking news" with any of these to justify the misrepresentations, and oddly enough, all of them (and so many more) favor the interesets of the right wing....

Posted by: howard on January 4, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

It's bloggers' fault, of course. The real news media has standards, ya know.

What's that?

Posted by: modus potus on January 4, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

marky and Howard:

oy! as a NY'er I have a little bit of experience with this stuff. the number of "missing" is meaningless.

what matters is the body count in the morgues (and they haven't stopped counting..they've just haven't found anymore bodies).

the problem with large-scale missing figures is the following:

1. people are reported missing more than once -- this happened on 9/11 and it happened with Katrina. report someone missing to the state, red cross and the feds and presto, you have 3 people reported missing.

2. when people find their relatives elsewhere..they usually (actually, never) report them as found (especially to the same agencies/offices where they initially reported them missing).

3. the general chaos of record-keeping.

you know, there were rumors of hundreds of bodies hidden away after the Pensacola hurricane of 2 years ago. those were also bullshit.

what matters is the morgue count. if there were really thousands missing don't you think their families would be letting us know?

Posted by: Nathan on January 4, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

These tragedies are grist for the media where bad news both sells and "travels fast"..The so called miscommunication provides more grist ..The story which would be truly "news" would be someone to take responsibilty for the miscommunication with profound and sincere regrets to the poor and emotionally drained families....preferrably on a face to face basis without "extra" "breaking news" basis....BTW are any of the TV people being paid to wear brand name outer gear while covering these disasters? Note that CNN was wearing Patagonia,Columbia and NorthFace...Any payments should go to the families who have "paid" for this disaster

Posted by: saxonslug on January 4, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK


this just in:


The Supreme Court is ordering the transfer of Jose Padilla from military to civilian custody.

Posted by: thisspaceavailable on January 4, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

(thisspaceavail) you think some extra time would have made judy miller's reporting more accurate?

Interesting question, although I would see the mine accident type of news reporting differently from so-called "investigative reporting". My initial thought would be that investigative reporting allows for speculation based on one's theory about discovered data, but the speculative aspects need to be clearly delineated.

Posted by: pencarrow on January 4, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan, there are two issues at hand here.

The first is, the families are scattered hither and yon, many of them poor, without cell phones, money, or a permanent place of residence. Just who among them is going to "let us know?" and just who is it that they are supposed to notify? you? kevin? the ny times? the new orleans times picayune? fema?

and second, for a body to be in a morgue, there has to be a cadaver in the first place. The odds that there were people swept away, their bodies currently decomposing in the gulf or the mississippi, are quite high.

anyhow, the point here, first and foremost, is that the media did not "report" 10K dead. the media reported the fear of the mayor that there "could" be 10K dead if you "do the frickin' math."

these aren't the same thing, and red state mike acted as though they were.

Posted by: howard on January 4, 2006 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

thisspaceavailable: ah, so the Bush administration won this go-round?

saxonslug: if you look at the story I linked to above, Hatfield has apologized (while noting that the company was not responsible for the initial miscommunication).

for the Katrina tinfoil hats types:

here's the latest dead and missing toll:
http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/page.asp?ID=192&Detail=5248

and here's the estimate that they've recovered 90% of remains:
http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/?ID=192

Posted by: Nathan on January 4, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

>The first is, the families are scattered hither >and yon, many of them poor, without cell phones, >money, or a permanent place of residence. Just >who among them is going to "let us know?" and >just who is it that they are supposed to notify? >you? kevin? the ny times? the new orleans times >picayune? fema?

well, yeah. you're right. and that's my point. presto, we'll always have technically unaccounted for missing -- who in actuality will be safe and sound.

>and second, for a body to be in a morgue, there >has to be a cadaver in the first place. The odds >that there were people swept away, their bodies >currently decomposing in the gulf or the >mississippi, are quite high.

not really, this wasn't a tsunami. people were killed by flooding and collapsed buildings. when the flood waters recede those bodies are found. but if you go with DMORT's belief that around 10% can't be found...that puts us at maybe a 100 for which that might be true. not thousands.

Posted by: Nathan on January 4, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

John Cole has a pretty good take on events here.

The media's reaction was wrong, but I'm not sure, given the amount of information they were given, they can be seriously blamed.

My newspaper this morning announced twelve men alive. Given that the truth came out sometime around 2 AM, I'm sure it wasn't the only front page like that.

The problem with 24 hour news is that you have to fill the air time with SOMETHING, and at some point, deliberately or not, reporters are going to start working with less-than-reliable sources, or even making stuff up.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 4, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

To belabor the issue... The odds that there were people swept away, their bodies currently decomposing in the gulf or the mississippi, are quite high.

The flooded areas in New Orleans, I believe, can be loosely described as a bowl, and the levee breached water coming in was filling the bowl, but I don't recall any news reporting that indicated that people floated "out" of the bowl back into the lake, waterway, or river. Can any posters confirm?

Posted by: pencarrow on January 4, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

E&P (via Romanesko) had an interesting story about how a local paper, albeit an evening one, staying behind at the command center when all the other media ran out to the church after the rumors started flying. The reporter, based on her own experience with how unproven rumors flew before, stayed behind until she could get official confirmation. She called it right.
http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001804568

Posted by: lou on January 4, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

I generally view the media as populated and run by those with less than average intelligence and common sense, however, they cannot be blamed for this mistake to much degree. At some point, someone misheard a communication or misinterpreted what he/she heard, the media got this information, and when it was not immediately contradicted, reported the story. How long should a reporter wait to write or say that the miners had been found alive? Do they wait until they can physically verify it themselves?

Mistakes happen, and it is unfortunate that the families and friends of those miners had to endure, not only the deaths, but the unintentional cruelty of the false reports, but I don't think anyone should be canned for this mistake, or for propagating it.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 4, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan, just for the record, and not because i want to turn this thread into a katrina rehash, don't go accusing people of "tinfoil" hats when you haven't read your own links carefully enough.

That 90% have been recovered you're talking about? that's of disinterred remains of people from cemetaries, not current victims:

"With Louisianas coastal parishes so close to sea level, most burials are done above ground. The storm surges from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disinterred approximately 1,300 remains. FEMA is working with state and local officials to recover and identify disinterred remains.

FEMAs Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams are locating and recovering remains displaced by floodwaters. DMORT estimates 90 percent of disinterred remains have been recovered."

http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/page.asp?id=192&detail=5259

in fact, if you look carefully at your first link, of the 10,524 calls to the center (and as i've noted, and you seem to have agreed, the odds are the calls understate the number of "missing"), 718 were identified as deceased, 6,077 were identified alive, and 3,729 "remain missing."

personally, i hope that you're right, all of the "remain missing" are alive, somewhere, and we just don't know it. but it's just as possible that, 4 months later, they "remain missing" because they aren't alive, and that there are others in the same category who haven't been reported.

i have no axe to grind here, other than to note that for all the right-wing criticism, it appears that the evacuation of new orleans went as well as anyone could possibly hope for, and as a result, the death toll didn't reach the scenario that was feared in the immediate aftermath.

but i still think a mid-four figure death toll is the likeliest....

Posted by: howard on January 4, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

pencarrow (and this is really it for katrina for me today!), i followed the events quite closely, because i have family in new orleans.

when they began to let the water out of the bowl, i recall notes on the times picayune katrina blog that bodies had been observed in the rush of water. beyond that, i can't say: maybe it was just a few, maybe it was a mistaken visual impression. sadly, at this point, there is no way to tell.

there are two possibilities left for the "missing," though: either they are dead or they are alive. like i say, i hope that nathan is right and they are all alive, but if they aren't, where else could they have ended up?

Posted by: howard on January 4, 2006 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

At some point, someone misheard a communication or misinterpreted what he/she heard, the media got this information, and when it was not immediately contradicted, reported the story. How long should a reporter wait to write or say that the miners had been found alive? Do they wait until they can physically verify it themselves?

I feel it wouldn't have been that much of a problem for the reporters to have something along the lines of... "Unconfirmed reports have..." or "We've just heard from an unofficial source..." if they needed to "scoop" the story or get something back to their news desks. Then they should have waited for official confirmations, whether by their own sight or from official channels, e.g. the police, company spokesman, etc.

Posted by: pencarrow on January 4, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

howard,

And I demand that every one of those 1300 be found. It is the least I can do for them since they are my most ardent supporters!

Posted by: Mary Landrieu on January 4, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Howard. I live in the northshore area of New Orleans myself, so I hope all turned out well for your family there. I, for one,am getting numbed by all the post-Katrina analysis, so I'll also end my references to the Big-K as of this post!

Posted by: pencarrow on January 4, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

pencarrow,

In a perfect world, they may have waited for an official confirmation, but, alas, the world is not perfect. And prefacing the reports as you recommend would have lead to the same result-once it is reported it becomes "official" in most people's minds.

Posted by: Mary Landrieu on January 4, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

Via Romenesko and E&P, note that the local afternoon paper never fell for it. Sure, they had a lucky deadline, but they never posted the "alive" rumors on their web site, and their on-the-scene reporter stayed put when others followed the celebrating families. The failure by others was "parachute" journalism - out-of-towners had no clue what they were dealing with, while locals knew three big things: chances of survival in a mine accident are slim and none, in emergencies always wait for official word, and rumors run wild where people are desperate.

Posted by: yellowdog on January 4, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: . . . if you look at the story I linked to above, Hatfield has apologized (while noting that the company was not responsible for the initial miscommunication).

Well, then, the former must have been sincere and the latter true!

Too bad Hatfield and his company didn't actually do something useful in the last couple of years like comply with worker safety regulations.

Maybe then there would have been no need for an "apology" and blame-shifting.

Have you exchanged your tinfoil head for a real one yet, Nathan?

Try to get a heart while you are at it.

Posted by: Advocate for God on January 4, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

See Post-Gazette:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06004/632574.stm

Turns out that Hatfield let the celebration go on for about two hours knowing that the result was going to crush the townspeople.

The post-gazette is a good resource for this, but beware, dear reader, Western Pennsylvania (aka Northern West Virginia) is coal country. The story on the Sago mine safety record is that it was "Not Spotless but Improving:"

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06004/632194.stm

Posted by: daniel on January 4, 2006 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

"The problem with 24 hour news is that you have to fill the air time with SOMETHING, and at some point, deliberately or not, reporters are going to start working with less-than-reliable sources, or even making stuff up."

Bought sum it up. I not only wasn't watching, I never watch TV News. It cannot be trusted. It is entirely worthless, even a negative force. I barely read the newspapers.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on January 4, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

My newspaper this morning announced twelve men alive. Given that the truth came out sometime around 2 AM, I'm sure it wasn't the only front page like that.

If your newspaper isn't USA Today, tbrosz, it wasn't the only front page like that.

Posted by: Gregory on January 4, 2006 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

There must be some way to blame Clinton for this.

Posted by: Kenji on January 4, 2006 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

The church bells were rung and hymns were sung upon word that 12 had survived. Two points here: hearing about a miraculous event is not a miracle, per David Hume. Also, turn it around: what the families heard is that one of the miners for sure had died (since only 12 of 13 survived), and they didn't know which. They jumped the gun by celebrating.

What we saw was a lack of skepticism all around.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 4, 2006 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

Did the wire services and cable news channels simply decide to report this apparently unverified information as fact?

Yep. They damn sure did.

Posted by: kc on January 4, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Editor & Publisher has a story on the poor coverage, and seems to place the blame on the mine officials, who sat by complacently as misinformation quickly spread.

Posted by: New Talking Wall

Apparently the selfish mine official bastards put the intensive search and rescue effort ahead of continuously monitoring and correcting the 24 hour cable net coverage.

Posted by: kc on January 4, 2006 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

Other than turning the cameras off completely, it's not clear to me what the media could have done. If there's any point to 24-hour news at all, it's to have cameras wherever news is breaking. If the cameras see/hear bells ringing, hugging, happy people and general scenes of jubilation, are they supposed to not record it? or record and not transmit it? People were running up to reporters telling them that mine officials had told them that 12 miners were found alive. The CNN reporters at least (I can't watch Fox; it makes me nauseous) repeatedly said they were awaiting official confirmation of this.

The first reports of survivors turned out to be untrue, but to say that they never should have aired it until they'd received official confirmation from mine officials is like saying they should only print/air news from the war that had been confirmed by the Pentagon; should only print/air White House news confirmed by Scott McClelland. Should report, in fact, that Michael Brown was doing a heck of a job.

The weirdest part of the story was that the company knew twenty minutes after initial reports that they were not true, and didn't contradict the errors, because they didn't know exactly who was dead and alive. How hard would it have been to stick someone in front of cameras to say, "We believe there are more casualties than originally reported", without getting into details?

If anything, this story showed the danger of sequestering the media away from the story. People from the community were seeking out reporters to tell them, in so many words, 'the world needs to know that they (the company) are lying to us'. First word that the original reports of twelve survivors was wrong came from a member of the community walking up to Anderson Cooper and telling him what was going on in the church. I guess the purists should have had him shut off the camera and tell her he couldn't take her report, because it was 'unconfirmed'...

The Prairie Angel

Posted by: Arachnae on January 4, 2006 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Tell me again why CNN and the others need to have all this equipment and all these people on the scene of a story like this? Is there a level of pressing,immediate importance here that I'm unaware of? Isn't this the sort of story that should have been developed instead of simulcast? But there was the miracle from 2 years ago and so I guess they thought there might be another.

Posted by: TJM on January 4, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Tell me again why CNN and the others need to have all this equipment and all these people on the scene of a story like this?

Now you're being naive (or more likely, playing faux-naif).

When CNN devoted four hours live to the plane that skidded out of the airport into a Chicago neighborhood, which was essentially just a very large-scale traffic accident, I thought they were nuts. Ratings the next day showed they picked up a half a million viewers.

If only one outlet has a camera rolling when they bring out live (or dead) miners, they get ALL the eyeballs. Everyone wanted their share of eyeballs. Eyeballs = money. That's just the way it goes.

Bitching doesn't change it.

The Prairie Angel

Posted by: Arachnae on January 4, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with 24 hour news is that you have to fill the air time with SOMETHING, and at some point, deliberately or not, reporters are going to start working with less-than-reliable sources, or even making stuff up.
Posted by: tbrosz on January 4, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALIN


I have to beg to differ. The true problem IMHO, is that the MSM did not qualify their information as unsubstantiated or unconfirmed by officials. If these supposed professionals had simply aired that the reports of 12 survivors were not confirmed, this would not be the critique that it is. Yes, it would still be a heartbreak for every family touched by the tragedy - but the criticism would be a moot point.

But.....I have to admit I share the same opinion as Osmama Been Forgotten: The true issue deserving of our sustained attention is the corruption revealed in the Abramoff case. This is about control of our government ---- who gets access to US taxpayer money. Guys, as a supremely rich nation we are talking about treasure most of the world dreams about. Not to mention the aphrodisiac money seems to be...

Posted by: rainyday on January 4, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

Howard
meanwhile, let's remember: the point of the news is to get it to you as the story unfolds. In many cases, that means incomplete information.

i personally have no problem with incomplete information being inaccurate, as long as the news outlet emphasizes the incompleteness of the information.

Hmmm, incomplete does not equal inaccurate. It's OK to say "I don't know" or "not verified", and in fact it should be said in ALL CAPS that what follows next is liable to be pure BS, which is to say they probably should just not say it in the first place.

I'm not OK with inaccurate reports. I was thrilled when I heard the miners were alive (my grandfather was a coal miner) and...not so happy this morning.

Posted by: Red State Mike on January 4, 2006 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

But.....I have to admit I share the same opinion as Osmama Been Forgotten: The true issue deserving of our sustained attention is the corruption revealed in the Abramoff case.

What is this...limited attention span theatre? Actually, it's a good fit to this thread. You want to move ahead with the analysis without bothering to wait for the information. The 24/7 blogosphere.

You're going to have months and months of Abramoffgate. Hundreds of Drum-initiated threads. Are you saying it should be the only topic discussed? All others verboten?

Posted by: Red State Mike on January 4, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Strange. I went to bed yesterday morning and a miracle had occurred (not a perfect one mind you) but out of 13 trapped men 12 were found alive. When I woke up the miracle had become a tragedy, although at least one news source had tried to pull a miracle out of it's ass by saying it was a miracle ANYONE survived. Good cover, god will have a check in the mail for you tomorrow.

Now does anyone still believe any of the bullshit that comes out of the mouths of anchors and reporters during election night coverage? Apparently being first trumps being correct.

News flash: "All life on Earth will end tomorrow when an asteroid strikes in the Ukraine". You read it here first. We'll see if it is correct.

Posted by: Eric Paulsen on January 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

One is reminded of Florida election reporting in 2000...

Posted by: parrot on January 5, 2006 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

National Nitwit has details of a new Richard Simmons video with a coal mine theme.

Posted by: Subcomandante Bob on January 5, 2006 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

I can't believe that you nuts can't see what happened here. The initial report of 12 survivors was correct, but the company, on the orders of the Bush Administration, had them snuffed to cover up the safety infractions. The survivor will certainly turn out to be a strong Bush supporter.

Posted by: Conspiracy Theorist ph.D. on January 5, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The true problem IMHO, is that the MSM did not qualify their information as unsubstantiated or unconfirmed by officials. If these supposed professionals had simply aired that the reports of 12 survivors were not confirmed, this would not be the critique that it is. Yes, it would still be a heartbreak for every family touched by the tragedy - but the criticism would be a moot point.

Did you even watch the coverage? I heard reporters say REPEATEDLY that the number of survivors had not been confirmed, and/or they were waiting for confirmation from the rescue operation, or any number of caveats to allow viewers to realize that they were watching unvetted information.

On his show last night, Cooper said locals told him they were glad the media had been there to cover the debacle, because without them, they (the locals and family members) would STILL have received the bad info but no one outside the community would have been aware of how they'd been treated.

I'm amazed at the number of people who want to use this to illustrate their pre-existing biases about the media, whether or not they can make the facts on the ground fit their thesis.

The Prairie Angel

Posted by: Arachnae on January 5, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK


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