By: Jay DeFoore
Listen to the readers. That’s what we try to do here in our daily LETTERS column, and it usually pays off with valuable insights and perspectives we haven’t yet considered. Today, readers sound off on how the media got it wrong with the West Virginia miners story, and what lessons we can all take from it. If you’ve got your own insights to share, send them to email@example.com.
Confusion, Then Sympathy
Thank you for addressing this egregious print/broadcast error. I went to sleep shortly after midnight yesterday believing that 12 of the 13 W. Va. coal miners had been found alive. Imagine my horror on waking this morning at 6 a.m., only to learn that a single miner had survived, and in critical condition. How could this have happened?
Flipping between CNN and MSNBC, whose Rita Cosby even happily detailed for viewers that the “miners were sipping water,” I simply assumed the “breaking news” had been sourced and confirmed. This has been disturbing on so many levels and my sympathy goes out to the families as well.
Columbia Law School Report
New York, N.Y.
What I have found so unsettling about the reporting of the Sago mine disaster has been the unquestioning reliance on Bennett Hatfield. Since when does anyone take what the most vested interest has to say about cause, effect, and facts on the ground with a straight face, let alone reporters?
I also found the incessant religionizing of the event bizarre. The use of the word “miracle” over and over again was weird, to say the least. Nevertheless, it certainly was pretty damn miraculous how most of the reporting avoided raising any questions about the safety of that mine and the explosion.
I also think that when this particular president starts saying everyone is praying and God bless this and that, it’s the responsibility of the media to give the concerned audience the real story about just how much God is being asked to do all on his own since the administration doesn’t believe in regulation or funding for workers’ safety.
Finally, I think it’s interesting that no media person, not even the vaunted Anderson Cooper, drew the obvious comparison between the confusion caused by weak organization and nebulous leadership at this rescue operation and the mess that was FEMA in NOLA. If the federal mining safety folks were still fully funded and had some real regulatory clout, they would be in charge. Instead, what we saw was a discombobulated governor, a useless federal robot (now there’s a resonant symbolism!), and the CEO yap yap yapping about how a bolt out of the blue caused all the trouble. Uh huh. Now if we could only figure out what the job is, we could tell somebody or other heckuva one, right??
How is it the Media’s Fault?
I was watching CNN live when an employee of the mine ran out to Anderson Cooper and said he had just come from the opening of the mine and that “it’s official,” there are 12 alive. He was crying and kept repeating they were alive. Cooper then was still announcing that they had been told (not that it was confirmed) that the miners were alive. Less than one hour later, family members came out of the church and said that the coal company’s President had just told them that the twelve miners were alive and gave them details on how they would be transported to the church to be reunited. Numerous family members from the church relayed this information live on air. The families also said the President told them he would be back in one hour with additional information, if not the miners themselves. He did not come back until three hours later and that was to tell the families that the miners were dead. He also was quoted as saying he took full responsibility for the misinformation.
The misinformation was awful, but I fail to see how it was the media’s fault. The President may not have issued an official press release, but he spoke in a public forum (Sago Church) and told the families first hand that they were alive.
Since you seem devoted to proper reporting, or at least criticizing others for perceived mistakes, you might have added the coal company President’s announcement to your article.
Sensational Reporting Led to Reporting Blunders
What is obvious (and grievous) is that the media chose to focus primarily on the families, to get the up-close and personal story, rather than reporting the official news from the rescue teams. By doing that they have abandoned their mission of seeking out the truth and telling the story from that perspective, and instead they became the story of raised and dashed hopes in a tragedy.
Unfortunate Google Ad for ‘Miners Needed’
It is in very poor taste to run this ad next to the story about the mistaken coverage of the miners being found alive.
Ed’s Note: Point taken. This can happen from time to time with Google’s AdWords program, an automated advertising network that matches ads to article keywords. E&P has no control over the actual Google ads that display within the articles.
Overcome By Emotion
The notion that all the networks ran with such an emotional story with no verifiable sources being on record is a stunning comment on the state of our “traditional” media. The print media acts more like the National Enquirer and television media more like Hard Copy.
More Credibility Damage
The 12 West Virginia miners disclosed later to be dead but first reported to be alive is just another example out of a long list of media blunders. Journalists today, more concerned with spreading socialism and keeping their hair in place in stiff wind, have utterly no concern for truth or facts. They have become lazy beyond comprehension to the point we “unwashed masses” cannot take anything we hear or read from the media seriously. I cannot imagine how humiliating it must be to wake up each morning knowing one makes one’s living as a journalist. Pathetic.
In Praise of Good Editorial Writers
Re: William O’Rourke’s Shoptalk column, “My Life, and Death, as a Columnist“
William O’Rourke’s piece on being a columnist was thoroughly enjoyable. I understand that tension over ideology, having been a reporter and columnist for five years here at the St. Augustine Record since 1998. I stopped writing my regular column in January 2005 because I?d said all I had to say.
I’m still “senior writer” here, covering the County Commission, development and military affairs. And I occasionally still write a column. My editor, Pete Ellis, lets me write what I want, and our editorial page editor, Jim Sutton, puts it on the page. We’re a small but cosmopolitan town.
My original aspiration was to become a pocket Charlie Reese, that cranky, lovable and now semi-retired columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. During the 1980s and later, Reese’s column sparked most of the Sentinel?s letters to the editor. I was in awe of that. I had to see what all the fuss was about. Reese’s views irritated people and they’d write the editor to refute him or agree with him. He stayed on the edge, never quite falling off. I liked his gumption.
Of course, Reese is immensely talented. I was just somebody who liked to provoke people.
Our paper received a lot of mail about my column, most of the negative stuff coming from the anti-war lefties and religious right, both groups I loved to tweak. By good fortune, I was never identified as being a member of either a right or left wing cadre. I supported legalization of marijuana, opposed the nation’s useless, costly drug war, and said “intelligent design” was a fraud. My columns also supported the relaxation of the embargo on Cuba and registration of firearms. But as a two-tour Vietnam veteran, I understood the point of view of the troops and supported the war in Iraq. My editor then, Jim Baltzelle, now with the Associated Press, allowed me to go to Ramadi and Baghdad in 2004 and see for myself.
I never cared if I were liked.
O’Rourke’s column was a great look backward from a writer whose name I’ll remember and seek in the future. Editorial page editors understand that controversial, even irritating, columns are what bring savvy readers to their opinion pages and what makes them respond in writing.
Too many editorial columns are gray and boring. Show me another one about the Supreme Court or the invasion of privacy and I’ll gag. Kathleen Parker of the Orlando Sentinel I’ll read every time, and Thomas Sowell.
Tell O’Rourke that if he ever gets to St. Augustine, my wife and I would love to buy him and spouse (if any) a few Red Brick beers at our great little microbrewery, A1A Ale House, and pick his brain about being a liberal in a right-wing world. That would be quite refreshing.
Peter T. Guinta
St. Augustine Record
St. Augustine, Fla.
Error in Story
In your online story “‘Military Times’ Poll Finds Fading Support for President, War” posted Jan. 2, you incorrectly report that 85% of the people we polled were active duty. That is incorrect. One hundred percent of the people whose responses we tabulated were active duty.
Senior Managing Editor
Army Times Publishing Co.
Lessons of Bandow Coverage
Re: ‘Payola Pundit’ Doug Bandow Admits ‘Mistake’ But Rationalizes What He Did
E&P is justified in calling Doug Bandow’s financial remuneration a rationalization, by its lights, but a larger issue remains unaddressed. The most tainted journalistic practice, at least in my adult lifetime, has not been the result of monetary “corruption.” It has been the result of things like personal (including sexual) relationships, or of a desire for glory and status, or of ideological zeal. Come to think of it, this is almost certainly true in most other areas of human endeavor, as the South Korean stem-cell scandal currently reminds us. To concentrate on private money as the primary source of evil in journalism has the effect of soft-pedaling the other, more compelling reasons why information might be tainted. It is not ultimately very useful.