Tragic error

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.

: Thanks to a reader, here is a clip of Anderson Cooper learning this morning that the 12 miners had not survived but had died.

: LATER: Here’s a BBC story that quotes this post.

  • EB

    I was awake watching the “news” since the Penn State game went to 3 OT’s… Anderson Cooper was first with the “man on the street” info (erroneous as it turns out) that “12 were alive” and he was also first, with the correction, many hours later with a “woman on the street” interview that the mine officials had just told the families inside the church that in fact there was only 1 survivor in critical condition and the rest had perished. But trusting “man on the street” information is pretty iffy…. even if they are eyewitnesses.

    It seems the news-flash was communicated around the “officials” by cell phone calls… and cable news reports, of course… but I am only sorry the officials did not deem it humane to correct this bad info sooner, the families were kept in a false sense of hope for HOURS.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Yeah, but this was an honest mistake.

    I don’t trust the news because of their deliberate “mistakes” and the way they deal with them. (e.g. Katrina coverage).

  • kat

    I was watching too, and I don’t believe it was any official who broke the false news. An official did say it took an hour to get to where the men were and everyone was busy getting Randy McCloy out and then checking the vitals of the rest. I don’t think the officials were willing to make another announcement that hey, there may be more than one dead till they were dead certain…like the media should have done. It was badly done, and Anderson Cooper was a puke inducing drama queen. Sometimes in their rush to be first–the media is first to be wrong.
    God Bless those men and their families.

  • http://isfullofcrap.com/ Laurence Simon

    They won’t learn until they’re been roped and branded with “DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN” across their rumps.

  • http://billkosloskymd.typepad.com/lexicillin_qd/ Bill K.
  • Catherine

    In all fairness to the news media, I was awoken at 4:45am to the press conference with the CEO of the mining company who said that the erroneous “news” of 12 survivors was broadcast over some sort of open phone line from the rescue crew to the command station where mine officials and government officials were staged. The CEO made it clear in the press conference that everyone in the room listening in to the speakerphone heard the same thing and then rushed to make cell phone calls and inform the victims’ families. It was a mine official, not any member of the media, who broke the news to the families. There were even officials on the record with the New York Times saying that there were 12 survivors and that they were being treated in the mine and were preparing to be brought out. It doesn’t seem like a case of shoddy reporting to me. They had every reason to believe that what they were hearing was the official truth.

  • http://michaelzimmer.org Michael Zimmer

    its not so much that the news was wrong, but that the public officials were wrong. the fault of the news, however, is merely relying on word-of-mouth rather than doing their own foot-work.

  • Jess

    Catherine…
    Please note your quote: “and then rushed to make cell phone calls and inform the victims’ families” was in reference to general information, and was a continuing process that had gone on for some time, as was noted in the PCon.
    Your item: “There were even officials on the record with the New York Times”… The NYT website (as of noon) now has no direct attribution of rescue from company officials. Do you have another source?
    “It was a mine official, not any member of the media, who broke the news to the families” – Yes. A Mine official met w/the families to break the bad news. Often, it’s the foreman for a particular mine, but I have no information to confirm that in this case.
    If you are insinuating that a mine official told the families about “rescues”, then please let the world know who this person is…
    J

  • http://donsurber.blogspot.com don surber

    Get off your high horse. There was a miscommunication of enormous proportion.
    I read too many blogs last night praising this “miracle.”
    Citizens news? Based on what? Was there a blogger in Tallmansville? In Sago? Inside the mine?
    Hey, next time you go to the hospital, try a citizen doctor …

  • http://ruthcalvo Ruth

    What a tragedy for everyone. Maybe it will make the reporters assigned to any calamity on the scene more aware that they need to be very sure what is true before they start reporting it as news. Don’t know that anyone was blogging this, was there anyone?

  • Jimmy

    Is this necessarily the news media’s fault? They only reported what the management of the coal company told them. How would the have been able to verify that without being in the mine itself? The mainstream news media certainly has it faults, but this was not their mistake. Granted, they could have waited until they saw the men being pulled from the mine, but if the company spokesperson tells them everything is OK, why should they not believe them? I think you’re way off base with this one.

  • Jess

    Again – any source that “the management of the Coal Co. told”???
    Until the meeting w/the families, there seems to have been nothing beyond process updates from the Co.
    If you’ve got sources, share!!
    J

  • Jess

    “they could have waited until they saw the men being pulled from the mine”
    ah… ‘scuse me, but isn’t that how reporting is supposed to work? That’s what they taught us in J school.

  • Catherine

    Jess, I’m telling you what I saw on the press conference coming OUT OF THE MOUTH of the CEO of the mining company. Sorry–I didn’t TiVo it for you. He said VERY CLEARLY that a person from the rescue team broadcasted over the speakerphone to the command center where, the CEO said, everyone in the room heard the same thing–that there were 12 survivors. Then, the people in the command center (mine and gov’t officials only–there were no reporters in there) got on their phones and went to the families and told them they were all alive. This was reported to the families by a mine official. The freaking GOVERNOR thought they were alive. If you were a reporter, what would you have done? No, what COULD you have done? I don’t see anything beyond going down in the mine themselves to see the bodies with their own eyes.

    We all know the MSM has a history of shoddy reporting over the last few years, but don’t try to make this into something it’s not.

  • Rick

    Just blame the company. It’s all the company’s fault. In Lieu of actually reporting, that’s the easy way out for CNN, Fox, etc.

  • Jim

    There is still much confusion, however, it doesn’t appear that the media outlets reported based on official company announcements. Sorry Catherine, but the CEO said that the crew in the mine reported that 12 individuals were found. The crucial word “alive” was an inference that those who were monitoring the crew’s transmissions, including local volunteer firefighters, made. The word then spread to the families.

    Cable news went live with the apparent news based upon crowd reaction and individuals commenting upon that crowd reaction. It seems that most of the “confirmation” quotes are variations of “We’re hearing all 12 survived.” From whom? Noone in a position of authority seems to have definitively confirmed that.

    Who ultimately deserves rebuke for failing to adequately vet the veracity of the confirmation? Media outlets. A man on the street can say that he heard from the company that the miners are safe, but shouldn’t reporters seek out confirmation from an official company source, or at least report that there are conflicting accounts between the man on the street and the spokesperson? Hearsay becomes truth and truth becomes fact in the race to inform.

  • http://www.moveonandshutup.org dan

    My dad was a chicago cop for 35 years. If you were hanging out in Chicago during the ’68 DNC, that nightstick might have been from him.

    Anyway, he used to say “letting the media into an ongoing situation is like letting wolves into a nursery—it’s not going to end well”

    Heh. The old man had a point.

  • Toni

    Dan, your father sounds like an asshole.

  • kat

    The Governor thought they were alive because he heard the same false stuff as anyone in the Sago Church heard. He had not been personally informed. Shit, that Ruby woman who had her moment rambling on CNN even reported that Randy Ware was alive–that too was wrong.
    I believe Dan’s dad had a valid point. God, they were like wolves last nite preying on those poor people who were hiding their faces and just begging to be left alone.

  • Jack

    Toni, YOU sound like an asshole.

  • John Stark

    For those interested in facts, the NYT and MSNBC have reports that seem to explain how the misinformation originated and spread, with the MSM near the end, rather than the beginning, of the chain.

    I find it difficult to understand how an episode like this can be used to condemn all MSM as worthless and shoddy. The MSM–your local newspaper, your television news broadcast–is a human institution. It is going to fail, spectacularly, from time to time. Show me a human institution that does not.

    Should we scorn all organized religion because of some pedophile priests? Should we shut down all our police departments because of some dishonest or brutal cops? Should we ignore blogs because so many of them seem to be operated by people wearing drool-soaked t-shirts?

    Should you “trust” the media? Don’t be ridiculous. Will you be better-informed if you ignore the media? Don’t be ridiculous.

  • http://mhallville.typepad.com Mark

    What unfolded on our main cable news outlets last night was not professional journalism. Forty five minutes into the “miracle,” with no official confirmation, no press conference, no further details, good reporters would have introduced some caution and skepticism into their reporting. That didn’t happen, and it made an already terrible situation much worse. That is the problem with having your anchor live and on the scene, tired, and clearly not thinking straight (Anderson Cooper). Or worse yet, having Geraldo Rivera there as your “reporter.”

  • Jess

    Catherine… please note that a quick “google” finds the PCon. As Jim correctly points out, the com center clearly noted that 12 were “found” (that’s a quote, BTW). The words “alive”, “survive”, “survived”, etc. were not used in the context of those found.
    Again, the only contact made was to keep the families updated as to ongoing searches.
    Note too that the meme of “survivors going to the church” was from CNN’s onscreen personality who kept asking that Q – anyone with the slightest bit of experience in mine accidents would know that survivors would be immediatly hospitalized (as were the miners rescued in PA).
    If I were a reporter (and yes, I went to J school), I would have verified by contacting the company & safety officers on site. If they wouldn’t talk, then that’s part of the story, and should be reported as such.
    The onsite press blew this one. Badly. Now many are in CYA mode with another pathetic performance.
    J

  • kat

    Relying on unverified sources and broadcasting them before double-checking is unnacceptable. {But many newspapers, and all of cable TV news, reported the rescue as fact, not merely based on family claims.}
    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001804359

  • Jess

    On another note… why does anyone still listen to (much less pay) GR & AC???

  • Andrew

    I think the concern is that the media is reporting a rumor (not necessarily creating it) but reporting it without the necessary caveats. I didn’t watch, but did CNN say “we’re hearing reports, but we cannot verify them” or did they say “all the miners are alive”?

  • Jess

    Andrew,
    Excellet point. Unfortunatly, “reported” and “unverified” are words missing from the on air types. The early reports I can find on FOX & CNN don’t use those words, BTW.
    J

  • Jess

    John,
    “I find it difficult to understand how an episode like this can be used to condemn all MSM as worthless and shoddy”
    You’re setting up a straw man. No one’s making that claim.
    A claim is often made (I’m reluctant to post direct links, but search townhalldotcom for a recent article by K Parker) that “MSM” is above & beyond reproach. Trust? Not hardly.
    J

  • Jim

    John writes, “For those interested in facts, the NYT and MSNBC have reports that seem to explain how the misinformation originated and spread, with the MSM near the end, rather than the beginning, of the chain.”

    Unfortunately, while the beginning of the chain set off the emotional roller coaster for the family, the end of the chain resulted in three hours of live TV and the front page of every daily in America proclaiming the miners lived. And since this is a media blog and not an incident-command blog, the end of the chain has primacy in this discussion.

    I certainly don’t think all MSM is shoddy. But as Jeff points out, the vetting process that used to occur behind closed doors is increasingly occurring in the open in these sorts of situations — for MSM, bloggers, whomever. When first-to-air is a primary concern, these failures are bound to occur. And the ensuing criticism will always be warranted.

  • Required Name

    >“I find it difficult to understand how an episode like this can be used to
    >condemn all MSM as worthless and shoddy”

    Just remember that Jeff is the cheerleader for the “new media”/”Citizen’s Media” so you really can’t take his criticism seriously. He has a vested interest in making the “old media” look bad.

    Anyone with half a brain can see that this is a non-story. The media reported what the families were told. Who in their right mind would think that the people in charge would actually mislead the families in a tragedy such as this.

    If the “old media” had failed to report the “happy news” you can bet that Jeff and his ilk would have been screaming about how the media didn’t report it because they were secretly hoping for bad news. If a blogger had then reported the “happy news” and if it had really turned out to be happy news (meaning 12 had survived) Jeff would have been jumping up and down talking about how the old media doesn’t get it and how it was scooped by a citizen journalist.

  • Jess

    FWIW,
    Now, somewhere a good reporter needs to 1) confirm that indeed the Co. wanted a “caution” message out between 12 ~ 12:30 2)if so, who carried that message 3) was that message delivered 4) was it received and acted on.

    If indeed the command center did issue that message, the Q then becomes “why did the on site media continue to report incorrect information for nearly 3 hours”….

    Of course, if the response is “well, we weren’t in the loop”, then why did they report the way they did originally.

    J

  • Jess

    Exactly which part is a “non story”?
    In my opinion, had traditional media outlets used standard reporting, the early euphoria would have been shown to be misplaced.
    Imagine, if you will, that AC had contiued to follow up the very first to tell him that there were survivors. A good reporter would, with camera crew trailing, gone directly to the office, and gotten what we now know to be a very different story.
    That would have been good reporting, and it’s important for blog fans to note that it could only have been carried out by traditional media means. Trouble is, good journalism is hard work. First to air is easy.

    J

  • Jhughs

    The news I read in the paper, although it implied the miners were alive, was still accurate because it had qualifiers in it like “… family members said.” It was enough to make me suspicious… but of course I hoped that it meant they had survived. Either way, the article was technically accurate.

    Here’s the link to the AP article:
    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/W/WV_MINE_EXPLOSION?SITE=ILJOL&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2006-01-03-23-59-41

  • Jess

    The above linked article gets it right (note the posting time). Why did GR & AC stay on the air with garbage for 3 hours??? That’s a question that needs answers.
    J

  • http://bamapachyderm.com Beth

    Catherine’s comment:
    Jess, I’m telling you what I saw on the press conference coming OUT OF THE MOUTH of the CEO of the mining company. Sorry–I didn’t TiVo it for you. He said VERY CLEARLY that a person from the rescue team broadcasted over the speakerphone to the command center where, the CEO said, everyone in the room heard the same thing–that there were 12 survivors. Then, the people in the command center (mine and gov’t officials only–there were no reporters in there) got on their phones and went to the families and told them they were all alive. This was reported to the families by a mine official. The freaking GOVERNOR thought they were alive. If you were a reporter, what would you have done? No, what COULD you have done? I don’t see anything beyond going down in the mine themselves to see the bodies with their own eyes.

    We all know the MSM has a history of shoddy reporting over the last few years, but don’t try to make this into something it’s not.

    …is exactly, PRECISELY, what I saw too. This ankle-biting in the blogosphere looks petty and amateurish.

    Jess:
    First to air is easy.
    Well, when family members come up to reporters on the scene and tell the reporter for the first time (as I saw on Fox News) that the men are alive, it’s kinda hard to do otherwise. What’s the reporter to do? Cut the camera? Tell the viewers, “oh, the families and the Governor say the miners are alive and are celebrating, but we don’t know if they’re right about that” or something to that effect? I watched it all like Catherine did, and if anyone is to “blame,” it’s ICG for not telling the families and the media for three hours.

    Let’s not forget, too, that the story of The Embarrassed Media is NOT the main story here. It’s the mine explosion and the deaths it caused–and the man who survived it. I can’t believe that anyone who saw those families in their celebrations would question THEM if they were there or even just saw it on live TV.

  • http://nuggets.blogspot.com Howard

    What will stick in my mind about the media’s coverage of this sad day is not that many people got it wrong. When news breaks, people get things wrong – especially when they are relying on official sources who have it wrong to begin with.

    What I’m left with are those blaring print newspaper headlines and how they dramatizes print’s irrelevance. Did you see the number of front pages with the wrong headline and no way to update the story?

    Here are just a few:

    http://www.newseum.org/media/dfp/lg/CO_RMN.jpg
    http://www.newseum.org/media/dfp/lg/NY_NYT.jpg
    http://www.newseum.org/media/dfp/lg/AL_TN.jpg

  • Andrew

    Look at the documentary of the Munich Olympic tragedy. Jim McKay with ABC was on the air, for almost an hour, knowing in the back of his head that the reports said the hostages had been killed in a botched rescue attempt. But he didn’t “Anderson Cooper” it on the air–he waited until there was verification, and then sadly broke the news.

    If you see the video, in hindsight, you can tell. He knows-it’s almost painful to watch him-but he doesn’t rush the story until it is verified.

    Today’s media isn’t like that. Anderson Cooper, the rumor monger, is like listening to a five-year-old tell a tale of who got hit by a UFO while crossing the street.

  • APF

    Any moron can tell you what some other moron said. That’s not journalism.

  • http://www.johnkerry.com Fred

    Andrew:

    You obviously were without cable during Katrina. Anderson Cooper showed more poise and presence than anyone at FNC. I noticed that Bill O’Reilly stayed studio-bound and focused on the defense of the governments’ botched handling of the situation.

    http://www.cnn.com/video/player/player.html?url=/video/bestoftv/2005/09/02/cooper.katrina.landrieu.cnn

    We’re discussing a fluke and a true accident in the media which surfaced in a desperate situation. I think it showed the eagerness of all the press at the disaster site to communicate a rescue in hopes they all survived.

    We all love the media when it supports our point of view or delivers news that affects us positively.

    Fred

  • kat

    What I remember is Anderson Cooper talking about some dingbat who blubbered about his friend’s mother dying and Anderson acting all sappy, when in fact the mother had died 5 days earlier.
    I remember the report about 200 bodies in the dome when there were 6. I remember the reporting saying there were 30,000 dead when there weren’t.
    If Katrina is your idea of good reporting, then it is no wonder Anderson pleases you–you are not hard to please. Or I guess Katrina lies were a fluke and a true accident in the media which surfaced in a desperate situation. Of course, that’s it.

  • http://billkosloskymd.typepad.com/lexicillin_qd/ Bill K.

    Quoting “Required Name”:

    “Just remember that Jeff is the cheerleader for the “new media”/”Citizen’s Media” so you really can’t take his criticism seriously. He has a vested interest in making the “old media” look bad.”

    But, most importantly, he had always been transparent about this. How often do you know the inclinations of the reporters and editors wrtiting the news for the MSM?

    In this particular incident, it seems it was just sloppiness in vetting out the sources before producing a front page story for the next day, but, there is a growing credibility gap in reporting where certain interests are being promoted without the public being aware.

  • Andrew

    I was in Europe when Katrina hit and watched Anderson Cooper on CNN International. I thought he was horrid, so horrid I actually sent an email to CNN to complain.

    I’d suggest reading MANY of the ‘after-action’ reviews of the media in Katrina and you’ll see that A.Cooper was just as fault as the rest of the crowd in mis-reporting rumor as fact, and even more at fault for letting his emotions enter his reports. He should have been pulled off camera and replaced by a professional.

    If I want emotion-based reporting on news, I’ll watch Oprah or Maury Povich.

  • JBK

    It’s always fascinating how JJ trumpets his appearances in one of those old media outlets – oh look, everyone I’m quoted in the BBC, my column is up in the Guardian. For someone who is so disdainful of the “old” media, so enamoured of “citizen’s media” (gag) I always wonder why he wants so desperately to be quoted in that dinsosaur, or for it to be noted that he’s quoted there. And this “citizen’s media,” from what I understand, was a big part of the problem at the mine, a bunch of hicks yammering on their cell phones and “getting the word out” that there were 12 survivors, that led to so much later pain from the families whose hopes were dashed. Can you imagine if the news from every tragedy relied on a bunch of “citizen media” goobers running around a disaster scene with their cell phone cams and their wifi laptops “getting the news out” to the world….oy!

  • http://www.angryot.blogspot.com Maj D

    The network idiots covering this were all guilty of failing to verify their info with at least one reliable source. Every one of them used the excuse that “we’re just telling you what the families are saying.” Bullshit. Do your jobs.

  • http://billkosloskymd.typepad.com/lexicillin_qd/ Bill K.

    JBK, maybe you’re right that bloggers who trumpet a citation of their work on MSM borders on self-aggrandizement, but it’s interesting to see in what context a blog is quoted, or how fair the original point was represented.

    Professionals in journalism always had to be experts in the flow of information as it pertains to reporting it as news. From what I heard on NPR tonight, the initial reports by Anderson Cooper about the “miracle” included some disclaimer about how this wasn’t confirmed but was coming from the families only. His later reports ignored this very important point.

    I think Jeff is pushing for higher standards in both the MSM and the blogosphere. Bloggers don’t get a pass when they’re sloppy, but they do have the advantage of rapidly posting a correction or amplification when needed.

    The day is inevitable when we’ll stop chopping down trees to produce newsprint for the dinosaur blogs, just to throw it away the next morning, or puting people in dangerous situations to support our dependence on fossil fuels.

  • http://www.californiaconservative.org California Conservative

    As we argued this morning, Geraldo might have had a little to do with it…

  • http://r804.com Sterling

    The satellite trucks are not your friends.

  • JBK

    Bill K you’re right about pushing for higher standards in both worlds, the MSM and JJ’s beloved “citizen’s media.” The sad thing is, at one point the MSM (sigh: I guess we’ve been browbeaten into using it) did hold itself to higher standards. Does anyone remember during the Reagan assassination attempt when errors got broadcast about injuries, who was shot, etc. and Frank Reynolds of ABC was anchoring and literally snapped at his producers while he was on air: “Get it right, people.” Now, with the 24-hour cable news gasbags, just about anything gets on the air as soon as they can open a mic (as we painfully saw in the mine incident). I guess what I was trying to say is I have no hope for JJ’s “citizen’s media” to ever be holding themselves to such a standard; if they are on the scene they will blog out, wifi out, camphone out whatever the hell they see, without bothering to do rudimentary Journalism 101 checking of the “facts.” I just expect the MSM to actually do their job, because we’re rarely going to get it from the Jeff Jarvis or Glenn Reynolds section of the world. The much maligned, blogosphere-hated NY Times, in fact, was properly cautious in their go-to-bed story and attributed the reports of the 12 miners being saved to “Families Say.” I doubt we would ever see that in citizen’s media, because we sure as hell didn’t see it on Fox, MSNBC, or any other of the rightwing’s loved new media sites.

  • http://www.johnkerry.com Fred

    Andrew – did you see any of your pal Shep’s emotion on FNC during Katrina? Or Brian Williams? How on earth could you possibly expect emotionless reporting in that situation? You should stick to listening to Coast Guard Radio’s automated news, pal. MANY class-act news anchors have lost their composure on-air throughout history. Even the late Peter Jennings, who I dare you to blast, couldn’t contain himself after the Challenger and 9/11. Chronkite after JFK was shot, etc., etc. Your expectation of the news personnel is not humane and you experienced Katrina from abroad, not on US soil. There’s a difference. BTW, it’s those who blast the talk shows that usually are die-hard watchers. I’ll bet you own at least one Jerry Springer tape.

    If Anderson went on the air tomorrow and said he was Pro-Crawford,TX, you’d be praising him

    Kat – who do you think does it “right” ? If you’re going to continue to be a blast cannon, then stick your neck out and let’s have a look at who you believe gives accurate, unbias, emotion-free news media reporting. You’re very quick to attack – so let’s hear it. I bet I can guess the list of names. Your facts and numbers on Katrina are from your head – not a credible source.

    Fred

  • http://billkosloskymd.typepad.com/lexicillin_qd/ Bill K.

    JBK: Let’s look at all media from the perspective of the reader (viewer, consumer, customer–whatever term you prefer). First of all, headlines don’t matter. In traditional print media, these are no written by the reporter. Second, the reader must maintain a certain level of skepticism for all stories. The reporter is obligated to present a case to support the news being reported. Unless, the reporter lies about his sources, or hides a special interest he is serving for whatever reason, the reader can only use what is written to judge the validity of the story.

    It’s ok to read something from whatever medium, and still remain unconvinced. And, it’s ok to push bloggers like Jeff to push their argument above your threshold for acceptance. It should be a conversation. MSM doesn’t allow this interchange.

    Right now is all about which medium is willing to listen to its readers’ concerns.

  • JBK

    Bill K not sure what your point is in this context by saying the headlines aren’t written by the reporter. Yes, they’re written by an editor, and at the level of a newspaper like the NYT we assume a fairly good editor working from copy supplied by a fairly good reporter. So I will take the headline into account and appreciate its accuracy (sorry rightwingers, but in one of those desert island disc scenarios, if I was limited to one paper and one paper only for an enitre year to get my fill of what”s happening in the world, I would take the evil NYT as opposed to the Washington Times, New York Post, or any other right wing pub — and you would too if you would be honest!), so when the NYTimes includes the caveat “12 Survived, Families Say” it means something, since the other guys didn’t bother to step back and get over the joy of the church bells ringing. I know transparency is the bugaboo among the JJ set these days, but I just want accurate reporting, which we didn’t get in the mine tragedy from most of the media, whether blogs, cable news or ipod downloads on a damn cell phone.

  • http://impactedwisdomtruth.blogspot.com Impacted Wisdom Truth

    Do not be too harsh on the news media. Even if they ran the story based on flawed intelligence.

  • http://senshineko.com/weblog/ John Steven

    I think that the coverage of this story exemplifies how much of the media has degenerated into merely narrating events and passing along rumor & spin (thanks a lot cable news nets) instead of their proper role of reporting the news and investigating incidents.

  • http://billkosloskymd.typepad.com/lexicillin_qd/ Bill K.

    JBK: What I was trying to say is that as a reader you have to be conscious of the hierarchy involved with the production and business of MSM that may serve them well but doesn’t necessarily bring the reader closer to the truth.

    The NYTimes did have a more nuanced headline by using “…families say,” but still published an erroneous front page story.

    The blogosphere tends (and should) eschew the hierarchies, to allow the process of vetting sources to occur faster. Some would say that the hierarchy of having an editor et al, is safer, but the MSM does slip up, as we see happening more often, and the Web denizens can rapidly fill in the cracks.

  • http://thelipstickrepublican.blogspot.com Jamie

    JBK:

    “A bunch of hicks yammering on their cellphones” – my my. Your snoot is showing. These “hicks” were, if I understand the situation correctly, probably mine employees.

    [T]he CEO of the mining company [...] said that the erroneous “news” of 12 survivors was broadcast over some sort of open phone line from the rescue crew to the command station where mine officials and government officials were staged. The CEO made it clear in the press conference that everyone in the room listening in to the speakerphone heard the same thing and then rushed to make cell phone calls and inform the victims’ families.

    Per Catherine, above, at 1:00 PM yesterday. Presumably the mine employees doing the “yammering” were of the same “hick” pedigree as the miners themselves. You of course are not a “hick” – just terribly insensitive on this point. Way to take the opportunity to use tragedy to further your elevated sense of social status.

    Twelve people died. They were in West Virginia, which I’m guessing is very different from the place you hail from. Their lives were exactly as unlikely and precious as your own and mine, their loved ones will miss them as much as your loved ones would miss you, and the “hicks yammering” a very overly optimistic inference to those loved ones believed that they were alleviating pain rather than ultimately causing more of it. We all should take a lesson from this awful situation, but those journalists who credulously went with the “miracle” story without, as Jess noted, calling the command center, trying to reach the official spokespeople, or tracking down the provenance of the information ought to take a much more urgent one, since the damage they can do is far greater than anything you or I can accomplish with a cellphone.

  • Jess

    “What’s the reporter to do? Cut the camera? Tell the viewers, “oh, the families and the Governor say the miners are alive and are celebrating, but we don’t know if they’re right about that” or something to that effect? I watched it all like Catherine did, and if anyone is to “blame,” it’s ICG for not telling the families and the media for three hours.”

    Beth,
    To answer your question, YES. Reporters ARE to inquire as to sources, and MUST report those sources. If GR,AC & their ilk were to couch their reporting in similar terms, their credibility would be far, far better.

    As to the timeline – it seems now that the Co. DID inform, at approx 12:15 ~ 12:30. Why was the message ignored? Why did the “on site” media keep up the incorrect story for nearly 3 hours?

    For those comments on “it’s about the miners” – no, this discussion isn’t. This is about the end of the chain of media events.

    Jamie, excellent post, & excellent points. FWIW, I do “hail” from that area. The amazingly negative comments about the people living in small towns & small states reveal the true intellect of those posters. They can be safely ignored.

    J

  • Jody Tresidder

    MSM performed disastrously.

    CaptiousNut above called it an “honest mistake”. It wasn’t. It was an ignorant MSM mistake based on ignoring previous intelligence.

    I watched CNN carefully before the “alive!” debacle, and it was my strongest non-specialist impression that coal company CEO Hatfield left only the faintest of faint hope for the survival of all or most of the miners. He was, I thought, using the concept of “miracle” correctly – i.e. that their survival would be against all rules of logic in the likely known circumstances, NOT just a desperately desired outcome.

    All the “alive!” headlines – whether or not they came with smaller typeface “the families say” caveats – seemed totally disconnected to everything Hatfield had taken pains to explain about probabilities.

    The correct screaming interim headline – taking into account the accidental, dreadful misinformation – SHOULD have been “How Could They Be Alive?”.

    That would have satisfied the immediate demands for a fresh spin on an “aging” human agony story.

    It would also have provided a valid holding angle for the subsequent tragic confirmation of the facts.

    This is one of the most disgusting cases of the media inexcusably jumping the gun I can recall. Scepticism – the best thoughtful tool of all hacks – trumped by a worthless scoop.

  • Franky

    “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.”

    Did you ever write one of these about the WMD’s fiasco?

    And, Jeff, you always proclaim your journalistic credentials, can i ask what you would have done if you were a reporter there outside the mine? When the entire community is dancing and praying in the background, the camera is rolling on you, and the anchor asks what’s happening “No nothing happening here, we’ve got no new updates – just some rumors but i won’t bother you with them”

    The news i was listening to (BBC radio 4 Today program) constatly sourced the news to the families themselves. What more could they have done? maybe added a note of caution? perhaps.

    This post is as dead-ended as those in the media who point to one dishonest blogger and write off the entire phenomenon.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Franky, I’m not saying that the reporters could have necessarily done much different. Especially true of the TV guys: It’s not as if they could say, ‘we won’t let you hear those church bells pealing until we confirm that they are a reliable source.’ I’m saying that everyone gets things wrong and that news is a process, not a product.

  • http://www.rigoletto.com/blogger.html Mike Z

    There are 2 significant parts to this story: First, the media running with unverified data. (It reminds me a bit of the “WMD lies” meme – the governor ran with what he thought to be the facts). Connected to that is the media’s mad rush to be first with the news. You’d'a thought they’d'a learned with “Dewey Defeats Truman”. We don’t need to know this instant that there’s a tragedy unfolding somewhere (unless it’s going on here). Wait until the guys come out of the mine, then tell us how it went.

    The second part, which most everybody seems to be ignoring, is the sad state of mine operations in West Virginia. That mine has about a hundred of health and safety violations – so why the heck is it still open? Compared to the news fiasco, this part is far more significant. The British navy used to speak of the men who “went down to the sea in ships”; we still have our men who go down to the mines in elevators. It’s a hard way to make a living.

  • kat

    Fred–I don’t know that anyone is perfect. All I ask for is unbiased, unpartisan, unembellished, facts. I don’t give a damn about Anderson’s sappy shit or lies such as {The men were taken by ambulances to a nearby hospital for examination.USA Today} You can’t just make up shit and call it NEWS. If I want fiction I will read a book. If I want drama, I will see a movie. But if I want NEWS, I just want facts…the truth…not unverified, unchecked lies.

  • Scott Butki

    I wrote a column for Blog Critics yesterday predicting – correctly – that the news media would be unfairly blamed for getting this story wrong.
    When given bad info and on deadline it’s hard to see where the reporters could have done different?
    Sad to say the blame game is going on anyway.

    Oh and did you see, Jeff, I left you a Christmas present here?

  • Jimmy J.

    Years ago I was involved in two rescues involving mountaineering fatalities. In both cases the newspapers printed rather sensational stories. I knew the stories were about the rescues I was on, but the facts were so muddled I hardly recognized the stories as being about the rescues. The lesson I learned was that news stories are seldom correct in all details. And if there are fatalities and survivors involved there will be much sensationalism.

  • kat

    I used to like Anderson Cooper before he became so full of himself. Now he thinks he is the story instead of reporting on the story.

  • Paul

    My biggest problem with the coverage of the miracle that wasn’t isn’t the way that “reporters” (and I use that word loosely) such as Anderson Cooper and Rita Cosby dealt with the inital reports of the miners being found alive, since they really had no other choice. At that point the story WAS that the families had been told by somebody that the miners were alive so Cooper, Cosby, etc had little choice but to cover that.

    However, once that news was out their jobs were to be reporters, a responsibility they clearly abdicated. In their desire to believe what was obviously a feel good story they took everything at face value. Anderson Cooper, Rita Cosby and Geraldo Rivera are as guilty as Judith Miller and Mary Mapes in that they wanted so bad to believe to be true a story they were supposed to be reporting on that they shunned any sense of objectivity and failed to a single question.

    For example, I never saw any of the ask WHO delivered the news to the families? (Apparently, “they” now suffices as a source , something that all those people hauled in front of Fitzgerald’s grand jury should remember to say.) Then, having been told that all 12 miners had been found alive and were doing fine, an ambulance leaves with the first miner taken from the mine and a few minutes later Anderson Cooper tells us that he is unconscious. HELLO??? Couldn’t AC and company figure out that something didn’t add up? The woman that was reporting with him on CNN (her name escapes me right now) admitted, on camera to Cooper in the aftermath, that the even before the annoucement that all but one miner was dead EMS crews were grim faced and the state police wouldn’t even look at the reporters. Considering how an element such as that contrasted with the sense of euphoria among family members at the church, shouldn’t that have been another clue to take another look at things? But instead, we were treated to hard hitting reporting like the tour of the Salvation Army food truck. Was I, sitting in my living room hundreds of miles away, the only person who thought there was a hole in a story that claimed that a dozen people who had been trapped underground for 40+ hours in a cold mine filled with dangerous fumes would be taken to the church to eat before they were taken to a hospital?

    For two days, given the opportunity, AC, RC, and GR had no problem asking hard questions of people like Hatfield or the Governor. Perhaps, if they should have shown a bit of that courage and used those abilities for just two hours early Wednesday morning, they wouldn’t look as foolish as they do right now.

  • Jody Tresidder

    Paul,
    Couldn’t agree more (Scott Butki’s MSM defence comment above and his linked Blog Critics column is, frankly, a miracle of illogical fluff).

    My “there’s a dreadful unfilled hole in this story” moment came slightly earlier. I, sitting in my living room, heard coal company CEO Hatfield explaining – speculatively – that building an emergency “barrier” against dangerous fumes was the miners’ likely best/only defence.

    His scepticism whether this could be practically possible was obvious. The “miracle” stories simply ignored his painstaking warnings in favor of their worthless scoop.
    Good reporters are MEANT to thoughtfully incorporate significant previous information into fresh “updates”.
    They didn’t get the “they’re alive!” reports in a vacuum.
    The now justly celebrated response of the local MSM newspaper in NOT going for the sensational angle on its rolling website is proof that avoiding empty foolishness was easily possible.

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  • Kayla Spitler

    I really believe that it unfolded the way it should have. We can’t blam the media for what they did because they were so involved in the story. I believe that their mistake made but we can’t harp on the past. The only mistake was made by the ICG group and that was making the families believe that their family members were still alive for about three hours (that is too long).

  • paul

    Not too many people know that much about coal mining, including the media. First, i was shocked at how cnn sketched the mine. The sketch was not any where close to how a deep mine is. The worst thing I saw was during the press conference when Ben Hatfield told of the first dead miner and at depth he was found, a reporter asked why didn’t he tell in the last release. There are certain procedures to follow to release this info. First and foremost, it must be confirmed and then tell the family and only the family, not to the media first!

  • Shirley Osborn

    I, for one, am grateful for the advance of live coverage, as opposed to the typical “manipulative” journalism which I am accustomed to. Thank you CNN for your fearlessness in covering the W.V. mining story. I see no “error”, I see life unfolding, a process which is rarely, if ever, perfectly “packaged”. Shirley Osborn

  • Ron

    It seems to me that no one is asking a key question…..Who was responsible for the report of “12 ALIVE” leaving the command center. I was watching CNN that night, as were millions of others. At 11:49 est an out of breath person ran up to Anderson Cooper and told the world that 12 were alive…..within a minute, the church bells started ringing…..I think that was the source of the misinformation leaving the command center before verification, and I think CNN needs to accept that by reporting live….in the quest to be the first to report an event, they are indirectly responsible for the fiasco that followed.

  • Seanne Prine

    What is really the problem with what happened with all the news media reporters “on the scene” at the church was that they had allowed the storyline of the miners rescue to turn out to be a blow by blow account with little regard for the familiies or friends of these miners, first. Its as if everyone may have meant well, and I’m sure that many in Tallsville were somewhat grateful that news was going worldwide about a tradgedy that should have been prevented, but the media seemed to make a “circus” out of the personal part of the people in the church, and taking advantage of the terrible emotions involved without a real clue as to just how deadly serious this accident was, and the possibilities of how bad the outcome was going to be in reality because of the slim chances ogf rescue. The news people just let professional miners tell their own information as how difficult it is, and how many miners don’t ever come out alive or uninjured, without really listening or taking this seriously. The news media should have taken other people’s advice who are, and have been, in the buisness of mining, rather than trying to make it a “we have gotten the story straight” attitude and depended on the Reality Show, or Reader’s Digest “You just won a million dollars” approach, which they obviosly did. The past mining accidents, such as the one in West Virginia in 1968 should have put some sense in the news reporters heads that the story is not about them, but the people of whom the story is about. All they had to do was to make a proefessional distance in that they should have taken these distraught people from the church aside before they reached the cameras and spoken reasonably to them, but that was probably wishful thinking on the part of many of the news people because of the “get that story, no matter what” garbage that is so overused. Its like every story is reported exactly the same, perhaps because many stories of violence and war give them no time to think much of the time, so many reporters get blindsided a lot of the time. I live in mining country out here in Wyoming and I heard a story or two from some men long retired from mining, just the other day hwere they descrubed the horrors of “just surviving” out of the mines. Perhaps the reporters and managers and directors of the news media should have taken all of these stories a little more closely to the heart in a manner as if it had happened to their own people, rather than leaning on the side of a live exciting storyline adding to the emotional cost of Tallsville. When you brush your teeth first thing in the morning and start your car up to go to work, people should know that the plastic toothbrush and the tube of toothpaste, and the car oil, among all the other daily products we use including polyester material, all come straight from coal and the hard working men who work the mines.

  • Beth B

    Why do you continue to watch CNN and Fox and why do you read the headlines in the newspapers so much if you think they are all doing such a bad job? Cut off your tvs, don’t read any newspapers and walk around uninformed about everything. It was reported and repeated and printed and everybody heard it, saw and I recorded it and I’ll make you all a tape and send it to you, a foreman from the mine made two cell phone calls to his wife and to a friend inside the church and that did it. The media did their best and they did state over and over and over, we are trying to verify what we are being told and Catherine and Beth both tried to make you understand but you all pretty much have made up your minds that they don’t have real “journalist”. So if you are so much better at it, go do it yourselves. They have openings, go apply and be perfect as you say you are. If you don’t like the media, then like I said before, stay uninformed and walk around as if nothing is happening in the world and maybe then you’ll be happy. What are watching Anderson Cooper for if you think he’s not caring enough? Make up your mind but I’ve got the tape to prove who started it and I work in public safety and I’ve seen it happen. People just want to talk about somebody or be the first to know some important piece of information and that’s exactly what happened. The media didn’t have a thing to do with it. And the poor media got treated terrible when they got the truth. Like it was all their fault that they didn’t survive. The media stepped aside and left them alone and all those people did was make themselves look like a bunch of rednecks on national tv. I have it on tape where one woman who lost her father was more concerned about giving them all the correct spelling of her name than grieving for her father. Then the next time when a disaster happens and the media is not there, everybody is going to be mad about that. Nobody is happy no matter what you do, they just want to gripe and yell and point their fingers and make sure somebody sees them do it. Be considerate of others and others will be considerate of you no matter what job you do or where you do it.

  • http://blog.derekrose.com derek rose

    I was there in Sago … a couple points. Jess, there were no “company & safety officers on site” to contact. They were all down at the mine, and there was state police troopers between us and them. (That’s such an obvious thing to try and do, do you think we are all stupid?)

    None of us ever imagined that what the families had been told wasn’t the truth, that fate could be so cruel. Maybe we should have, but I don’t think any of us on the scene did. We were all exhausted and muddy and caught up in that joyful celebration.

    I wrote more about this here.

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