"Miscommunication"
January 4, 2006 1:46 AM   Subscribe

When you pick up the newspaper this morning, the headline is likely to read something like "12 trapped miners found alive in 'miracle,'" when in all actuality, there was only one survivor. Fingers are already starting to be pointed at who could be at fault for the "miscommunication," meanwhile, newspapers whose printing deadlines have already come and gone, such as the Beaver County Times (more), will hit doorsteps and newsstands across the nation with incorrect headlines, parallel to the infamous Dewey Defeats Truman headline.
posted by Kevin Sanders (99 comments total)

 
See also...
posted by ericb at 1:49 AM on January 4, 2006


I think this is a great post. I wonder if the false news was a case of broken telephone or deliberate misinformation circulated on the assumption that the subsequent day's newspapers would relegate the 'correction' to the second page. Goes to show how little reporting the news media does and how much selective amplification and circulation of ready content.
posted by ori at 1:55 AM on January 4, 2006


This is amazing, all the cable news stories were talking about how much of a relief it was that not that many people died for hours on end. That they were obviously focusing all their resources on this story and that they got it so wrong is incredible.
posted by afu at 1:58 AM on January 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


That they were obviously focusing all their resources on this story and that they got it so wrong is incredible.

How is it incredible? If the miscommunication was "between rescue crews and the command center" as the article states, it doesn't matter how many resources were on the story.

I wonder if the false news was a case of broken telephone or deliberate misinformation circulated on the assumption that the subsequent day's newspapers would relegate the 'correction' to the second page.

So everyone would go on thinking the miners really made it out, right? Jesus, when did mefi become tinfoil central?
posted by justgary at 2:06 AM on January 4, 2006


NY Times & USA Today have it wrong too.
posted by riffola at 2:07 AM on January 4, 2006


............
posted by geekyguy at 2:25 AM on January 4, 2006


I feel sorry for the families who went from elation to devastation and the poor bastards who f*cked up the communication and will probably be lynched.
posted by Frasermoo at 2:38 AM on January 4, 2006


Reminiscent of the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre in which authorities claimed all the hostages had survived and didn't correct the information until the next day.

Initial news reports, published all over the world, indicated that all the hostages were alive, and that all the terrorists had been killed. Only later did a representative for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggest that "initial reports were overly optimistic."

In that case, it was clearly calculated misinformation, although I can't imagine the reason. I would guess that in this instance, it was simply a misunderstanding.
posted by sacrilicious at 2:41 AM on January 4, 2006


On CNN a few minutes ago, the reporter was talking about the sole survivor, Randall McCloy Jr., and said something to the effect of:

"Randall told his wife not to worry when he was in the mine because God was with them, and now that he's the only survivor it seems that God really was with him. As for the other families... (awkard pause) I'm sure they have a lot of questions that they want answered."
posted by Ljubljana at 2:45 AM on January 4, 2006


Imagine the radio conversation:

Rescue Team: We have 12
Command Center: Please confirm that, you have 12?
RT: Roger that, 12
CC: Great work guys, we copy 12

Sad and devestating to the families but plain human error free of malice.

Yeah, tell the familes of the others that GodTM was with Junior but not their men. That kind of talk can only be more hurtful to the already reeling families.
posted by geekyguy at 2:53 AM on January 4, 2006


From reports it appears someone was listening into rescue communications and misunderstood reports that they had found the men as they had found the men alive. Not clear if the eavesdropping was physical or electronic.

Unimaginable for the families.
posted by A189Nut at 3:17 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by Acey at 3:19 AM on January 4, 2006


The way the press is reporting it, you'd think that they were the victims in this mess. Once again, they've managed to ignore the story and turn the spotlight towards themselves.

Solopsistic bastards.
posted by Jatayu das at 3:37 AM on January 4, 2006


Jatayu das: "The way the press is reporting it, you'd think that they were the victims in this mess. Once again, they've managed to ignore the story and turn the spotlight towards themselves.

Solopsistic bastards.
"

All the reports I've seen and heard over here in the UK have positioned it as a terrible event made worse by the misheard telephone conversation. Are US news outlets really whingeing about being misinformed?
posted by jack_mo at 4:06 AM on January 4, 2006


geekyguy: "Rescue Team: We have 12
Command Center: Please confirm that, you have 12?
RT: Roger that, 12
CC: Great work guys, we copy 12
"

From what I understand based on NPR's interviews this morning, this is what they believe happened. Someone made a comment about finding "12 individuals", and somewhere along the telephone chain, it got turned into "12 alive individuals".
posted by Plutor at 4:12 AM on January 4, 2006


I'm not sure vilifying the news media is really the right thing to do in this case:

What happened, said Ben Hatfield, the CEO of International Coal Group, was this: Late Tuesday night, rescuers deep in the mine communicated to the command post that they had found 12 individuals. Everyone in the command post, listening together on a loud speaker phone, thought they heard that the word "alive" or at least got the impression they were alive.

That's the CEO of the mining company talking. It appears it was not some eavesdropping reporter who misheard something, as so many folks here have made it out to be.
posted by heydanno at 4:23 AM on January 4, 2006


Yeah, tell the familes of the others that GodTM was with Junior but not their men.

As my pastor once put it, "Living or dead, we are the Lord's" -- it makes little sense from a presumably Christian perspective to say that God wasn't with the many who died and was with the one who lived.

(Disclaimers: Further presuming there's a God to start with, or that there's any sense to made of humanity's relationship with him/her/it)
posted by alumshubby at 4:45 AM on January 4, 2006


The interesting part is how long it took to clear up the misunderstanding and release that information to the public.

Sploid's admittedly tabloid coverage points to a big gap between the two.
posted by srboisvert at 4:46 AM on January 4, 2006


Everyone in the command post, listening together on a loud speaker phone, thought they heard that the word "alive" or at least got the impression they were alive.

I'm strongly biased against CEO as a category of truthspeakers, but I'll give him benefit of doubt as they may have heard what they really wanted to hear and probably were emotional at the time.

What is hardly excusable is, nobody asked for confirmation and disambiguation...in layman term nobody asked twice. Doesn't go well with the idea it was a professional rescue effort.

They told us our loved ones would be out in an hour and on their way over," said Ann Meredith, whose father was in the mine. "This mine is unfit. They should shut it down."

Dear Ann, if a punishment is to be administered other then prison (assuming that someone may be guilty of criminal negligence) there's one that is far worse to financial people...making company pay every dime to restore the mine to perfect safety, then have it sold below market price at competitors willing to maintain the safety standard and keeping the people employed.

The U.S. having lost all the moral high ground of freedom and opportunity country, they at least could try to look somehow better then China in -facts- by implementing strict control over workers safety conditions.

Hey but *shh* don't tell I guess all the money was spent in Homerland security..protecting you from phantom menace and the Deathstar :-)
posted by elpapacito at 4:54 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by amberglow at 5:16 AM on January 4, 2006


Would you trust anyone this incompetent to run the mine you work?

Jesus God.

.
posted by dhartung at 5:17 AM on January 4, 2006


A quick scan of today's newspaper front pages shows many papers headlined the 12 alive story. This is because of the timing of the 3-hour misinformation gap: The erroneous announcement came at about 11:50, the correction 3 hours later. During that gap most morning newspapers deadline and go to press.
posted by beagle at 5:33 AM on January 4, 2006


Compounding this sadness, I suspect we'll see the eroneous newspapers on eBay soon. Always someone trying to make a quick buck.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:40 AM on January 4, 2006


Everyone should be ashamed of themselves for making a private tragedy so public. That's what's really disgusting.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:42 AM on January 4, 2006


Everyone should be ashamed of NOT making private tragedies public, as if they couldn't possibily happen to anybody else.That's what's really disgusting.
posted by elpapacito at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2006


New rules for search and rescue operations:

When transmitting info about casualities, identify them as dead or alive.

When receiving info about casualities, repeat info back, asking for a restatement on dead and/or alive.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:54 AM on January 4, 2006


Terrible. I can't accept any of the possible reasons given for mistaking 12 dead for 12 alive. There's just no reasonable way that somewhat vital detail could have been left out or misinterpreted.

Yeah, tell the familes of the others that GodTM was with Junior but not their men

The Guardian's report says this:

"Bells rang out at a church where the families were gathered, and some relatives ran out of the building screaming in delight. One shouted: "They're alive! They're alive!" and a group of several hundred broke into a chorus of the hymn How Great Thou Art."

I wonder if they'll now be breaking into a chorus of "What an Almighty Bastard Thou Art"? But I'm not wondering that too much.
posted by Decani at 6:01 AM on January 4, 2006


Editor & Publisher: In one of the most disturbing and disgraceful media performances of this type in recent years, television and newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course, often blaming the mixup on "miscommunication." ...
It is unclear why the media carried the news without proper sourcing. ...

posted by amberglow at 6:03 AM on January 4, 2006


Considering the state the media has been in, I'm not particularly surprised at their utter incompetence here. I really feel quite horrible for the town though, that was just a terrible situation, and to see it compounded by misinformation of this degree is... well, tragic.

.
posted by prostyle at 6:09 AM on January 4, 2006


This "newspaper" you mention?

Do I need a television to understand what it is?
posted by baltimore at 6:15 AM on January 4, 2006


It is unclear why the media carried the news without proper sourcing. ...

On some of the headlines you can see on the newseum site, they worded it as: "Families: 12 miners alive". Don't see how that makes it much better.
posted by smackfu at 6:23 AM on January 4, 2006


I think this is newsworthy, yeah. But I think the pictures on the front page of CNN showing grieving families, weeping and red-faced, desperately hoping in the church for some good news - any good news - was just sensationalistic tabloid exploitation of others' grief.

CNN's story on the miscommunication actually has a pay video link that says "Watch the angry families react". There's something deeply wrong with that, imho.
posted by darkstar at 6:26 AM on January 4, 2006


My wife works in a major newspaper--and she told me the story when she got home--around 5 am local. They were uncertain that the story was true, but decided to run with it when the governor made a statement. When the truth came out, they changed headlines quickly. Our morning paper had it correct--though with a glaring typo.

The people who where gathered at the site were full of hope--and the false one they embraced last night was very appealing to them. It's sad that they got let down that way.

.
posted by lester at 6:28 AM on January 4, 2006


I didn't see any Metro (free newspaper handed out here in Boston and many, many other cities worldwide) drones on my way to work this morning. I wonder if they were recalled due to this flub?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:29 AM on January 4, 2006


. . . . . . . . . . . .
posted by kbanas at 6:32 AM on January 4, 2006


The Chicago Tribune had the "12 Miners Rescued" headline initially. That's the edition I got at home. The later edition of the paper (the one I have at work) has a corrected headline and story.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:40 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by SisterHavana at 6:42 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by Rothko at 6:43 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by unreason at 6:43 AM on January 4, 2006


How is this the media's fault? They weren't the ones who told the families that 12 miners had survived, and that is the only real issue here. If your feelings got hurt as a media consumer and not a family member, tough.

By the way, why does this merit a whole new post? We had a perfectly good thread going.

Perhaps

Every

Update

Should

Get

Its

Very

Own

New

Post

So

That

We

Can

Just

Fill

The

Whole

Frickin

Page

With

Mine

Tragedy

Updates?
posted by caddis at 6:44 AM on January 4, 2006


The headline for the Philly Inq. was "12 are alive", but nowhere in the story did it actually say that 12 miners were found, alive. Just that one miner was found dead. It was assumed, I guess, that everyone else was alive, thus all the notes of cheering and jubilation- but no hard evidence was presented. How strange.
posted by hopeless romantique at 6:55 AM on January 4, 2006


I wonder if the false news was a case of ... deliberate misinformation circulated on the assumption that the subsequent day's newspapers would relegate the 'correction' to the second page.

This is such balls. The death of the miners is actually going to be a bigger story because of the initial belief they were alive.
No one really expected them to survive so "12 miners found dead" would have been a small story. "Horror as miners believed alive turn out to be dead" is a worldwide story.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:59 AM on January 4, 2006


It appears it was not some eavesdropping reporter who misheard something, as so many folks here have made it out to be.
I think what you meant is "as one person here has made it out to be."
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:10 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by cass at 7:15 AM on January 4, 2006


The death of the miners is actually going to be a bigger story because of the initial belief they were alive.
No one really expected them to survive so "12 miners found dead" would have been a small story. "Horror as miners believed alive turn out to be dead" is a worldwide story.


You could say this whole story has not been all of worldwide or national interest, except for the media's insistence on making it one. They were following the "baby Jessica trapped in a well" template, no? And at a time when there's plenty of real news--Abrahamoff in court, Iraq airstrikes killing families, the NSA thing and GOP calls for hearings on it, etc...
posted by amberglow at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2006


I am sure all the geniuses here who blame the press would never have reported it the same if they had been there listening to the bells chime out and hearing from everyone that the miners were alive. Nope. What a bunch of hindsight reinterpretation you guys are trapped in.

By the way, this post still sucks as a double.
posted by caddis at 7:30 AM on January 4, 2006


Everyone should be ashamed of themselves for making a private tragedy so public.

it's not a private tragedy ... especially in a world where if we do run short on oil we may have to rely on coal and coal miners for our heat ... and there may be increased potential for more tragedies like this

this story has very real public implications
posted by pyramid termite at 7:30 AM on January 4, 2006


I didn't see any Metro (free newspaper handed out here in Boston and many, many other cities worldwide) drones on my way to work this morning.

The Metro copy I saw this morning in Boston featured the "Wait Until You See My Degree" t-shirt story on the front page, and an AP story on mining accident below that, which was obviously written before the "They're Alive!" mistake broke. It reported that one body had been found, and that "there was no immediate word about the fate of the other 12 miners..."

Metro grabs its stuff right off the AP (or Ananova, if it's a really slow news day) and goes to press relatively early the night before, so I wouldn't be surprised if the 11:50 announcement was too late for them to catch.
posted by Spatch at 7:34 AM on January 4, 2006


Amberglow: You could say this whole story has not been all of worldwide or national interest, except for the media's insistence on making it one.

I wonder which is getting more play throughout the world, 12 more dead miners in an industry which seems to kill pretty consistently, or at least 13 people (including children) dead and two still missing on a collapsed ice skating rink in Germany?
posted by nevercalm at 7:37 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by cookie-k at 7:37 AM on January 4, 2006


How is this the media's fault?

It's not, but the media is one of mefi's whipping boys.

The families weren't jumping up and down because of anything the media did.

You could say the media should have waited to confirm (of course, in order to be the first to get the scoop that doesn't happen), but that wouldn't have changed what happened to the families.
posted by justgary at 7:41 AM on January 4, 2006


never, i heard about that too, and really wonder why. All local tragedies are now becoming worldwide ones, and it's especially weird since there is so much real news of worldwide importance.
posted by amberglow at 7:43 AM on January 4, 2006


So expecting the media to actually ... uh ... do their job and earn their pay instead of doing shoddy stenography, "he said/she said" fluffing and outright sold out whoring (Armstrong Williams and many others since, just wait on the Abramoff slush fund recipients names) makes them a mefi whipping boy?

Good for MeFi!! So glad to be a part of such a fine group!!
posted by nofundy at 7:47 AM on January 4, 2006


or at least 13 people (including children) dead and two still missing on a collapsed ice skating rink in Germany?

That was the lead world story for yesterday on the newscasts I saw, so it's not exactly overlooked.
posted by smackfu at 7:52 AM on January 4, 2006


The families seem more worried about the wrong information than about whether the mine was actually safe or not.
posted by bshort at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2006


I don't find it wierd at all...all governments and media, not just ours, are looking to exploit local tragedy while turning their heads from the real stories. Which would Rupert Murdoch rather have on the front page...a dozen dead miners and their respective weeping families, or endless tales of the wrongdoings of his best friends and business associates? Stories like this, while tragic, merely serve as a distraction from much larger events which have the potential to kill and/or harm many, many more.

Also, considering the worldwide feeling re: the US right now, I'm thinking that the worldwide reaction might be a really loud "SO WHAT?!?!?"

on preview:
Smackfu: That [German skating rink] was the lead world story for yesterday on the newscasts I saw, so it's not exactly overlooked.

Man, I would've given my right arm to see some real news yesterday...three hours of CNN and all i saw was W Va families crying and reporters desperately casting around for someone new to ask about their feelings.
posted by nevercalm at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2006


Dios would just like to remind us to stop focusing on the bad side of things, and to try to see the silver lining.
posted by Balisong at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2006


The reporter in the original thread doesn't say much about it...
posted by nospecialfx at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2006


The headline for the Philly Inq. was "12 are alive", but nowhere in the story did it actually say that 12 miners were found, alive. Just that one miner was found dead. It was assumed, I guess, that everyone else was alive, thus all the notes of cheering and jubilation- but no hard evidence was presented. How strange.
posted by hopeless romantique at 9:55 AM EST on January 4 [!]

Raleigh News & Observer had this headline:

W.Va. families rejoice as 12 miners found alive
Subhead: Sago Mine community celebrates 'miracle' while mourning loss of a 13th miner found dead Tuesday

"They told us they have 12 alive," Gov. Joe Manchin said. "We have some people that are going to need some medical attention."

In support of this theory, the paper goes on to report that there were bells ringing and several hundred people broke into a chorus of "How Great Thou Art."

There is nothing in the article that says when the men would be brought to the surface, or how, but a relative of one of the men said a "Mine forman called relatives there, saying the miners had been found."

So in defense of the paper, you have the Governor and the relatives celebrating the rescue of the 12 men. How would you have reported the event?

I was very shocked when my husband came home from work this morning and told me they were all dead. I went back and reread the entire article, but the paper only reports on the familys' celebration. The reader is left to infer that the situation was as the relatives described.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:34 AM on January 4, 2006


In Beagle's link above, the one with the biggest font was our own local version of the New York Post, the Rocky Mountain News. Even before I read the story and found no evidence for their survival, the headline really made me cringe. "They're Alive!"
Sounds like the title for a Fifties zombie movie.
posted by kozad at 8:58 AM on January 4, 2006


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posted by Sheppagus at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2006


Many of the newspaper headlines tell a different story, but in the several articles I read online during the period between the 'miners alive' and 'miners dead' stories, all were clear that the reports (1) were coming from the family, based on what they had heard apparently from one person and (2) had still not yet been confirmed by the company itself. This certainly made me suspicious that this was merely a rumor; were the miners alive, the company would not have hesitated to confirm this.

It's understandable that the families would be quick to trust such information, given they were seeking hope from any direction. But the stories I read seem to have been accurate (as they always qualified the information by saying something like 'according to the families, based on what they heard from one person' yet 'not confirmed by the company'), so I don't see how one can put it on the media as being at fault (outside the general charges of disproportionate focus/tabloidism/etc). Given the massive attention on the story, they couldn't well not report that the families were celebrating this information.

I think this failure represents a general inability, willingness, or patience to assess the quality of information. Someone overhears a conversation between rescuers, and such person was perhaps not even qualified to interpret that communication accurately, but still decides to report it to the families. They, of course, don't question what they are hearing because it's what they want to hear, and they pass it on to everyone else as if it is confirmed. Then most people figure it must be true because the families have heard so.

And it doesn't stop there. Despite the fact that it is certainly too early to know whether the company's policies/actions are at fault in this accident, in the first hours after the accident people were already blaming the company, based on past safety reports and condemnation of the industry as a whole, rather than waiting to find out what actually happened in this case. Ridiculously, people are still taking their cues from the grief-stricken families (who have poor ability to objectively assess anything at this point--again, understandably) and blaming the mining company for the miscommunication, though reports so far indicate that they have at each step tried to confirm information before reporting it.

So blame the company, blame the media and the news cycle, but really it comes down to us; most of us will jump to what we think is a reasonable conclusion based on even the poorest quality of information, and we'll not hesitate to assign blame based on it. Many political strategies are founded on this very flaw.
posted by troybob at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2006


The NY Post and the NY Daily News both had the "ALIVE" cover on the newstands when I left for work this morning at 8:30. So sad.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


Good for MeFi!! So glad to be a part of such a fine group!!
posted by nofundy


The media had nothing to do with the families going from sadness to being overjoyed to being horrified.

That to me is the story and the media has nothing to do with it. If you want to get all excited that newspapers didn't add "according to sources" after their headlines, be my guest nofundy.
posted by justgary at 9:40 AM on January 4, 2006


troybob - well said.
posted by ericb at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2006


It's just so tragic for the family members. I can't even imagine the crushing blow that must have been for them.
posted by dejah420 at 9:48 AM on January 4, 2006


troybob said: So blame the company, blame the media and the news cycle, but really it comes down to us...

In more ways than one. Without the demand for coal, many of us—national news media included—wouldn't even be having this conversation.
U.S. Electric Power Industry Net Generation, 2004
Coal 49.8%
• Nuclear 19.9%
• Natural Gas 17.9%
• Hydroelectric 6.5%
• Petroleum 3.0%
• Other Renewables 2.3%
• Other Gases 0.4%
• Other 0.2%
posted by cenoxo at 9:54 AM on January 4, 2006


Let's get the whole quote in there justgary:

So expecting the media to actually ... uh ... do their job and earn their pay instead of doing shoddy stenography, "he said/she said" fluffing and outright sold out whoring (Armstrong Williams and many others since, just wait on the Abramoff slush fund recipients names) makes them a mefi whipping boy?

Good for MeFi!! So glad to be a part of such a fine group!!
posted by nofundy at 10:47 AM EST


Yup, I stand behind that. The media well deserves to be the MeFi whipping boy on so much more than messing up today's headlines.
Concerning today's gaffes, seems to me you'd be more careful about your very large front page headlines than relying on third hand rumor?
Yup, I'd say so and stand behind that statement too.
posted by nofundy at 10:11 AM on January 4, 2006


Family members: They are alive!
Media: Give me proof.

Give me a break nofundy.
posted by caddis at 10:19 AM on January 4, 2006


Family members: They are alive!
Media: Give me proof.


More like

Family members: They are alive!
Media: ALIVE!! ALIVE!! I TELL YOU!!!! Look at the hicks singing, look at the tears, can you feel it, can you? God is great, a miracle!!

...sorry, what was that?

OH MY GOD THEY'RE DEAD!!! DEAD!!!! Look at the hicks crying, look at the tears, can you feel it, can you? God is complex, ONE OF THEM IS STILL A MIRACLE




Those poor, poor people, chewed up and spat out in front of the world.
posted by fullerine at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2006


The problem I had with the false newspaper reports was that, while they didn't always explicitly say the miners were alive (just that the families were reporting that they were alive), they weren't explicit about not yet having official confirmation either. I don't like having to read between the lines to figure things out in a news report. And combine that with the slanted headlines and you're left with stories that promise more than they can deliver.
posted by HiddenInput at 11:59 AM on January 4, 2006


The real headline should be "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

You may wonder how a mine with a record of 273 safety violations in the last two years remained open. Thanks to the secret Cheney energy commission in 2001, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, was gutted and management replaced with Bush/Cheney cronies and executives of mining companies.
posted by JackFlash at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2006


This is why I stick to football.
posted by phaedon at 12:37 PM on January 4, 2006


The copy I read this morning reported that the "only" fatality was the man who had separated from the group (he was ID'ed as the father of the 25-year-old kid who'd been giving interviews) before the blast and was closest to the entrance--the 12 who were deeper in were the ones reportedly "alive."
posted by availablelight at 12:58 PM on January 4, 2006


People DEMAND instant answers about EVERYTHING these days. And just as their demands CAUSED the rush to spread bad information, the SAME people are NOW demanding INSTANT answers to why it happened.

They should all just buy a friggin MIRROR.
posted by HTuttle at 1:18 PM on January 4, 2006


Make sure you don't miss this tidbit from a WV tv station, for details about what went wrong:

Coal company C-E-O Ben Hatfield says the wrong news spread after people overheard cell phone calls. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs. At least two family members in the church say they received cell phone calls from a mine foreman.

Hatfield says it became clear within 20 minutes that the news was terribly wrong. But he says families were not told of the mistake until three hours later because officials wanted to have all the information right first.


It took three hours to take vital signs on 12 bodies? I call bullshit on that part, at least.
posted by mediareport at 2:11 PM on January 4, 2006


I call bullshit on that part, at least.

Really? Maybe I missed something in the descriptions, but this was a mining accident. I would imagine that it might not have been that the rescuers just opened a door and found 12 guys lying in a big room. They might have visualized them first and not been able to get to them; it might have taken time to get from one man to the next (so though it was apparent that the news was wrong, they might have waited for confirmation on everybody's status before giving the full story); perhaps given the misunderstandings by someone of earlier communications with rescuers, they sought an extra degree of confirmation. In any case, they waited at least until they knew exactly what they were talking about before making a full report. It was going to be horrible for the families either way--better i think to be sure than to do a minute-by-minute and keep everyone on edge waiting.
posted by troybob at 2:22 PM on January 4, 2006


"So blame the company, blame the media and the news cycle, but really it comes down to us; most of us will jump to what we think is a reasonable conclusion based on even the poorest quality of information, and we'll not hesitate to assign blame based on it. Many political strategies are founded on this very flaw.
posted by troybob at 9:35 AM PST on January 4 [!]"


Troybob, I have no probem with your wider philosophical point. But I can't accept your specifics here. I am heartily in agreement with nofundy.

The media actually has a very special responsibility NOT to reach "reasonable conclusion(s) based on even the poorest quality of information".

They performed disastrously.

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 circumstances, not just a desperately desired outcome.

All the "alive!" headlines - whether or not they came with smaller typeface 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 demands for a fresh spin on an "aging" human agony story.

This is one of the most disgusting cases of the media inexcusably jumping the gun I can recall. (Perhaps some thoughtful sub editor did indeed make the right call somewhere I missed - in which case, kudos.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 3:38 PM on January 4, 2006


yeah, i don't really follow tv news at all (i blocked CNN from cable the day nancy grace got her own show there), and as i said, i looked at the wire reports and articles more than the headlines...but looks like somebody got it right all along...
posted by troybob at 4:08 PM on January 4, 2006


One of the important things they teach you in Emergency Management is to control information flow to the media. When the shit hits the fan you don't need them jumping the gun, you need them to accurately report. Obviously, the company running the mine was not prepared to deal with a mine emergency, despite the fairly high incidence rate. They should never have allowed anyone from outside to "overhear" communications between the command post and the rescuers and they should never have allowed rumor to be reported as fact.

I'm no fan of the legal system. but I hope this incompetent company gets sued up one side and down the other.
posted by tommasz at 4:09 PM on January 4, 2006


Everyone should be ashamed of themselves for making a private tragedy so public. That's what's really disgusting.

Fuck you too, mathowie.
posted by I Love Tacos at 4:10 PM on January 4, 2006


I don't find it wierd at all...all governments and media, not just ours, are looking to exploit local tragedy while turning their heads from the real stories. Which would Rupert Murdoch rather have on the front page...a dozen dead miners and their respective weeping families, or endless tales of the wrongdoings of his best friends and business associates? Stories like this, while tragic, merely serve as a distraction from much larger events which have the potential to kill and/or harm many, many more.

Yes, that's Why you will never see a front page like this (hope no registration required)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:14 PM on January 4, 2006


tommasz: the reports i read, though we don't know if they are true or not, were that a mine foreman called and gave the families the false news...if that's the case, it was someone within the company and perhaps an integral part of the rescue effort who might have just wanted to make a name for himself, outside the bounds of company policy...

...but you make an interesting illustration about making loose assumptions based on a paltry flow of unconfirmed data...you've labeled the company incompetent with no reasonable basis...unfortunatly, too many who would do the same also sit on juries and vote
posted by troybob at 4:21 PM on January 4, 2006


In any case, they waited at least until they knew exactly what they were talking about before making a full report.

From the Editor & Publisher link:

A coal company spokesman explained, 'Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn't know if there were 12 or 1 [who were alive].'

So you say nothing and let all of them celebrate? Come on, troybob; they surely knew there was more than one dead person before the three hours were up. The least they could have done was warned the families that celebrations were premature, and that the earlier info that all 12 had survived was incorrect.

To not have done at least that - which would still have allowed them to take the time to get the final count right- is inexcusable.
posted by mediareport at 4:22 PM on January 4, 2006


Troybob,

Now THAT'S a faith-restoring link! Proof that scepticism isn't always an empty media pose: genuine thanks.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:43 PM on January 4, 2006


Coal Mine Cited 208 Times By Bush Labor Department - In One Year - But Never Closed.
"...the coal mine in question has been given a wink and nod over repeated safety violations by Elaine Chao’s Department of Labor, for the type of violations that lead to mine explosions like [this one].

So who exactly is International Coal Group? Well, ICG is the creation of Wilbur L. Ross, a New York financier and turnaround investor who specializes in swooping in to buy up distressed or bankrupt assets, without assuming the legacy costs of the previous company’s health care and pension liabilities, or union contracts for that matter where possible. Ross then does what all good members of Bush’s base do: slash costs, make little or no investment in things like safety, and then sell the asset at a huge profit when the market for that good or service improves. He's done this in steel, auto parts, textiles, and now coal. And if it sounds like what Carlyle Group does, you are correct.

In fact, since Mr. Ross and ICG bought the Sago mine from the bankrupt Anker Corporation in 2002 and reopened it in 2004, the mine has racked up four times the safety violations in 2004 and 2005 than it did in the last four years of Anker's ownership. And ICG's current president and CEO Bennett Hatfield has an interesting track record himself. He was a defendant in a lawsuit while he was the COO at Massey Energy, a lawsuit where it was alleged that he among others engaged in insider trading, illegal employment practices, and flagrant lawlessness regarding environmental regulations. And yet this is the guy who Wilbur Ross brought in to run his new toy International Coal Group. At least Mr. Hatfield was successful in steering corporate campaign contributions from another former firm Arch Coal to the GOP.
posted by ericb at 5:02 PM on January 4, 2006


I assume those shocked by the media bumbling have never had dealings with the media. The great majority of daily news is so badly fact-checked, if at all, that it's a wonder to me anyone ever believes anything they read in the papers or view on the news. The industry is just plain lazy.
posted by onegreeneye at 5:25 PM on January 4, 2006


The least they could have done was warned the families that celebrations were premature...

I think the company appropriately waited until the information was verified before making an official statement to the families. Had they made an earlier announcement that the 'celebrations were premature,' but without definitive answers, it might have put the families on an even more cruel rollercoaster of trying to figure out who might have survived--each would still have held out hope that perhaps their relative was lucky--and they would have been let down just the same, but dragged out over a longer period of time until solid confirmation of the outcome. I could imagine all kinds of problems with rumors, reports dribbling out every few minutes (and concerns over whether those reports could be trusted), and misidentification of miners along the way as the company fought to get information to the families, who you'd have to think by that point would have demanded answers right away rather than patiently waiting for a final official report.

It could have gone the other way, and perhaps your call is the right one, but it was a tough call to begin with (so 'inexcusable' seems rather to be pushing it). To give priority to accuracy over timeliness would seem like a reasonable decision to make in a tough spot--one that we of course wish much of the media and those who pushed the initial false story had followed all along.

Unfortunately, the rumor and notification issue overall fuels the shocked families' sense of rage and injustice and desire to blame someone for the tragedy itself, particularly since an accident can't just be an accident anymore--there must be someone at fault and someone to take it out on, and later on (as we've already seen calls for here) someone to sue for it all. People already want to take it out on the company, despite the lack of necessary information to validate that judgment, but you've got to wonder how that rage will shift if, for instance, they discover that one or more of the miners themselves caused the accident. Perhaps past safety violations and poor ethics in the industry or its regulation led to this accident, but we don't have a way of knowing that at this point.

Time will tell, hopefully, and I think a big lesson in how this story was screwed up is that despite our supposed need to know it all now and have it wrapped up in a neat package like some episode of 48 Hours, what we really need to do is just that: let time tell.
posted by troybob at 5:33 PM on January 4, 2006


I guarantee you that all of the papers who printed the wrong story today will have an exhaustive explanation of how it happened on the front page of tomorrow's paper.

Oh, and

.

 
posted by spock at 8:12 PM on January 4, 2006


"...lawmakers also cited alarming statistics that show that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has been downsized by 170 positions since 2001. Congress has cut MSHA's funding by $4.9 million, in inflation-adjusted terms, for the 2006 fiscal year, compared with 2005. Moreover, [Rep. George]Miller said, the Bush Administration has appointed numerous officials to the agency who have close ties to the mining industry. These officials, in the last five years, have rolled back a number of regulations aimed at improving mine worker safety, Miller said.

In their letter to [Rep. John] Boehner [Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee], Miller and [Rep. Major] Owens also wrote that Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibilities on worker safety issues. It has not held any hearings on mine worker safety since 2001, and has held just two hearings related to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration - and both of those hearings focused on alternatives and weakening OSHA enforcement." [American Chronicle | January 4, 2006]
posted by ericb at 8:22 PM on January 4, 2006


Everyone should be ashamed of themselves for making a private tragedy so public. That's what's really disgusting.

Fuck you too, mathowie.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:10 PM EST on January 4 [!]


STFU Taco. You are dragging your personal vendetta across threads and just being an ass. What's the matter with you today anyway, this is not typical?
posted by caddis at 8:24 PM on January 4, 2006


...The public had long ago come to view the media as another entrenched and privileged interest group protecting other elite and entrenched interest groups. What a better way to dispel such a belief than with a little emoting and yelling.
But there are a few problems with this new media paradigm. Being outraged after the fact, for instance, is not the same as journalists doing their jobs. As it turns out, the mine in which the twelve miners were killed had been cited for safety violations no fewer than 273 times over the course of the last two years.
...
All of the above information about the safety violations at the Sago mine have long been public record. Anyone could have called up MSHA and had a set of their records in the mail the next day. Or checked the internet. So many government regulatory documents are posted on the web that one does not even have to leave their house to do much of their work anymore.
Anderson and CNN could have done a story on mine safety, the lives of miners, and the federal regulations of the agencies involved, weeks ago… months ago… or years ago. But they didn’t and won’t. That takes enterprise and reporting and investigation. Emoting is so much easier, cost-effective, and profitable.
...

posted by amberglow at 9:38 PM on January 4, 2006


yet more uplifting news on ICG:

In the hours after Monday's explosion, Eugene Kitts, a company vice president for mining, said the 46 alleged violations described in MSHA's most recent inspection report were all minor. "We addressed them," he said.

But in MSHA's reports, 18 of the 46 most recent violations were listed as "significant and substantial." Among the problems cited: inadequate safeguards against the collapse of the mine roof and inadequate ventilation to guard against the buildup of deadly gases.

posted by rodney stewart at 9:46 PM on January 4, 2006


and also on mine safety: ...In RNS Services, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, 115 F.3d 182 (3rd Cir. 1997), the court found that a mining services company was violating safety laws under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. The court rejected the company claim that it was not covered by mining safety laws, seeking to narrow application of the law to mines, not coal processing plants associated with such mines. Judge Alito's dissent argued to exempt the facility from those mining safety regulations. ...
posted by amberglow at 6:26 AM on January 5, 2006


troybob, the incompetence was demonstrated by the false information getting out. That should not have happened, period. If you think that was an unreasonable basis, you're entitled to your opinion. Personally, I consider any coal mining company that isn't adequately prepared for a major emergency (considering the inherent danger of the work) to be incompetent.
posted by tommasz at 3:27 PM on January 5, 2006


In an interview on CNN this afternoon a former miner pointed out that the Sago Mine is a non-union operation -- and that miners were wary of complaining directly to management about the safety concerns for fear of retribution, etc.
posted by ericb at 3:50 PM on January 5, 2006


Like so many things in Life under Bush, it starts in DC and ends with dead people

Bush hired former coal company executives to run mine safety

Mine safety enforcement is reduced
Sago, who's execs gave to Bush, racks up numerous violations.
The non-union workforce complains ineffectively.
The mine is partially shut down 15 times in 2005.
The predictable disaster occurs and 13 men are trapped.
The company allows the best case scenario to be told to the public.
After time passes, the worst case scenario takes place. People nearly riot.
When people like Grover Norquist talk about self-interest and drowning government in bathtubs, this is what happens. It doesn't seem like a big thing to pay off some contributors with jobs, but at the end, like with FEMA, people die.
As one analyst said, the company which ran Sago "was a bad actor". Money came before safety.
The wingnuts don't want to blame Bush for anything, and he didn't certainly kill these people, but he set in motion a chain of events which got people killed. Lax enforcement, anti-union campaigning, all led to a dangerous, violation-filled workplace which then killed 13 people. ...

posted by amberglow at 10:03 PM on January 5, 2006


The media well deserves to be the MeFi whipping boy on so much more than messing up today's headlines.
Concerning today's gaffes, seems to me you'd be more careful about your very large front page headlines than relying on third hand rumor?
posted by nofundy


My point exactly nofundy. You're grinding an axe you carried over from every other "media sucks" thread. I'm not saying the media made the right decision. They should have worded it differently until they received official confirmation.

But the families weren't fooled by the media, and the media didn't make the mines dangerous. Those two events are much bigger than the media getting the story wrong resulting in you being fooled over your morning coffee.

Yet the hatred for the media on mefi is so prevalent we waste all our anger...

This is one of the most disgusting cases of the media inexcusably jumping the gun I can recall.
posted by Jody Tresidder


...and lose focus on what's important. To call the media disgusting in light of the whole story misses the point, and that's what happens when you're more focused on the "whipping boy" than what actually took place.
posted by justgary at 1:44 PM on January 6, 2006


"...and lose focus on what's important. To call the media disgusting in light of the whole story misses the point, and that's what happens when you're more focused on the "whipping boy" than what actually took place."

True, Gary. Nicely put.
posted by onegreeneye at 11:12 PM on January 6, 2006


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