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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Less emotion and more reporting


This whole wall to wall coverage of the tragedy in West Virginia is a joke. Cable news journalists are nothing more than phony jackasses and could care less about the miners who died in that horrible accident. The cable news channels will be over this story and onto something else by the end of the week (anyone remembers the people of New Orleans).

And enough with the emotional news reporters already! I'm just waiting for Anderson Cooper or Geraldo to shed a tear on-air (quick, find me a kid to hug) or the wackos on FOX claim a connection between liberals and the accident (you KNOW O'Reilly is working on this angle right now).

Cable news has no shame when it comes to taking advantage of a horrible situation for the sake of higher ratings and should be run out of that town by the residents in that community. If these so-called journalists really cared about the conditions those poor miners had to endure on a daily basis, it would of been very easy for them to do an investigative piece months (if not years) ago and possibly saved lives in the process. The horrible conditions miners face is not new news and this particular mine has had numerous violations over the last couple of years (most of the information was just a google or lexis-nexis search away).

If you think I'm being too harsh, hold your opinion of me until after you read a fellow blogger's post on the latest American emotional and tragic story. I felt that his post was so good that I had to post the entire thing so you get my point.

Twelve of the thirteen miners in Sago, West Virginia have now been found dead. The original mine explosion that led to their deaths was so loud that it was heard five miles away.

The grief of the families will be much more muted and quieter. But not that of strangers: the cable newsmen and out-of-town “journalists” who will now share their own grief not only with the family members, but also their demographically correct audiences:

America will mourn with Anderson Cooper.

And then America will mourn with Geraldo Rivera.

A few minutes ago, I watched Gerald on Fox, already emoting; if he has no new news to report, he does have his emotions to share with us all, until he is somewhere else soon emoting with or about something else. At the end of his brief segment, Fox’s anchor of the moment thanked Geraldo for his “truly heartbreaking words” before noting that Geraldo was the host of Fox’s own Geraldo At-Large program. No opportunity is ever last to promote the brand.

It will not be long, of course, before Bill O’Reily screams at someone. Accountability at last!

It has become fashionable of late for journalists to “emote” more on television. The empathetic, caring Anderson Cooper has replaced the laconic and ironic and ratings-challenged Aaron Brown.

During Katrina, reporters didn’t just report, they got mad! Reporters who once feared for their jobs if they asked a tough question at a presidential press conference were now publicly castigating public officials as they appeared on their programs.

The public had long 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 by other than a little emoting and yelling.

But there are a few problems with this new media paradigm: Being outraged after the fact 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 less than 273 over the course of the last two years.

According to this newspaper report:

In the pat two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as “significant and substantial,” according to documents compiled by the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration(MHSA). failures," a designation reserved for serioussafety infractions for which the operator had either already been warned, or which showed "indifference or extreme lack of care," said Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA senioradviser."That is a very high number, and it is usually indicative of a very poor safety record," Oppegard said… [Many] inspection reports over the past two years fault the mine for "combustibles," including a buildup of flammable coal dust and a failure to adequately insulate electric wires. Sparks from electrical equipment can ignite coal dust and methane gas, triggering fires and explosions…

Although no miners were reported killed at the mine since at least 1995, 42 workers and contractors were injured in accidents since 2000, records show…

Some serious accidents caused no injuries. For example, in the past year, large sections of the mine's rocky roof collapsed on at least 20 occasions but not when workers were in the affected tunnels. Some of the collapsed sections were rocky slabs as long as 100 feet. The most recent roof collapse occurred on Dec. 5, less than a month before Monday's explosion.

J. Davitt McAteer, who headed MSHA during the Clinton administration, said he was troubled by an apparent spike in accidents and violations that occurred beginning about two years ago. "The violations are not the worst I've ever seen -- and certainly not the best -- but I'm concerned about the trend and the direction they're going in. It's indication to those running the operation that you've got a problem here."
All of the above information about the safety violations at the Sago mine have long been public record. Anyone simply could have called up MSHA and had a set of their records in the mail the next day.

As an investigative reporter, I am increasingly amazed that one doesn't even happen to call anyone anymore. So many government regulatory documents are even posted on the web. One does not even have to leave their house to do much of their work anymore.

Brown 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 and profitable.Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reily have the opportunity in the future to investigate mine safety, the federal regulation of the mining industry, or even stories about everyday life in today’s Appalachia. But don’t count on it. They will move on to the next tsunami, or hurricane, or shooting incident—“one the scene” reporting— in the process making the next mining accident all the more possible. If one does happen, they will be on the scene once again, publicly emoting every last ten cents worth of bling-bling emotion.

An iconic moment in television coverage was when Walter Conkrite, tears welling up in his eyes, had to take off his glasses, in informing the nation that John F. Kennedy had been pronounced dead. Decades later, the late Peter Jennings, for one brief moment, on Sept. 11th lost his composure, and with tears welling up in his eyes suggested that those watching might want to call their children and see if they were alright. The reason we remember those moments was because it was rare for either anchorman to lose their composure. And we knew that they for real.

Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reily we know not to trust, however. They, too, have emotions, but there is a promiscuity, and dare say, even a vulgarity, to their emotions. Their tears and anger are displayed so frequently and with so many that in the end they mean nothing. Their television show will move somewhere else, and the families of the Sago miners will be alone-- or finally left alone-- to grieve.

I couldn't agree more. For goodness sake, leave these people alone and let them grieve in peace. You newshounds in the cable news media didn't care about in the past so don't act like you care about them now.