LETTERS: Debating Media’s Mistakes in Miner Story

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By: E&P Staff

Today’s letters look at the bungled reporting of the West Virginia mining disaster, as well as recent stories on post-traumatic stress and the outing of CIA agents. Also, several readers offer up their New Year’s wishes and sling a few arrows at the media in 2005. If you’ve got New Year’s resolutions for the media, or want to offer your own predictions for the years ahead, send us a note at letters@editorandpublisher.com.

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Few Are Blameless

Please tell me what journalist wouldn’t think — or which journalism school wouldn’t teach — that a governor’s statement that the miners were alive is not a source to be used for confirming or attributing information? Reporters on the scene of the Sago 1 mine tragedy also relied on other sources (including relatives approaching each other and reporters at the scene to celebrate the “good” news) and other overt signs such as church bells ringing (in a joyous cacophany vs. singular death knell mode) as proof they were accurately reporting the facts.

What bothers me is many in the electronic media trying their best today to downplay their role in this tragedy by focusing blame on the print media. In fact, it is the instantaneous nature of the electronic and Web media to go with the story immediately that certainly contributed to this tragedy. There is a real irony in watching electronic media outlets like Fox, who all too often have to rely on the reporting resources of print media for the stories they rip and read, hold up copies of newspapers that PRINTED this sadly incorrect information as if to point the blame there. This is the same information that their stations were VERBALLY reporting — over and over — only hours earlier.

The bottom line here is there is plenty of blame to go around, and it goes beyond the media. Based on what reporters at our sister paper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, were told at the time and who told them — the governor of West Va. — I believe they acted as responsible, professional journalists in conveying the information to their readers and ours that a dozen miners were alive. If the media is guilty of anything, it may be wanting to report good news “for a change” — life rather than too often death. Our prayers and sincerest sympathies go out to the families whose hopes were dashed by this unfortunate failure to communicate.

Jim Wilhelm
City Editor
The (Toledo, OH) Blade

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Unfair Criticism

Re: Media Reports Miracle Mine Rescue — Then Carries the Tragic Truth

I don’t think you’re correct or fair in this paragraph:

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.

The first AP report moved at 11:52 a.m., not 11:59 a.m. And the stories were not reported as fact, but attributed to the governor. And several newspapers (such as the WPost and the NYT, did not go with just the family claim, but held off until it was confirmed by the governor of West Virginia.

Bill Dedman

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Governor and Officials, More than Media, Shoulder Blame

I am not a big fan of the media, but can’t take the media bashing this time. Watching both of their news conferences late last night, the head of the mining company and the governor knew for three hours that there was a miscommunication and the information that 12 miners were alive was incorrect. Those two individuals were always in contact with the families, but allowed three hours to pass before correcting the information. Once they knew of the problem they should have first gone to the families and said the men were found, but as of right now their medical situation is still being evaluated. Then the media should have been informed the same thing. They did not have to give specifics, but AT LEAST SAY THE INFORMATION CIRCULATING IS INCORRECT!

You can’t blame the media for reporting on the families’ joy, especially when both the governor and mining company always told the families information first and the media second! Both the governor and the mining company knew within 15-20 minutes there was bad information out there and DID NOTHING for three hours! Someone from the command center called the church with the news about the men being alive. That person is to blame for starting the miscommunication. In fact, the important people are the families here, not the American public.

A mistake in communication during a crisis is understandable, but the CEO and governor not telling the families the truth for three hours is the real tragedy. This is proven by the fact that the families are mad at the company and not the media!

Dan Donovan
Chesterfield, Mo.

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CNN Tripped Up

I thought the same exact thing you wrote about when I woke up this morning and discovered the miners were dead. Even before I read your article, I saw all these stories about “we want answers” and blah, blah, blah. … I couldn’t believe it. CNN was tripping all over its self last night with this story. Now, it’s everyone else’s fault for “spreading” bad information. Anyway, I enjoyed your article since it contains correct information.

John Mize

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Understanding PTSD

Re: ‘Marlboro Man’ in Iraq War Photo Suffers from PTSD

Though I’m a long-time fan of E&P, it looks like you guys need the “No Shit” award for your headline “Marlboro Man in Iraq War Suffers from PTSD.”

As a veteran of the hellhole known as Somalia in 1992-1993 and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995-1996, it seems apparent to me that the journalist who worked on this piece has little experience covering the military or veterans’ issues.

Most of us who served Uncle Sam proudly amid gunfire have a few quirks that “civilians” don’t have. Many of us have nightmares, jump under desks at the sound of a low-flying plane, and have guns stashed under our pillows to help us sleep better.

And many of us have undergone some form of therapy — whether on a couch in front of a pill prescribing shrink or in an easy chair across from an Army buddy with a cold one in hand.

While I appreciate what Lance Cpl. Miller is trying to say in the article, your staff could have shown more respect to veterans instead of your theme — “Where in the world is Lance Cpl. Miller? He’s at home and all screwed up!” And as for the sailor who set Miller off, it sounds to me that he got what he deserved.

Kim Rich Wehmer
Publisher, Howell County News
Willow Springs, Mo.

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Note From the ‘Source’ in Iraq Payola Story

With regard to “Buy and Buy: Source in Iraq Payola Story Was Getting Some Himself,” (Jan. 1, 2006), you quote the New York Times as saying, “But Rubin would not disclose how much money he may have received from Lincoln.”

When asked by Mr. Cloud, I responded with an off-the-record paragraph that said I did not believe I received an honorarium and that, if I received a per diem, it would be in the neighborhood of $200 (the same as I would receive from the State Department or Defense Department for consultations or lectures that required overseas travel). I had no involvement with the Lincoln Group’s newspaper and journalist program. I told Mr. Cloud that, because I am in Baghdad, I could not confirm the exact amount until my return later this week. He could confirm the same by asking Lincoln. His statement implies that there was something to hide; there was not.

I suspect, upon learning that there was no honorarium and that the per diem was minimal and standard, Mr. Cloud or Mr. Gerth adjusted their prose to suggest a depth of relationship that did not exist, but which would be convenient to the narrative of their story.

Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute

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On Wanting Impeachment

Re: Greg Mitchell’s Pressing Issues column, “Newspapers Urge President to Quit

You write “Certainly, it’s no ‘slam dunk’ — to coin a phrase — that the president should be impeached, and most Democrats don’t even want it to happen…”

How do you know that? After all, no polling has been done.

Otherwise, a superior little column. It’s so easy to forget history. And this is barely history.

Brad Johnson

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The Questions Determine the Answers

Greg Mitchell writes:

“Yet a Washington Post poll that month showed that while a majority of Americans wanted Congress to censure Clinton, they did not want it to boot him out of office.”

I’d like people to remember that that poll offered only those two choices and not the third — do nothing. When polls finally began offering that third choice, what they found was that people split into thirds on the issue — one third for impeachment or resignation, one third for censure, and one third thought Clinton should suffer no official penalty at all.

So half of the people who apparently were saying they “wanted” Congress to censure Clinton were choosing that option only because it was the only one they were given beside impeachment/resignation.

At that time, the Washington Post would not even entertain the idea that there were people who felt that the entire issue was stupid and that we should not even have been talking about censure or impeachment over such trivia.

Today, the Washington Post wants to pretend that impeachment is out of the question for a president and vice president who openly commit genuine high crimes.

Just how do they explain that?

Avedon Carol

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On Hypocrisy and Irony

I completely appreciate your point. However, hypocrisy, like irony, just does not register at all in America any longer. It’s the rabbit ears on the grinning, oblivious subject in a photo.

Tom Sinclair
Tallahassee, Fla.

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Your article about the papers that initially called for then-President Clinton to resign his office in the summer of 1998 is interesting, but what I would find even more interesting is a comparison of those papers calling for impeachment on President Clinton vs. President Bush. I believe that the American public would find such information to be illuminating.

Ryan McLeod
Tarrytown, N.Y.

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On Outing CIA Agents and Rendition

Re: Allan Wolper’s Ethics Corner column, “Another Outed CIA Agent Hits Media, White House

If the outing of a CIA agent is a big deal, why did you just do it? You said Gossens wouldn’t have talked if you hadn’t asked him. Have you and he exposed his family and friends to more danger with your E&P article?

My feeling is that if CIA agents truly believe in “rendition,” they shouldn’t be too surprised if Italian agents render Robert Seldon Lady back to Italy, where there is a warrant out for his arrest for kidnapping (“rendition”). I do not advocate or condone criminal acts anywhere, but it wouldn’t break my heart to see this happen.

Clayton Hallmark

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2005, Good Riddance

In my lifetime of 50 years, this has to be the worst year ever that I have witnessed for the USA. That we have any allies at all is a bit of a surprise, and 2006 could begin to change that, but the fact that it seems that real brain-dead individuals sit on their duffs and wax about their views of international or national events, seemingly completely blind to reality, has me miffed. Well, not miffed, but peeved severely. Where is the real republican party? Where did it go? Where are any rational, thinking individuals in the press? Where did they go? Why doesn’t the public demand the truth? I sure as hell hope 2006 is better, or I will follow the dinosaurs. Yeah, happy New Year.

Brad Turner

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Thank You, E&P

Re: E&P’s Dec. 30 LETTERS column

To ALL the Editors, writers, admins, etc:

Thank you so much for all the great work you do at E&P. The WH transcripts, great analysis, and now “WWCD?”

Even after 6 years of utter global devastation and chaos, you can make me laugh out loud.

Happy New Year.

Martha Sterling-Golden
Coastal Crankosphere, Maine

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More New Year’s Wishes

Dear Editors, It is time for a reporter or all reporters to be held legally responsible for revealing government secrets. No shield law for an industry that has been shown to be wrong (putting it nicely) in reporting the truth. The reporters that revealed national secrets should be held responsible for the same reason you told us the Valerie Plame leak had to be prosecuted. Special deals for reporters but certainly not for a sitting President that your profession hates. Happy New Year.

Pam Beck

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