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The Miner Tragedy: What Went Wrong?
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***scroll for updates…Grieving family members ‘lunged at company officials’…1009am EST company news conference scheduled shortly…12noon still waiting for presser…Firm regrets giving false hope after 12 miners’ deaths***

Editor and Publisher recounts the cruel media twists and turns last night as miners’ families were led to believe their loved ones survived the coal mine explosion in Tallmansville, WV:

In one of the most disturbing and disgraceful media performances of this type in recent years, television and newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course, often blaming the mix-up on “miscommunication.”

For hours, starting just before midnight, newspaper reporters and anchors such as Rita Crosby interviewed euphoric loved ones and helped spread the news about the miracle rescue. Newspaper Web sites announced the happy news and many put it into print for Wednesday right at late deadlines.

The Washington Post story by Ann Scott Tyson, which appears on the front page, opened: “A dozen miners trapped 12,000 feet into a mountainside since early Monday were found alive Tuesday night just hours after rescuers found the body of a 13th man, who had died in an explosion in an adjacent coal mine that was sealed off in early December.”

Later in the story, she even added this explanation: “The miners had apparently done what they had been taught to do: barricaded themselves in a pocket with breathable air and awaited rescue.”

The New York Times story on the Web by James Dao was also headlined with no doubt raised: “12 Miners Found Alive 41 Hours After Explosion.” The story, which also ran in print on the front page, began: “Forty-one hours after an explosion trapped 13 men in a West Virginia coal mine here, family members and a state official said 12 of the miners had been found alive Tuesday night.

“Joe Thornton, deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said the rescued miners were being examined at the mine shortly before midnight and would soon be taken to nearby hospitals. Mr. Thornton said he did not know details of their medical condition.” It then reported family members calling it a miracle.

In its print edition, the Times story carried this qualified headline: “12 Miners Are Found Alive, Family Members Say.”

An Associated Press dispatch first carried the news at 11:59 pm: “Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, more than 41 hours after the blast, family members said. Bells at a church where relatives had been gathering rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation.” But many newspapers, and all of cable TV news, reported the rescue as fact, not merely based on family claims.

A later AP account by Allen Breed grew more, not less, certain: “Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, sending family members streaming from the church where they had gathered during the nearly two-day ordeal. Joyous shouts rose of ‘Praise the Lord!'”

Anderson Cooper, the CNN host, ripped the coal company at 3 a.m. for not correcting the wrong reports for so long, but did not explain why CNN went with the good news without strong confirmation…

It took three hours for the coal company to correct the reports. It is unclear why the media carried the news without proper sourcing. Some reports claim the early reports spread via cell phones and when loved ones started celebrating most in the media simply joined in

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit tracked the developments through the night.

Pajamas Media has the go-to round-up.

Heart-breaking photos of jubilant family members at PunditGuy.

Good discussion at The Belmont Club.

I didn’t watch the TV coverage, but it’s clear the coal mining company, International Coal Group, has a lot to answer for. Via IOL:

Grieving family members ‘lunged at company officials’

Family members of victims in a fatal mining accident became enraged and lunged at a coal company official after being told today that only one of 13 miners had survived a mine explosion, witnesses said.

The scene unfolded inside the Sago Baptist Church, three hours after the family members had been told that 12 of the miners had survived.

For two days, the church had been the place where family members waited anxiously for news.

Nick Helms, son of victim Terry Helms, said several family members had to wrestle one distraught man to the ground inside the church to keep him from hurting the coal company officials who were the bearers of the news.

“I immediately took my girlfriend, my sister and everyone else out of the church,” Helms said. “They were trying to get them. They were doing everything they could to get these guys.”

The tragic announcement marked the end of a 41-hour wait after the explosion at the Sago Mine on Monday morning that trapped 13 miners. Virtually everyone in the tight-knit Upshur County community was related to, or friends with, one or more of the trapped miners.

Wives, sons, daughters and friends of miners comforted one another and turned to prayer as time ticked by without any sign of life down below.

Between briefings by coal company officials, they sang religious songs. Some sat inside the church, while others waited outside on lawn chairs, wrapped in blankets.

The prospects of saving the miners dimmed as the hours went by.

At about 8pm last night (1am Irish time), coal company officials announced that one miner’s body had been found near the area where the explosion occurred. However, there was hope for the remaining 12 miners because their track-mounted car was found undamaged deeper in the mine.

Then, a seeming miracle: Shortly before midnight, word rushed up the hollow that 12 miners had been found alive.

Family and friends clapped in the early morning chill as a single ambulance drove away, presumably with one of the miners safely in the back.

“It just shows you enough prayers went out,” Bula Smith, 27, said as she clutched her seven-month-old daughter, Cassey, close to her. “It’s a miracle.”

The crowd gathered outside the church burst into a chorus of How Great Thou Art as family and friends threw themselves into each other’s arms.

Their euphoria was short-lived…


The sole survivor is Randal McCloy, 27. More info:

Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor of an explosion that killed 12 of 13 miners, was the youngest of the group, a factor that could have contributed to his rescue, doctors said.

“Youth always has its advantages,” Dr. Lawrence Roberts said at a briefing Wednesday at West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

McCloy, 27, was transferred there early Wednesday from another hospital and remained in critical condition; doctors said they were hopeful because he was showing signs of brain function.

Most of the other miners were in their 50s. While citing McCloy’s youth, Roberts stressed he did not know the health status of the other miners.

The miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the Sago Mine since an explosion early Monday. Authorities had told families late Tuesday that 12 of the 13 had survived, but later reversed themselves, prompting shock and outrage among the assembled relatives.

McCloy has worked in the mines for three years, “but he was looking to get out,” his wife, Anna, had said earlier as she awaited word on the miners. “It was too dangerous.”

He has been taking electronics classes for some time, she said.

The McCloys have a 4-year-old son, Randal III, and 1-year-old, Isabel. The couple had met in grade school and have been together for 12 years. Said McCloy’s mother, Tambra Flint: “He was just trying to make a living for his family.”


Lots of cable news-bashing going on, but TV Newser cautions:

Television journalists should have been more careful to tell viewers that mine officials had not confirmed the news of survivors. The chyrons that initially said “REPORT: 12 MINERS ALIVE” eventually lost the word “REPORT” and assumed the news was true. But the media cannot be blamed for broadcasting the images of joyous families and friends. The media simply transmitted the scene to viewers.

Rodger Morrow examines the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s coverage and has some wise words for MSM types who are always so eager to attack bloggers. An excerpt:

The banner headline of my morning copy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reads: “MIRACLE AT SAGO: 12 MINERS ALIVE.”

Would that it were so.

No doubt there will be many inquiries into how the mainstream media and the governor’s office wound up going forward with the “miracle” story in the absence of firm evidence that the miners were alive.

But here’s my reconstruction of events; I doubt it will be substantially disproved by further investigation.

(1) Someone (or several someones) had been glued to a police scanner, monitoring the reports from the rescue team.

(2) They heard something that sounded like “We’ve found the rest of the miners. We’re checking for vital signs.” (They may have also heard that at least one of the 12 was showing signs of life.)

(3) They interpreted this information to mean that all 12 were miraculously alive.

(4) They ran to the Sago Baptist Church to deliver the good news. Shouting and bell ringing ensued.

(5) Reporters on the scene at the church interpreted this to mean that official word had come down to the families. (No one could be so cruel as to misinform them, right?)

And, well, the whole thing just snowballed from there…

…Miracles do occasionally happen, of course.

But journalists need to be skeptical of them—or risk losing the “professional” status they so often adduce when criticizing their pajama-clad counterparts.

Jeff Jarvis adds:

One terrible lesson of the West Virginia mine tragedy is that you can’t trust the news. You never could; it has always taken time to see whether stories pan out, to get all the facts, to find out the truth. But now, in our age of instant news and ubiquitous communication, the public sees this process as it occurs. It’s not the news that’s live; it’s the process of figuring out what to believe that’s live. Now, indeed, everyone is a reporter and an editor and the public is learning, as reporters learned, that they need to find their ways through the fog of news. The next time I hear someone being haughty about professional news vs. citizen’s news, I’ll remind them of the West Virginia tragedy, where news traveled ahead of the facts, where everyone was horribly wrong.

Laurence Simon: Welcome to the Age of the Global Misinformation Sausage Factory.

A reader who works in the TV industry shares his thoughts:

I think a lot of this can be traced to the fact that in this part of the country, there is a great deal of contempt for and fear of the media. Look at what the situation was. The media was not allowed in the church where the family was gathered, and they were not allowed in the command center. They had no access to the people who actually KNEW what was going on. Anderson Cooper, Geraldo, Rita Cosby and the rest of them were all standing on the side of the road with no access to anybody! This is because the people involved actively refused to give the media access to the situation. Even during the period when they were “alive”, I saw someone come up to the CNN camera outside the church and shove it away. The media obviously weren’t welcome.

I have 10 years of experience working in the TV news business, and I can tell you that almost without fail, the smaller the municipality, the less access the media has to “officials” during a crisis. Large cities are well versed in media relations; the police and fire departments have full time public information officers, and there’s a general sense of openness.


In small towns like this, where the closest most people get to a TV camera is when Uncle Joe brings it out for Billy’s birthday party, the information infrastructure isn’t in place like it is in a big city. Officials are not savvy when it comes to disseminating information. Many of them have an actively hostile attitude towards anyone with a microphone.

When this happens, you get the situation we saw last night. CNN and the rest of them were basically reduced to relying on a freakin’ town crier. From there, it becomes the “telephone game,” where false information spreads and then becomes distorted. (The families thought that they were going to bring the miners not to the hospital but TO THE CHURCH!!) It’s unfortunate, but that’s almost to be expected in a situation like that where the media has been denied access to the front lines of a story.

As for the people who say “Well, they should have waited for confirmation,” I agree. But I was working last night when the story that they were alive broke. Our computers were buzzing with Associated Press News Alerts, our squawk boxes from FOX and CNN were chirping; EVERYONE thought that they were alive. Why? The GOVERNOR was jumping for joy and telling everyone that we had a miracle. You think that if you can trust anyone, you can trust the Governor, right? Well, he was at the church, and it seems he was sucked into the hype along with everyone else. He should have stopped and made a damn phone call, but he didn’t.

Bottom line is that this was almost bound to happen. It’s unfortunate, but when you don’t allow the purveyors of information access to said information, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Reader Donna G. e-mails:

The reader who works in the TV industry sharing his thoughts, made me want to put a clothes pin on my nose. What arrogance. What a snob.

Such as:

“In small towns like this, where the closest most people get to a TV camera is when Uncle Joe brings it out for Billy’s birthday party, the information infrastructure isn’t in place like it is in a big city. Officials are not savvy when it comes to disseminating information. Many of them have an actively hostile attitude towards anyone with a microphone…..”

Maybe they didn’t want them there in the first place. Maybe they are hostile to the media, because the media came in there like they are royalty and think they are owed something. Maybe they are thinking it is a private matter and it is none of the media’s business!!!!

I grew up in the hills of Kentucky across the bridge from West Virginia. I saw a lot of people come to our area looking down their noses at the people in the small towns. They thought they were better, more “savvy”, and smarter. This “TV industry person” came across as this type of person. What he fails to realize is there are different types of cultures in each state. The culture he comes from is not the same as this area. This TV person thinks his way is the only proper way. People from W. VA know what they think and don’t need the approval of others. (You could maybe say the people in big cities have not grown up and need to be liked by others, so they are “well versed” in media relations. You could also say that maybe the people in big cities are media whores.)

I think the people in this area are more private. It doesn’t mean that they are not savvy. It means they think it is none of your business and I have a right to privacy and you are rude.

As for: “I saw someone come up to the CNN camera outside the church and shove it away”.” I would shove a CNN camera out of my way no matter where I lived. I can’t stand to even see CNN on TV!

Of course in the media it is never their fault. I knew they would get around to blaming it on anyone except the media.



Tragedy in Tallmansville

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology