Stopping the Presses

The New York Times reports that orders to "Stop the Presses!" were barked from coast to coast in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when it was learned the trapped miners were dead, not alive.

How did it happen? Explanations are beginning to emerge.

A choked-up Ben Hatfield, chief executive of International Coal Group, said company officials mistakenly allowed family jubilation over erroneous reports that the miners were alive "to go on longer than it should have." ..."We sincerely regret the manner in which events unfolded this morning," said Hatfield, who blamed "miscommunication" for the stunning and heartbreaking turn of events early Wednesday.

Apparently, the Coal Group knew for three hours the reports were false.

No one apparently knows who spread the erroneous information. Unidentified people showed up at a church, supposedly telling those gathered there that rescued miners were on their way. All of this, as well as the hunger for a happy ending, fanned hours of journalistic fiction.

...Hatfield said rescue teams reported finding 12 miners alive Tuesday night at 11:45 p.m. EST. Moments later the news spread via "stray cell phone conversations," Hatfield said...."I was sitting with families and speaking with family members. There's two rooms in the church and when one room broke out in euphoria and everyone saying `What happened, what happened?' - that's when someone said, `They found them, they're alive,'" Manchin recalled. "I looked at our communications people and I looked at my security and said, `Have we had that confirmed, do we know anything about that?' And they said, `No.'"

When the company found out at 12:30 am that the miners were dead, it failed to act immediately.

Within the half-hour, Hatfield knew he had a problem. The initial report from the rescue team that the miners were alive was followed, at 12:30 a.m., by news that only one miner, McCloy, had survived....A little more than an hour later, at 1:38 a.m., the deaths of 11 miners were confirmed. Still, there was no public statement from the company....

By 2:30 a.m., Hatfield said the company had completed a statement that would soon be delivered to unsuspecting family members at the church....The miracle in West Virginia officially ended shortly after Hatfield entered the church, shortly after 2:30 a.m. Shortly after 3 a.m., the company confirmed what it had known for almost three hours.

But what of the media who reported the news without fact-checking it? Arianna weighs in here.

And the problem here wasn't those amateur bloggers, operating "without editors" and "with no fact-checking." It was as mainstream as the mainstream media gets.

CNN producer Tom Farner told TV Newser:

"Too many celebrity anchors assembled in West Virginia last night -- not enough reporters. When twelve-alive fever swept the live shot positions, who asked the basic reporter's question: 'How do you know?' Who demanded a second source? Who held back pending more official confirmation? By uncritically and breathlessly relaying shouted bulletins from sprinting family members, the cable celebs transubstantiated rumor into fact. Reporting means asking questions and making cautious judgments, not just repeating things you hear.

[Via Harry Shearer at Huffpo]

The media defends itself here.

< FISA Court Wants Answers | Mooning in Maryland >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 12:21:31 AM EST
    I was clicking last night as I saw the report of 12 alive break first on ABC's site, I wanted confirmation so I clicked on CNN. Nothing. Nothing on CBS or MSNBC. So I spent fifteen minutes or so and watched each site including the BBC report the breaking news. CNN was last to change their site, even after my "local" sites, SFGate and azcentral. I thought that was odd, that CNN would be last, now I wonder if there isn't a story there too.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#2)
    by joejoejoe on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 03:22:31 AM EST
    I watched this pretty much as it unfolded on CNN, first the Sago woman that mentioned it to Anderson Cooper, then the many celebrations, then the horrific correction hours later. Short answer is I don't fault the media. ICG and the WV Governor's office are saying "they never issued a press release". Well so what? If they verbally confirmed the initial erroneous report it was a massive mistake. I saw multiple miner families and locals go on CNN and say Hatfield himself went to the church very shortly after the first report and said something to the effect "that's what we are hearing" when confronted with family questions about 11 miners being alive. Hatfield and ICG had an obligation to correct the unconfirmed report as soon as they knew - even if it was with no new information. The impression was what needed correcting. Instead ICG choose to wait for new information rather then release a "we have no confirmation of that report. It is entirely speculation". They couldn't because Hatfield was part of the speculation. I've worked with radios in construction and warehousing with very dangerous equipment and the first thing you are taught is to make sure you are understood. Entire protocols exist to confirm radio transmissions ('copy', 'over', 'A-OK', 'repeat'). So repeating the unclear communication from the base camp was the mistake. The one fault I have with the media is using an anonymous source from the Governor's office to confirm. What possible reason is there to grant anonymity in this case? That WV Governor's office employee should be named and fired.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#3)
    by Molly Bloom on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 05:56:42 AM EST
    The press got it wrong by failing to point out it was unconfirmed. However, how the press got it wrong is mere side show and a major distraction. The real story is the number of violations at that mine; whether any of those violations caused the tragedy; the failure of the DOL to do any real enforcement;the failure of the administration to request funding for the DOL enforcement that kept up with inflation; failure of congress to exercise its oversight function of the DOL; the hiring of industry insiders, who favor business interest over labor for the purpose of failing to enforce safty regualtions and on and on and on. However all of those angles will be ignored or given cursory examination. But the press will dutifully flog itself. Ain't modern America great?

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#4)
    by Punchy on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 07:08:19 AM EST
    How does one watch families cry and cheer in jubilation for THREE HOURS knowing darn well it's all a hoax? This could be the most sinister behavior I've ever witnessed. "Celebrity anchors"...there's enough wrong with that statement that I don't know where to begin...

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#5)
    by Lora on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 07:21:08 AM EST
    If this was an isolated incident in misreporting in an otherwise largely unblemished record of fair, honest, and accurate reporting, I think we would be more willing to forgive the press for jumping on such a hope-filled, joyful bit of "news." But what's really the issue here is that the press has fallen down on the job so badly it's hard to know where to begin. While heartbreaking, this story can't really compete with WMD's and other terribly wrong stories that have affected the course of this country and the world. But here's something obvious and out there for all to see that we can jump on them for, so we do. It's a venting, an outlet to express our frustrations with the press, but we really should be going after them unrelentingly for all the serious misrepresentations, mistakes, and outright lies they have promoted that have caused untold hardship, money, and death.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#6)
    by Edger on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 07:39:29 AM EST
    It'd be nice to be able to think that maybe, just maybe, the MSM reporters are as human as the rest of the world, even as human most of us here. They probably are. I don't think they have horns and bats wings. And maybe they were just as desperate as we are for some good news for a change after all the crap and lies and manipulations they've reported on, and furthered, to be honest. Just as desperate as we are for some good news in an enormous human interest story that had the whole country watching. Maybe they just got carried away with the moment and the huge release of tension that the first report of the miners being alive would have fostered. And maybe not... Lora, you make some good observations. You too, Molly, and Punchy...

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 07:52:36 AM EST
    Lora.. Good post... Maybe this tragety will finally make the rest of the American public focus on the news media and just how bad (biased) it's become!

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 08:03:26 AM EST
    Journalistic standards were not met. If a physician were to give a patient a clean bill of health, for example, before personally verifying the results of a biopsy, and just because he/she really was hungry to give good news for a change, and if that biopsy then turned out to be positive, then that physician would be advised to immediately contact her/his malpractice carrier.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#9)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 08:32:45 AM EST
    The Hatfields and McCloys in West Va. Go figure.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 08:34:59 AM EST
    Take this fiasco * 18 and you'll have all the reasons we are in Iraq.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#11)
    by Slado on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 10:06:39 AM EST
    It's convienent to pile on the media but they are only giving us what we want and that is instant information. We are devouring the Micheal jackson trial, OJ and Katrina stories. We don't want the facts today, we'll blog about them later, today just give me the play by play. If we as a news consuming public stopped blogging, watching CNN at 1am, reading the internet once an hour at work the media wouldn't have the pressure to deliver us news before it's even done happening. instant information age is quite a tricky beast. Stories that would have been back page sidebars become world wide stories because they provide the media with the chance to set up sattelite trucks, call "experts" in for play by play commentary and the ability to make flasy logos and theme music. Examples: Hollaway, girls in wells and trapped miners. Not that the stories aren't newsworthy but they now become uber newsworthey because they provide instant gratification, cliffhanging turns for an instant news culture. I try to remind myself when I get on a blame the media rant that I'm part of the problem as I blog away at work hungry for the next breaking development.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#12)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 10:58:58 AM EST
    I'm a big fan of your blog. I'm a law student in New York City. Unfortunately, the legal community is one of the only ones who can fix the problems our country faces. I am preparing a letter to the dean of my law school and to the American Bar Association about the problems of the illogical juris doctor program. I believe this is where many problems begin. I'd welcome any input (it should be the first entry): http://accuracyblog.blogspot.com

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#13)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 11:07:49 AM EST
    This was the lede from the first AP article to hit the wires:
    Families Say 12 W.Va. Miners Found Alive TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) -- Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, more than 41 hours after the blast, family members said.
    It was only once the media started reporting on media reports -- as they so often do -- that they got themselves in trouble.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#14)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 12:10:44 PM EST
    MULTIPLE VIOLATIONS IS THE BIG STORY: The mining company was subjected to over 200 violations in the past 2 years. East coast coal is in great demand as energy prices have risen, and older mines have been hastily re-opened to meet the need -- without much attention to worker safety. That's because Bush & Co. said that corporations don't need regulators to protect their workers (and besides, it costs too much) -- leaving the foxes in charge of the chicken coop. TOO MANY UNSUBSTANTIATED REPORTS: Unfortunately, 1) the celebrity media on site did not check the initial reports of survivors 2) the mining company execs did not correct the erroneous report of survivors, even after they believed it was no longer true 3) the governor's office did not double-check on the erroneous report (and the governor, I believe, repeated it to a miner's family member, and it then became the basis of the erroneous 'news' reports).

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#15)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 03:29:24 PM EST
    What we want is not instant information, but instant correct information. The news media owners know they can drive traffic by sensationalizing stories, regardless of their worth. So they do. OJ was the perfect example. Everybody knew OJ, he was cool, so the story was shocking, and who doesn't look at the car wreck on the side of the road. But I ask you, how did the OJ story affect your life? What actual impact did it have on your daily activities? Or your community or your families? Unless you were part of the story, it's impact was zero. I don't want to watch these non news stories, and I don't. Personal tragedy doesn't make me fulfilled or happy or anything, just sad for those involved. But as for a reflection of how abysmal the news media reports these days, this story is very instructive. At an unacceptable price. I'm not asking for this crap, I want investigations on the pace of reconstruction in New Orleans, where my tax dollars are going in Iraq, how those no bid contracts gobbled up by Halliburton are getting corrected, how many laws bush is breaking and when is he going to get impeached. I want reporting that tells me how the air and water I breathe is getting cleaned or dirtied under the bush administration, not what white girl is missing, or what families are being devastated by a preventable mine disaster. I want to know why this event happened, what laws were deregulated and at who's request and how much they paid to make it happen. That's the kind of instant news I want.

    Re: Stopping the Presses (none / 0) (#16)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 10:18:19 PM EST
    Charlie, I just read your post here, and you nailed it. Amen!