The mainstream media has featured a slew of analysis trying to evaluate how
outlets got the story of miners surviving the Sago Mine explosion so wrong.
Starting with a piece
by Greg Mitchell that appeared on the Editor & Publisher website, there
has been no shortage of media-watchers willing to look at what amounted to carelessness.
It's pretty clear that, to some degree or another, the breaking-news-addicted
corporate media could have been more skeptical of reports that 12 of 13 miners
had survived the 40-plus-hour ordeal. The criticism is valid, but it is hardly
the most important.
What about the many other ways the corporate media mishandled this
Keep Your Eye on the Shiny Object
First of all, why was the incredible story of how horribly this particular
mine was managed, in terms of safety, handled as a mere sidebar for two days
while the media focused on every unconfirmed, irrelevant detail of the incident
at hand? Ample information was readily available even before it became clear
that an incident had taken place at the Sago Mine. While media outlets scrambled
for shaky breaking news, documents citing the mine's safety record in detail
went largely unreported.
And why could I find nowhere, for over 48 hours, except in our
own story by Brendan Coyne posted Tuesday morning, anyone painting the bigger
picture of mine safety, poor regulation enforcement, the decaying of safety
standards under the current administration, cozying up between MSHA and the
mine owners, etc.?
(This angle, expanded
today, was second nature to TNS -- especially to Brendan -- since we regularly
report on workplace-safety issues. It's our policy not to wait for tragedies
to highlight topics that are important to working people. See the end of this
blog post for some archived stories you might wish to review.)
Trust The Company
And what was with the eerie, Orwellian situation with "the Company"
standing as the main, if not the sole, source of first-hand information coming
out of the rescue effort? It even became clear that the governor's office was
dependent on the International Coal Group for its information. How is it that
reporters, editors and producers came to the decision that the ICG's president
-- who at worst may be criminally implicated in the tragedy, but who at least
has a vested interest in spinning information in favor of his company -- should
be validated as a spokesperson for the emergency response?
Maybe you're thinking journalists had no power to affect who was providing
information. But what really happened is the company set up a birdfeeder of
information, which it filled every several hours, and in between feedings the
corporate reporters milled around on the lawn harassing family members, trying
to extract any excruciating morsel of information they could.
Failure to Push Other Agencies
Meanwhile, the Mine Safety & Health Administration, the West Virginia government,
and who-knows-how-many other agencies were allowed to remain in the shadows,
as if they had no role in the matter.
on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, reporter Tom Foreman boasted of a "reporters'
revolution" he said took place during a telephone press conference with
the MSHA. "One-after-another," he bragged, journalists "sort
of lit into" the officials and refused to allow them to keep responses
"on background" and "not-for-attribution." Foreman told
Cooper that reporters would not accept stonewalling in the post-Katrina era.
"People are saying, 'It's not enough to say "trust us," you've
got to show us we can trust you'," he assured viewers.
But what took the media so long to band together and insist on answers and
accountability? If MSHA thought reporters were paying attention two days earlier
-- rather than distraught families being the main event -- maybe it would have
taken a more active role. Instead it left an even more biased source to monopolize
the flow of information.
Invasion of Privacy
CNN was exemplary in its willingness to shove a camera -- flood light and all
-- right into the faces of worried, and later grieving, family members and shout
questions at them, as if their private feelings or thoughts are even remotely
our business. On last night's show, Cooper tooted his own horn, saying that
family members had told him they were glad the media was there. Cooper informed
his audience that was because otherwise, the families would have had to deal
with their emotions all alone.
A different, less egotistical interpretation might conclude that families were
glad the media was there to document the behavior of the mining company and
regulatory officials who failed them so tragically. Just imagine how much more
grateful for journalists' presence those families might be had reporters spent
half as much time harassing officials as they spent prying accounts of "emotions"
and "hopes" out of the victims' loved ones.
Why Wait for Tragedy?
Just to show that, in case they cared, our corporate counterparts certainly
could have focused a little more on workplace safety issues before tragedy struck,
here's a small sample of what we've managed to do in the past on that subject
using our modest, reader-supplied budget.
for Labor Safety Slots Have Questionable Records
Uncertainties Threaten Grassroots Work Safety Efforts
Assault in House
Denounce Federal Cuts to Gov’t Oversight Programs
Worker Deaths on the Rise
Deemed Most Dangerous in Country
Cuts Jobs, Shifts Priorities, Raises Hopes, Concerns
Health Hazards Persist as New Orleans Slowly Rebuilds