By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

First thoughts on the mining disaster

Three quick observations about the terrible news coming out of West Virginia this morning — news made all the more terrible because the media initially reported that 12 of the 13 miners had been found alive.

1. The North Pole edition of the Globe, dutifully delivered to Media Nation every day at about 5 a.m., runs with the headline “Body of one miner recovered; Hopes dwindling for others in W. Va.” Reportedly both the Globe and the Herald later put out editions touting the miracle-that-wasn’t. But if you go to the Globe and Herald Web sites right now, you’ll see that both papers are up to date, complete with front-page images on the latest developments. I’m sure this scenario was repeated across the country.

Since the dawn of the television age, print has been irrelevant in covering fast-breaking news. The role of newspapers today is to provide depth, context and analysis after the fact. The Internet serves to emphasis that change — only now, the newspapers’ own Web sites are proving to be more valuable than their print counterparts. Thus, today marks another small step in the move toward paperless news.

2. Though it will be some time before we can sort out why the media got it wrong, preliminary indications are that they thought they were reporting authoritative news when in fact they were passing along rumors. Gov. Joe Manchin, it turned out, didn’t have any inside information; rather, he was picking up on what the family members had somehow heard.

In that respect, this is reminiscent of what happened in New Orleans, where rumors of widespread rapes and murders were given credence by the mayor and the police chief. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune established, there was almost no truth to any of those stories. But it’s hard to blame the media for reporting what the city’s top two officials were telling them. And it’s hard to blame the media today for reporting that the miners had been rescued when the governor himself believed it was true.

3. Everyone is reporting the frightening safety record of the mine. But the larger story is that the Bush administration has been letting mining regulation slide backward. Rick Klein and Susan Milligan report the lowlights in today’s Globe. This is not a story the media should let drop.

Follow-up: Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher has wasted no time in calling the media’s performance “disturbing and disgraceful.”

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Eileen Mac, tie-breaker


Collector’s items


  1. Bill Baar

    But it’s hard to blame the media for reporting what the city’s top two officials were telling them. And it’s hard to blame the media today for reporting that the miners had been rescued when the governor himself believed it was true.This is a whopper when you consider how Bush fares on this blog and so many others. This Governor apparantly passes a rumor and you give him and media a pass (I’m not a 100% the Governor did that, I’m just reading your post), and then it slides right into an attack on Bush for Mine Safety.C’mon Dan. At least blame the Governor if you really think he passed a rumor without having checked… I suspect the reality is the Governor didn’t do that either.

  2. Anonymous

    If the North Pole edition had “1 Dead” what’s the excuse for the Brookline edition that declared “Jubilation in W Va.”?

  3. Anonymous

    Worse, the WaPo site, on its “front page of the paper” page, still has the ’12 miners found alive’ story. Ugh.

  4. Anonymous has everyone’s front page and the vast majority have the 12 found alive, including the herald’s “miner miracle” and the globe’s six-column across the top for blaming the media, seems to me the families were the ones spreading word all 12 were found alive. most reports have them overhearing cellphone conversations and then screaming out the word. i don’t blame them for wishing for a miracle and reacting out of hope, but the word came from them, not the other way around.

  5. Anonymous

    The San Jose Mercury News stripped the story across its front page today. The edition I have says “Miners Found Alive.”The lead: “In an extraordinary twist of fate, 12 miners caught in an explosioin in a coal mine were found alive late Tuesday more than 41 hours after the blast.”

  6. Paul

    I also received the “North Pole” edition of the Globe. But in addition I also read the “Sunrise Edition” of the Lowell Sun which did have the jubilant story that 12 miners were found alive. However, unlike web page of the Globe (and I guess most others) the Sun’s web page not only has no corrections but it still has YESTERDAY’S (!) headlines with nary an iota of today’s news of ANY sort.

  7. Anonymous

    If the North Pole edition had “1 Dead” what’s the excuse for the Brookline edition that declared “Jubilation in W Va.”?”I believe the “1 Dead” in the north pole edition refers to the one miner found yesterday afternoon near the location where the tunnel collapsed.

  8. Anonymous

    Rather than ideologues using this as an opportunity to bash Bush, this strikes me as a “moment of truth” for the newly reduced staff at the Globe.(They failed). Running with AP copy without following up to verify had the expected result. Perhaps they needed more people to do a proper job but wire copy doesn’t cut it. Another example? Today’s Globe has a piece on the first non-journalist to run Dow Jones Corp. and the WSJ. They totally missed the local angle on this Bentley College grad. If I want AP wires alone, I sure don’t need to keep taking the Globe.

  9. Anonymous

    This is why the first rule in Disaster Communications training (whether Federal, State, Red Cross, or other volunteer) is DO NOT REPORT OR SPREAD RUMORS. Transmit official statements Only. Well, ok, it’s Point 3 on– Bill R

  10. Bill Baar

    My print edition of the Chicago Trib has a huge headline, 12 miners rescured accross front page with picture of joyful family.My wife can’t look at it.I’ve seen people fired for calling News Radio here in Chicago with rumors that turned out to be false stories about fatalities from fires at work.It’s strange the whole press could have fallen for this but I can only guess it was a desire to believe good news, and a failure on the Mine and States part to aggressively stop that instict.I think a desire to believe all sorts of things is destroying MSM’s judgement all over. The Mines PR people should have acted quiker but the Press sure should have been jumping on the PR people to confirm the story.

  11. mike_b1

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Bill Baar is right, at least about giving the media a pass. What happened to, If you mother tells you she loves you, check it out?It wouldn’t have taken much for the media to wait until they saw the miners with their own eyes. But the herd won again.What will it take for the media to stop “learning” this sad lesson?

  12. Anonymous

    Fortunately, though, by cutting its national desk, the Globe is helping the NYT meet its profit expectations and for that we should all be thankful, instead of getting hung up on little eensy weensy matters like the accuracy of the top headline on page A-1.

  13. Anonymous

    I was watching this late last night, dozed off and woke up just as they were retracting the story (lot of flashbacks to Election night 02). The networks passed; the only wall-to-wall coverage was on cable, and the cable nets seemed to exhibit a real need to join in the ‘miracle’ aspect of the story for fear of being beaten, even when for quite a while there was no one in any semblance of an official role who would say anything until the U.S. Rep. repeated hearsay. It was odd that no cameras were close to the recovery scene (why weren’t they at least allowed to set up for a pool shot if people would be coming out of a hole). It’s easy in retrospect to pick up signals that should have led to questioning the ‘fact’ that the 12 were alive, but there was stunning lack of attribution or anything even close to having a source with direct knowledge of what was happening under ground.I can’t help but wonder if Brokaw, Rather and Jennings would have fallen into the trap, somehow I suspect Rather would have questioned the unattributed miracle for a while at least (insert anti-Rather invective here). I also wonder if anchoring this sort of thing from the scene allows the broadcast to get caught up in hysteria that wouldn’t be present with a seasoned anchor with some control over the content was able to keep things in perspective.As for Fox, their reporters were busy thanking God when it looked like the miners were saved, so I fully expect to hear a retraction. “Fox News incorrectly thanked God for the rescue of 12 miners in West Virginia last night. Fox regrets the error.”

  14. Anonymous

    TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — A coal company executive says it became clear within 20 minutes that the news anxious family members had received about the survival of a dozen trapped miners was terribly wrong.Yet for three hours, church bells rang in celebration, families joined arm-in-arm to sing joyous hymns, the governor proclaimed it a miracle, and television newscasts and newspapers spread the word around the world.When the truth finally unfolded early Wednesday, with families members called back and told the 12 were actually dead and only one miner survived, joy turned instantly to fury and a scuffle broke out when relatives lunged at a coal company official.International Coal Group Inc. chief executive Ben Hatfield said families were not told of the mistake until three hours later because officials wanted to have all the information right first.”Let’s put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn’t know if there were 12 or one (who were alive). Until we had people who could measure the vital signs … we didn’t want to put the families through another roller coaster,” Hatfield said.Neither Hatfield nor Gov. Joe Manchin would say who was responsible for the misinformation, but Hatfield told reporters that he believed someone overheard communications from rescuers who had been communicating from a special mine phone after they reached the bodies.Whoever overheard misunderstood the information and someone relayed it to the families, Hatfield said.That word came just before midnight, and to relatives who feared the worst about the 13 miners trapped 260 feet underground following Monday’s explosion, it was as if their prayers had been answered.”A person said, ‘There are miracles — 12 alive and one dead!”’ said John Casto, who was inside the church when the man he couldn’t identify ran to the front of the church and made the proclamation. ”They started clapping, hollering and shouting.”Several relatives, who danced and praised God as the church bells rang, said an unidentified mine foreman had called someone at the church on a cell phone to relay the information.A few minutes later, Casto said Wednesday, another man — he doesn’t know who — came to church and said squads cars would pick up the miners and bring them to the church where they would be reunited with their families. The man said ”it would be like another Christmas,” Casto said, chocking back tears.Darlene Groves, the sister-in-law of one of the miners, Jerry Groves, said the governor braced her mother-in-law from a fall during the commotion. As Darlene rushed to her mother-in-law’s aide, she touched Manchin’s sleeve and quietly asked him, ”Are all 12 men alive?””He said, yes,” Darlene Groves said Wednesday. She said no one else heard the conversation, and Manchin left for the mine to gather details.Then the families waited. Three hours later, Hatfield and Manchin appeared at the church to announce that there had been a miscommunication and all but one miner was dead.Casto said it took a while for relatives to absorb the news. And then a pastor had to tell the angry crowd to calm down.”’Whatever the hell did God do for us?”’ a young man shouted in reply, Casto said.Ann Merideth, whose father, Jim Bennett, was trapped in the mine, said she was giving thanks in the church until she learned he had died. But still, ”I don’t blame God for this,” she said.Merideth’s husband, Daniel, said family members were visibly angry and lunged at a coal company official. About a dozen state troopers and a SWAT team were positioned near the church because police were concerned about violence.”They are lucky they have the patrolmen they had,” Daniel Merideth said.Manchin spoke to The Associated Press from his cell phone shortly after relatives said they had received word the miners were safe.”The rescue people have been talking to us. They told us they have 12 alive,” Manchin said.He said later he went to the mine site to try to confirm the news when rescuers said there had been miscommunication and not all had survived.^——Associated Press writer Jennifer C. Yates and Vicki Smith in Tallmansville contributed to this report.

  15. Mike Stucka

    Bill R., this place has standards. Who said people familiar with ham radio were allowed here? (1)For what it’s worth: My copy of the Globe had the “Jubilation, then horror” headline and story, which I thought was well-written.I looked up the records yesterday, and of course forgot to keep a copy for myself. Short story is it was about 3 a.m. when the AP realized it wasn’t 12 alive; I think it was after 2:30 a.m. when they reported 11 of the 12 rescueed weren’t actually rescued.The Globe, with its own reporters, pulled out the right story at the last minute for many but not all editions.My Herald ran with AP and got screwed.Mike(1) son of N3JM

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén