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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hatfield and McCloy

It isn’t often that you get to watch a breaking news story change right before your eyes, even in these days of the much vaunted 24 hour news cycle.

Very late last night, Porcupine was chatting on line with Ted, a paramedic in Minnesota, his friend Dr. Lonnie Hodges, a professor in China, and Balla, in South Africa about nothing in particular. Porcupine was idly waiting for the announced press conference to occur about the rescued coal , which had been announced around 12:30. It didn’t happen, and the Fox/CNN/MSNBC troika just kept reporting the good news, that 12 men had been found alive, and there had been one fatality. Later a woman named Kiki, who had been interviewed as a resident by earlier in the evening, ran over to of CNN, weeping, and told the bad news. Here is what I posted (spelling corrected) at around 4:00 on the aptly named thread on Wind Farmer’s AlmanacThe human cost and brutal inefficiency of generating electricity from coal” –

“At 2:45, a woman came running over to Anderson Cooper of CNN. The miners are all dead but one, a Mr. McCloy.

A team, 1300 ft. underground, called the command center, where there was an open squawk box, and said they were alive. The command center all cheered, and everyone began to call family, spreading 'news' like wildfire. About half an hour later, they learned it was false. Mr. Hatfield of the mining company determined that they would make a formal statement to ALL the families at the same time, because they weren't sure until the bodies were brought to the surface if there WAS more than one alive. The mining co. went to the church and told the families. This turned very ugly very fast. CNN admitted that their source was a family member, not the mine company. Reporters are angry that they reported the men were alive for over 2 hours. CNN said that the EMT's were grim and would not make a statement and they thought that was odd but they didn't change or backpedal their story.

So there was no miracle, and the families are devastated. Please continue to pray for them.”

Here is what didn’t fit in the comments – according to CNN et al very late last night.

The first body found WAS alive, and that’s why the phone call was made. As they began to bring the others to the surface, it was apparent that the good news wasn’t there, and it took them about an hour and a half to bring up all the bodies and place them in the fleet of ambulances. The Governor had already been to the church where the community was gathered, and blurted out the good news; he was dragged away by staff when he learned that it was NOT confirmed by the mining company, but was just something ‘everybody’ knew. Mr. Hatfield of the mine company then determined that he would not make any statement until he had all the data, and decided to find a grief counselor to accompany him when he went to the church (WHERE did they find a psychologist to pack up his pentagrams and hit the road at 1:00 am in West Virginia?).

Anderson Cooper did a very good job of talking gently and intelligently with Kiki about what was said in the church. There were cries of ‘hypocrites!’ and her young son offered that one miner had tried to punch the company executive. Kiki pointed out that many families had awakened their children to bring them to the church to share in the good news, only to be slapped in the face in front of them. Anderson Cooper demanded angrily why, if they knew it was false about a half an hour after the first report, didn’t they tell the media to back off from the story. Porcupine wonders how they could have done that before making the official statement, but there is no question that the gauche handling of the matter by both the officials and the reporters made the pain all the worse.

Mr. Hatfield was pummeled at a press conference by angry reporters who demanded to know how they had been allowed to report good news. Towards the end, Mr. Hatfield began to cry a little, after one reporter demanded to know how firm the financial foundation of his company was, and if they had let miners die for profits. All evening, to fill time until the press conference since the ‘rescue’ had been announced, various reporters had talked about how it was ‘in the blood’ of these brave hill folk to go down into the mines, and how hard-working and stoic they all were. There was more than a little ‘gee whiz’ about this, and a shamed realization that these people that they scorned as irrelevant fly-over folk actually made their Blackberries and I-Pods possible. There was a dawning realization and respect in their voices, for people who considered $60,000 to be a top notch annual wage and who were willing to do dangerous work to get it.

Porcupine was lucky to be chatting with the people he was. Ted asked good questions about what was being said about the command center, because he has worked in them (amazingly, he doesn’t have a TV, so couldn’t watch the story, which I was transcribing into the chat as it unfolded). I mentioned the open mike in the command center, and that Mr. Hatfield said that when they all began to cheer, those nearby began to call anxious family, but that the center, per se, made no statement until the church meeting. Ted said he saw how that could happen, and faulted the reporters for pumping up people’s hopes. Dr. Lonnie commented that there had been 6,000 coal mine fatalities in China LAST YEAR, and the year before that, and that, and so on. Dr. Lonnie is using bottled water right now to avoid the cadmium and benzene in the water in China – the coal mine deaths are a minor tragedy in the Chinese chemical soup.

The front page of today’s Cape Cod Times bears the banner headline, “They’re Alive!” culled from the Associated Press.


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