If there is any way to make a disaster worse, it happened last night. I went to bed listening to the general euphoria of Rita Crosby as she interviewed family members, and woke up this morning and listened to those same family members dealing not only with tragic loss, but anger and a sense of betrayal.
Apparently there were communication problems between the rescue team in the mine and the rescue HQ at the mine site, and the discovery of the twelve men was interpreted to be the discovery of twelve living men. This was then transmitted not by way of the formal protocol set-up by Governor Manchin (himself a victim of the 1968 Farmington disaster), but instead someone at the mine site (or nearby listening in to a scanner or 2-way radio) contacted someone via cell phone.
From there, things went down hill. Gov. Manchin was in the church with the families, and someone ran in and yelled “They’re Alive!” Chaos ensued, the church bells went off, and the entire town began to wake up and congregate at the church. The media members didn’t check with anyone, and spread the story as if it were true. The media coverage, if you will, reified the news with their blanket coverage and their own elation.
Gov. Manchin and his staff, who could not confirm the story, left the church to go to the mine site. On his way to the car (or at some point around this time), Gov. Manchin said something to the effect of “Miracles can still happen,” and the unfortunate families interpreted this as confirmation from the Governor. Only when Manchin got to the actual mine site did his staff begin to learn the news that the earlier communication was inaccurate.
At that point, many people are wondering why the company and the Governor did not ‘correct’ the rumors at the church. From my understanding, the company nor the Governor had any way to ‘correct’ the record. As neither had officially made a statement and done anything to get the hopes of these families up, what could they say now- “Don’t get too excited, we don’t know how many people are alive.” How could they comment at all, when they had no idea what the right numbers were, and were not responsible for the elation at the church? They simply had no idea how many people were alive, and could not possibly make any official statements.
This was a disaster, and it was made worse by the cruelness of the false hope. But I really don’t think I can blame the Governor and his staff, who never confirmed this event, and were simply on the same receiving end of information as the families. I don’t blame the company, because they never released the information, and the people on site themselves believed all 12 were alive. I don’t blame whoever it was that leaked the information to the families. I certainly don’t blame the families, who reacted the way you or I would. Hell, in my case, I reacted the same way- I was ecstatic and immediately linked to the CNN report.
I do blame the media, for not confirming their sources and for running with it as if it were fact- that was horribly irresponsible. I can, however, understand how it happened. The media is made up of people, too- something we often overlook. They have been there for the last 40 hours, standing vigil in the muck with the rest of the folks there, and Rita Crosby and Anderson Cooper wanted those miners out alive as bad as everyone else.
In short, it is a tragedy. I find it hard to blame anyone involved, other than the media, who should have been more responsible. But I can’t even really be mad at them for that. I don’t mean to be too pat about this, but there is a reason why these are called disasters, and right now I just feel bad for all those families.
If you are interested in some good coverage, check out the Charleston Daily Mail.
The ‘two’ Charleston Gazettes this morning. I preferred the one on the left.
*** Update ***
There seems to be a lot of confusion as to how the families ‘found out’ the false information to begin with. From what I understand, and I have watched this non-stop and listened to the local radio, the families were informed by some well-meaning bystander, and not through official channels. This is what I believe to be true (of course, I may be wrong) at this point:
The rescuers thousands of feet in the mine were communicating on an open channel that could be picked up by any radio scanner or some form of two-way communication. I am unsure if there were actual loudspeakers at the entrance to the mine that broadcast their communication, but I do know that the people in the HQ had an open speaker for everyone in the room to hear, and any State Trooper, EMT, Fireman, or other rescue worker of state and federal official with a police style scanner could monitor the communications. Likewise, any private citizen with a similar device could do the same. At any rate, someone heard the communication from the folks deep in the mine when they discovered the 12 men and misinterpreted what the rescuers said. Someone then ran into the church yelling “They’re Alive.”
There have been some reports that Bob Hatfield (why does he have to be named Hatfield- thank goodness the Governor’s name isn’t McCoy), the ICG representative, told the families. I have seen NOTHING to confirm this, and find that difficult to believe. The company and the Governor had a process for disseminating information to the families first and the press second, and that process did not include running into the church and breathlessly shouting “They’re Alive!”
Additionally, I have seen people saying the company should have said ‘Those reports are unconfirmed.” Maybe, but at the same time, what do they say- they are in the middle of a rescue, they do not know who is or is not alive, and they weren’t really in a position to say anything without actual information.
*** Update #2 ***
From the WVU intranet:
A West Virginia man who was injured in a deadly Upshur County mine explosion is in critical – but stable – condition, WVU trauma director Lawrence Roberts, M.D., announced at an 8 a.m. news conference at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. According to Roberts, Randall McCloy Jr.’s injuries include a collapsed lung and severe dehydration. Because McCloy is sedated, physicians cannot conclude if he sustained any head injury. Roberts attributed McCloy’s injuries to prolonged immobility and dehydration. McCloy did suffer some carbon monoxide poisoning, but those levels have been reversing themselves since he was first taken to the hospital. McCloy has been under Roberts’ care since approximately 3 a.m. this morning, when he arrived at Ruby Memorial Hospital. He was transferred to Morgantown from St. Joseph Hospital in Buckhannon. The next news briefing will follow at 1:15 p.m. today.
Ruby Memorial Hospital is about 800 yards from my house.
*** Update #3 ***
Pajamas Media has a round-up of reactions.
*** Update #4 ***
More on how the bad information may have travelled.
*** Update #5***
It wasn’t via the scanner or open radio. It was a cell phone call from someone at the Rescue HQ, who received the garbled communication from the rescuers within the mine.
Here is what happened, at least according to the press conference:
The rescue squads were wearing breathing apparati, and communicating via radio to a point somewhere else inside the mine called the ‘Fresh Air Base.’ They found the men, and reported to the ‘Fresh Air Base.’ The Fresh Air Base then called the rescue HQ outside the mine, which was broadcast over a loudspeaker in the room. The place heard that 12 men had been found, and celebration broke out. People then dispersed, and used their personal cellphones to call someone in town. Then the person ran in to the church, and you know how events unfolded from there.