LETTERS: More Assessments of the Mine Rescue Fiasco

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By: E&P Staff

Readers say newspaper editors can partially attribute their mistakes in covering the West Virginia coalmine story to deadline requirements, but the 24-hour cable networks can offer no such excuse.

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The Imprecision of Television News

It was a bit of a hoot to read CNN president Jonathan Klein’s spirited defense (“Newspapers Regret, and Defend, Mine Rescue ‘Debacle,” Jan. 5.) of CNN’s coverage of the mine rescue disaster — especially his claim that CNN’s brilliant reporting underscored the network’s strength in being able to make corrections “as better information developed.” I witnessed this sort of slipshod attitude in CNN’s television culture firsthand while working as a senior writer at CNN Interactive in 2000. Like many of my colleagues — nearly all of whom came from print backgrounds — we were shocked at the imprecision of television news.

Have you ever seen two-minute television script? It’s two pages and double-spaced, often replete with occasionally misspellings and names that are perhaps spelled in different ways on the same page. Of course, none of this makes any difference if you’re “talking” your story. But it poses a lot of problems for writers at CNN Interactive who have to translate such reporting into a written report.

Such imprecision was evident on more than one occasion. One night, during some sensitive developments in the Middle East, I monitored my personal TV screen as CNN’s anchors broadcast completely different things during the space of an hour or so — all based on inaccurate information from CNN’s local “fixers” or correspondents. Print journalists, of course, would have to run a correction and apology for such sloppiness. But in this and similar cases at CNN, the network’s anchors never admitted any mistakes in earlier on-air reports; they just blithely presented the new — correct — information without any explanation of why they’d reported exactly the opposite 20 minutes earlier. In situations like the mine rescue disaster, however, it’s harder to get away with such reporting without getting egg on your face.

Mr. Klein seems to confuse what a journalist does with what a stenographer does. I had been under the mistaken notion that CNN was not supposed to be C-Span — functioning as an open conduit for information whether accurate or inaccurate. Sadly, Mr. Klein’s notion of good journalism has infected the print media, as evidence by its coverage of both the mine disaster and its false reports of mayhem, rape, and murder during Hurricane Katrina.

David Paulin
Austin, Texas
Ed’s Note: David Paulin is a freelance writer. He last wrote in E&P about his experiences as a freelance foreign correspondent and occasional fixer in Venezuela during the 1990s.

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Re: “EXCLUSIVE: Serious Questions on Sourcing in Mine ‘Rescue’ Story Remain

I read your excellent column as carefully as possible, and saw no mention of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Rita Cosby. I was watching both, and I think it’s clear the print media was influenced by what they saw and heard on television.

As I watched both channels during that 3 hour period of time, I remember thinking, “Katrina all over again. Pure emotionalism. Unprofessional.” I flipped over a couple of times to see what FOX News was showing, but it was a Cavuto replay.

I wish you could provide readers full transcripts of CNN and MSNBC during the pertinent period of time. (Transcripts and a full account of their news scrolls as well). I know print media deserves to be embarrassed over the incorrect headlines, but at least their mistake can be partially attributed to deadline requirements. There’s no excuse for cable news coverage.

Linda Anderson
Kennesaw, Ga.

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Mine Disaster

I’m still trying to figure out why all of the reporters covering the Sago
mine disaster were apparently at the church where relatives had gathered rather than at the mine, where the news was taking place. While the church has been described as “near” the mine, I’ve had occasion to spend some time in Upshur County, and “near” can mean 20 miles. It seems to me that anyone actually at the mine would have known immediately that 12 live miners had not been brought out.

Mike Hudson
Editor, Niagara Falls Reporter

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New York Times Headline Variations

I have a copy of The New York Times of 1/4 in which the headline does NOT contain the phrase “…Family Members Say.”

I purchased it from the NY Times vending machine in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. I was wondering if the Times editors realized they could not confirm the headline, and quickly added “…family members say” in the next edition.

Gerry Fitzgerald


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Contemplating Bush’s Departure


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

I would like nothing better than to see George W. Bush pack his bags and head back to his pseudo-ranch in Crawford, Texas where he can clear brush at will and cause no more problems for this country. However, when I think about it, who would take his place? The list of those eligible is a rather scary one. It would seem to me that the whole kit and caboodle of them needs to be removed. Those who saw fit to re-elect Bush to a second term may now be re-thinking their position, but too late. In my view, Bush has committed impeachable offenses. I am not an attorney, but neither am I deaf, dumb nor blind. Perhaps, when the scandal in the Congress becomes too much to bear, the media will, once again, focus on the rightness and wrongness of things and call for an end to this insane Presidency.

Sue Brown

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

Send Blake Miller to the following non-government website for help: www.ptsdhelp.net.

Rick O’Dell
Publisher, PTSDhelp.net

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