January 5, 2006
"Today, we fell short." vs. "I'm not seeing any obvious missteps."
I don't blame the news media for initially false information about the West Virginia mining disaster. I blame confusion, exhaustion, human emotion and poor decision-making by company officials. Then there are the explanations from editors. Some focus on accuracy. Others on truth.
Right: Sherry Chisenhall, Wichita Eagle editor. “Today, we fell short.”
I’ll explain why we (and newspapers across the country) went to press last night with the information we had at the time. But it won’t excuse the blunt truth that we violated a basic tenet of journalism today in our printed edition: Report what you know and how you know it.
Our deadlines would not have given us the time to update the paper with the news at 2 a.m. that the rescue reports were wrong. We published what we believed to be true at the time. But unfortunately, we failed to make clear exactly where those reports were coming from and that they were not confirmed. Instead, our story and headline reported them as certainty.
Many newspapers and TV stations reported exactly what we did today. But being wrong in crowded company is still being wrong. Our commitment to our readers is to tell you exactly what we know and how we know it. Today, we fell short.
Wrong: Amanda Bennett, Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “I’m not seeing any obvious missteps.”
After the correct information emerged, Editor & Publisher’s website printed a comprehensive overview of the first big media screw-up of the new year, calling the mistake “disgraceful.”
But the Inquirer’s Bennett isn’t so convinced. “Was there anybody who was there who got it any differently?” asked Bennett. “I’m thinking out loud here…what was disgraceful about this?”
…Some news organizations screwed up less dramatically than others. Unlike the Inquirer, the Associated Press went beyond jubilant family members and reported that the mine’s owner, International Coal Group Inc., “did not immediately confirm that the [12 men] were alive,” lending some much-needed doubt to their reporting.
And of course the rush to be first with the news…or to have the same information everyone else has…shouldn’t come at the expense of getting the information right. But whether anyone will be willing to admit their own culpability in this massive reporting screw-up remains to be seen.
Bennett, for her part, won’t be among them, concluding: “I’m not seeing any obvious missteps.”
Right: Mike Days, Philadelphia Daily News, editor. “We are in the business of reporting truth.”
Mike Days, editor of The Philadelphia Daily News, agreed that newspapers in most cases went with the best information they had. But he said editors must take blame when their stories are wrong, no matter what the reason. “The paper is responsible for everything in the paper and if there is an inaccuracy, in this case a huge one, you have to take responsibility,” Days said. “We are in the business of reporting truth, and we can’t just ignore it.”
Wrong: Marty Baron, Boston Globe, editor. “”It seemed we handled it just fine all along the way.”
Baron told E&P the coverage was as good as could be expected, given the timing of events and the fact that the original reports were coming from rescue workers, government officials, and families of the miners. “It seemed we handled it just fine all along the way,” said Baron. “It’s not like people were working with no information. There were officials commenting on this. As it turned out, wrong information was given out.”
He added that if the paper had held off on the story and it turned out to be true, it would have drawn criticism for waiting too long. “At some point, you’ve got to print a paper,” he said. “I don’t know what else you can do.”
Right: USA Today, Note to readers. “This documentation proved inadequate.”
USA TODAY also incorrectly reported that the survivors had been taken to a hospital by ambulances. In fact, just one ambulance left the mining site. The newspaper’s coverage also included USA TODAY interviews with the miners’ family members, who said they had been told that their relatives were alive.
This documentation proved inadequate and fell short of USA TODAY’s professional standards
Wrong: Mike Silverman, AP, managing editor. “AP was reporting accurately the information that we were provided.”
The Associated Press cited family members in its initial dispatch, at 11:52 p.m., saying the miners were alive. Five versions later, at 12:25 a.m., the story added the quote from Manchin _ “They told us they have 12 alive” _ and dropped attribution for the miners’ rescue to the third paragraph.
“AP was reporting accurately the information that we were provided by credible sources _ family members and the governor,” said Mike Silverman, the news agency’s managing editor. “Clearly, as time passed and there was no firsthand evidence the miners were alive, the best information would have come from mine company officials, but they chose not to talk.”
I think these are two distinctive philosophies. What do you think?
(This started in comments)
It’s true that the “press” part of what happened in West Virginia is of minor importance compared to the rest, and there isn’t much here that’s malpractice.
It’s true, as well, that if the “announcement” of 12 men alive had been made two, three hours later, no wrong headlines would have been seen, and we wouldn’t be talking about the screw-ups.
But here we have an event where the explanations that journalists give to themselves (what satisifes them as “the reason it happened”) communicate powerfully and intimately to the users of news because the event also “happened” to them. They will remember it for a long time, and talk about it. So will history, whatever that is.
First the audience got taken to miracle land. Then the audience learned it was all a mistake, and the men were dead. So when journalists explain how the news got made, how it broke down, what the procedures at 2 am are, they are, in this case, interpreting a very jarring experience to the people who are supposed to smoothly trust in their news experience the next time around.
I think it’s important, and the better part of wisdom, to speak in a moral voice about being wrong under conditions like that— not a “shit happens” or a “gimme a break” or a “I don’t see any violation of our procedures…” voice. Even if true, I wouldn’t do anything different next time doesn’t communicate very well about this time.
Moral doesn’t mean moralizing or sky-is-falling. A moral voice need not blow the events out of proportion, either, or give a false mea culpa. It not only explains how the story was gotten wrong, but also accepts that a wrong got done— even if there was no violation of procedure. “The paper is responsible for everything in the paper” (Mike Days) speaks in a moral voice, in the sense that I mean it.
In explaining what happened, some editors primarily addressed themselves to the end user’s experience of a vanished miracle, while others talked of professional standards, rituals and routines. Without meaning to insult anyone, they were treating the journalist’s experience as primary. But under conditions of factual intimacy (“we lived for a while the wrong information you gave us”) that discourse is not up to the task.
“AP was reporting accurately the information that we were provided by credible sources” says: we didn’t do anything wrong. “The paper is responsible for everything in the paper” accepts what happened with end users. Accuracy, which was achieved, is the more technical term, truth, which did not happen, is a moral category. Although there’s no big scandal in it, this one happens to lie very near the center of the trust transaction in journalism, and so it’s foolish for editors to be among its minimizers.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
Editor & Publisher continues to report developments on this story. See Spokesman in Miner Tragedy Says He Never Confirmed Miracle Rescue. (Jan. 6) Interesting.
Regret the Error has two good round-ups. One gives links to all the correction and explanation stories newspapers ran; the other re-caps the whole episode. Good places to start.
Serious Questions on Sourcing in Mine ‘Rescue’ Story Remain. Joe Strupp and Greg Mitchell in Editor & Publisher (Jan. 5):
What was most surprising in the many follow-up stories today was how few fresh details were added about sourcing — including any mention of a single new source not already identified. Despite repeated attempts by E&P to reach reporters at the scene, none have yet responded. Here we will provide the first step-by-step chronology from a strictly journalistic perspective. So what do we know, or think we know?
Revealing. Also very good is Joe Strupp, Local W.Va. Paper Says Skepticism Helped it Avoid Mining Story Goof. (Jan. 4) The reporter for the local daily didn’t run to the church to get misinformed.
I did a live Q & A with readers at washingtonpost.com (Jan. 6). Here it is, The Press: Year in Review. My favorite moment was probably:
Q. I work as a senior IT professional. I make good bank. If I retyped vendor marketing materials and sold my company on an expensive system that ended up failing, I’d get canned. Immediately. I might even get sued for damages, so they would recoup the money paid me. I’d have a black mark next to my name and really lose my career.
Watching “Goodfellas” I realized that the “name” media in this country is much the same. Henry Hill’s speech at the end scores it exactly (the bit about “now I’m just a regular schnook”). Media players are Goodfella, loaded up with money and privilege, and screeching at the first sign of accountability…or being just another “regular schnook”.
Until that is changed, all the rest is just hot air.
A: If your observation is that the news is too often a defective product and standards of workmanship have fallen below what society can reasonably expect, I kinda agree with that. I mean look at Jonathan Klein, head of CNN saying he was perfectly happy with CNN’s coverage of the mining disaster.
Tim Graham of Newsbusters takes issue with some of what I said. Graham says the Bush team has no particular beef with the White House press. The White House has no involvement in the ongoing culture war seeking to discredit Big Journalism as the liberal media, he thinks. In his next post, Tim will explain to us that journalists are some of Bush’s best friends, and W. can’t live without his Paul Krugman.
Look Out “Outlook”. Vaughn Ververs at Public Eye, the CBS press blog, spotted the argument in a statement today from Susan Glasser, 36, the new Sunday Outlook editor at the Washington Post (just announced.)
It’s a promising appointment. Glasser started at The Post in ‘98. She was a deputy national editor and political reporter here, then went to Moscow as a correspondent in 2001. Perhaps the most interesting thing about her: She comes to Outlook after covering terrorism for the Post. In the story announcing her new job she says:
Outlook is one of the great pieces of real estate in the Sunday Washington Post, with a real storied tradition of helping shape the Washington conversation. What I would hope to do is build on that and think of lots of exciting and interesting ways to update it for an Internet era when opinions and controversy have become the currency but reasoned commentary and analysis are sometimes missing from that new digital equation.
Ververs asked me, Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine, Lost Remote’s Steve Safran, and Brian Stetler of TV Newser: what did you think of Glasser’s statement? Responses here.
I like this from Jarvis about the lost miners and the media: “It’s not the news that’s live; it’s the process of figuring out what to believe that’s live.”
If you’re not reading The Blogging Journalist (“Munir Umrani’s Weblog on Blogging by Journalists, Citizen Journalists and Pundits in an Era of Changing Media”) perhaps you should be.
Steve Outing at Poynter: “Here’s what I think newspaper front-page editors should have done last night: Published an info box accompanying the story pointing people to the paper’s website for updates on the story, and acknowledging that as of the time the paper-edition story was printed, the situation was fluid.”
How the LA Times held the presses, and corrected the newspaper.
Joan Vennochi, columnist, Boston Globe:
Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, blasted off a Wednesday online column that began by describing the incorrect news reports as “one of the most disturbing and disgraceful media performances of this type in recent years.” Later in the day, however, Mitchell deleted the word “disgraceful” — again, one of the luxuries of online journalism versus traditional print.
Blogger Chuck Holton was there:
Be careful, though, trying to pin the blame for this fiasco on the media. There is a difference between spreading a rumor and reporting that a rumor is spreading. Don’t think so? Try to imagine a scenario where live cameras pointing at the church could have avoided showing the jubilation that erupted there when the despicable rumor began that the twelve were alive. To their credit, the live news people, like CNN, simply reported that they were being told that there were survivors, and continued to report when the Governor gave the rumor an implied - if inadvertent - endorsement with his comment that “miracles do happen.”
Murray Waas at Huffington Post:
Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly 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 shared with so many that in the end they become meaningless. Their television shows will move somewhere else, and the families of the Sago miners will be alone—or finally left alone—to grieve.
Ex-Portland Communique blogger One True B!X at his new site: “In terms newsies will understand: Why did you run — and run hard — with a story based on information from a single anonymous source?” It’s true, as regards the original source of the information that 12 were alive. No one ever had a name.
Hey, check out this Thinker to Watch in 2006. Says Forbes Magazine. Let’s hope their aim is true.
Posted by Jay Rosen at January 5, 2006 12:16 AM
ami, typically, goes after the right wing, in the NOLA story. The problem with NOLA's famous unstories is threefold. One, nobody verified the stories. Two, they got endless repeats in the media. (Two sub A) They may have delayed the rescue and relief efforts thanksverymuchguys.
Richard, I "went after the right wing" because the people who are citing problems with the Katrina coverage talk about only one thing -- the overestimation of the death toll by Mayor Nagin, and the fact that Nagin's estimates were widely reported.
You insist that Nagin's estimates should not have been reported until "verified".... how do you "verify" an estimate? Wait until all the bodies are recovered? (and BTW, there are lots of "missing" people whose bodies have not been recovered to this day.)
No one criticises the media for estimating death tolls of the Tsunami, or earthquakes, or similar disasters -- even when they turn out to be way off.
And I don't see anyone on the right criticizing the vastly exaggerated estimates of the number of bodies found in mass graves in Iraq (let alone the consistent mischaracterization of who was found in those graves...the largest mass grave that has been found is full of Iraqi soldiers who mutinously participated in the 1991 uprising against Saddam. Even here in America, we authorize summary execution for mutiny on the battlefield.)
The point being that the right consistently tries to create the impression of media bias by emphasizing only those mistakes that appear to work in favor of the "liberal" agenda -- while ignoring the errors that support the "conservative" agenda, and "neutral" errors.
The mistakes made at Sago are only remotely connected to those made with the coverage of Katrina --- its like saying that Wombats are like Kangaroos; sure, they are both marsupials, but were talking two very different animals here. Trying to tie the Katrina mistakes into the Sago mistakes doesn't make a lot of sense, and it makes even less sense to constantly harp on Nagin's death estimates to make any kind of point about what happened at Sago.
Newsgathering in competitive, confusing, fluid and tense situations is an imperfect process. We perceive that imperfection as minor or major, based on how things turn out, and we evaluate the performance of the "men in the arena" (sorry, couldn't resist the irony) based on whatever press-think we tend to apply to the conduct of news media. Which means we're going to disagree on things, and I've got zero problem with that.
What I would caution against are the inevitable bold, simple, macho solutions. We're full of 'em -- in fact, whenever there's a screw up, you can pretty much count on top news executives to come out a few days later with some rock-ribbed proclamation about how we're going to return to the old verities, followed by a promise to "our" readers/viewers that you'll never again see this mistake again at MY newspaper/news channel/website/radiostation/blog. And inevitably, the solution has something to do with how we're going to rein-in our decision-making so that bad information never moves anywhere via us.
The solution, it seems, is always greater control.
But these solutions never really fix the problem. Maybe you don't get the same error in the same way, but life is chaotic -- it gives you new errors in similar ways. The problem is that our control over these situations, as newsgatherers and evaluators, is limited. So when we bluster about how we're going to prevent this or that from ever happening again, we might be well-intentioned, but we're promising control we really don't have.
This is particularly touchy for daily newspapers. TV beats us on immediacy and emotion. The Web beats us on depth and context. The Blogosphere beats us for interactivity and the need to talk about what has happened. This leaves us selling two things: 1. We're the easiest medium to read (unless your carrier tossed your morning edition in a puddle); 2. We have editors who take great pains to bring you the accurate, complete story.
We can continue promising the illusion of control over modern global mass-broadcast-networked media, or we can acknowledge its unprecedented features and start building new verities, applying the spirit of the old verities in more effective and useful ways.
This error was a good-faith error: Official sources were saying the miners were alive, on the record, and families were confirming they'd been told they were alive.
What would constitute "checking" or confirming" an official report followed by a clearly visible secondary impact of the alleged good news? Would a reporter be required to talk to the survivors to confirm they are alive?
This one doesn't fit into any convenient mold of sloppiness or egregiousness or recklessness, at least not the first reports. After an hour of silence, yeah, I'd get itchy, but for all I know so were the reporters on the scene. They could have been yammering away asking for more, but then at what point does the little voice inside that says "this is all wrong" convert into sending a publishable report that, indeed, this is all wrong, especially if the same official source responsible for the error is now silent? Two hours? Not bad.
The timing of this magnified its effects. Situations change all day long, and so do stories -- for a lot of east coast newspapers, the story solidified and was reported at the same time the papers went to press. Had it happened at midday instead of late at night, two things might have happened: 1. the correct information might simply have been reported in several hundred morning newspapers; 2. a sidebar on the pain caused by false official information earlier in the cycle would have been produced.
(We didn't report the wrong news, but that, again, was simply because we had the accurate news from the AP at the right time for our publication schedule.)
I'm the last guy to defend journalism as it is too often practiced today, but this incident doesn't lend itself to any pattern. At least part of the cause is architectural -- timing caused by the processes involved in producing print newspapers. That has always been a concern. And some of the criticism -- listen to yourselves, folks, you're criticizing "mainstream media" for embracing what everyone thought was good news? Yikes. I'm quite sure there are better examples around which any amount of sanctimony and indignation can be mustered.
Here's the timeline/analogy ...
Let's start at the mine.
Suddenly the families are rejoicing and church bells are ringing. TV and press run toward the commotion. They interview family members who tell them "they're alive!"
"How do you know? Who told you?"
"Some guy came in the church and told us."
"Who? Did you recognize him?"
Now here's where it gets strange to me. Only the AP quotes the guv' and only Dao quotes the spokesguy for WV DMAPS. Where's the Q&A: "How do you know?" "Who told you?" "Have you seen the miners?" "When will they be coming out?" "When's the press conference?" "Is this official?" etc. etc.
That's the meta-reporting that the readers don't get.
In fact, for 3 hours there was no reporting, as you point out:
You keep reporting, adding fresh detail and correcting errors.3 Hours
At the mines, three hours after the celebration, CNN got the news live - again - when a woman walked up and told Anderson Cooper the 12 were dead.
? Where they trying to prove or disprove what they had?
If Anderson is the exemplar, the media had to be sought out. Dragged, reluctantly, back into the story - to their jobs - by a now grieving family member.
The stories were published with the fore-knowledge (that wasn't true) that all 12 miners were rescued.
Judy Miller published her stories with the fore-knowledge (from reporting as far back as 1998) that WMD would be found. She wasn't interested in disproving it. She wanted to celebrate with the officials that would be proved right ... and then weren't.
It took, what, the Kay Report?, to drag Miller back to the story. But she wasn't wrong, because her officials were wrong and that makes her accurate.
I'm with Steve in one sense. The "press" part of what happened in West Virginia is of minor importance compared to the rest, and there isn't much here that's malpractice. In that sense it's of small moment.
But Steve. You are making too much of a single (true) fact: if the "announcement" of 12 men alive had been made two, three hours later, no wrong headlines would have been seen, and we wouldn't be talking about this. That's correct, but put that aside for a moment...
Here we have an event where the explanations that journalists give to themselves (what satisifes them as "the reason this happened") communicate very powerfully and intimately to the audience because the event also happened to them. They will remember it for a very long time, and talk about it. So will history, whatever that is.
First the audience got taken to miracle land. Then the audience learned it was all wrong, and the men were dead. So when journalists explain how the news was made, how it broke down, what the procedures at 2 am are, they are, in this case, also explaining a very jolting experience to the people who are supposed to trust in that experience next time the news is consulted.
It's a choice, but I think a critically important one, and it is the better part of wisdom, to speak in a moral voice about being wrong like that-- not a "shit happens" or a "gimme a break" or a "I don't see any violation of our procedures" voice.
Moral doesn't mean moralizing or sky-is-falling. A moral voice need not blow the events out of proportion, either. It not only accepts that the story was wrong but that a wrong was done. “The paper is responsible for everything in the paper" would be speaking in a moral voice, in my sense of it.
The header to this post tries, in fact, to "shrink" the event. I'm not making a scandal, I am focusing a lens by looking at the explanations that were offered by American editors.
Explaining what happened, some editors primarily addressed themselves to people's experience (this, I've said, forces them to speak in a moral voice) while others talked of professional standards, rituals and routines. They were treating the journalist's experience as primary. But under conditions of such intimacy ("we lived the wrong information you gave us...") that discourse is not up to its task. This, then, is how the post tells wrong from right.
Not a big scandal, or the "top" story. Nor is it a small event, just the music of chance absurdly amplified. This one happens to lie very near the center of the trust transaction in journalism, and so one is foolish to be its minimizer.
Jay and Company,
I think there is a deeper question of news judgement we should be asking today, previewed by Abigail's breathless dismissal of the issue above:
As the defenders of the current regime love to point out, why try to put the media in charge of policy issues when we have elected officials carrying responsibility for those policy areas? Surely part of the news on this story is whether or not the officials we have elected, and the people our elected officials have (often dubiously) appointed, have been doing the job they were elected to do.
How many major American papers reported the story of coal mining safety regulation today as context or even potentially direct cause of the deaths? Could responsible journalism actually avoid raising the issue of what caused the deaths when they may very well have been entirely preventable?
NY Times: Company Owner Says Cost-cutting Didn't Lead to Mine Explosion
Wa Po: Mine Safety.
Q and A on general conditions of coal mining with no specific information on the company, mine, and administration in question.
Chicago Tribune: Nothing concerning the mining fatality story on the website that I can find.
L.A. Times: Ill-fated Miners Fought to Survive After Explosion
Discusses forthcoming government investigations of the issue.
Were today's deaths of the 12 coal miners preventable?
Last year, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration filed 200 alleged violations against the Sago mine. 46 citations were issued in the past three months - 18 of them were considered "serious and substantial...Sago mine was forced to suspend operations 16 times in 2005 after failing to comply with safety rules. The violations found at Sago included mine roofs that collapsed without warning, faulty tunnel supports and a dangerous build-up of flammable coal dust. But the fines that the company were required to pay were extremely low, most of them $250 or $60 dollars. Government documents also show a high rate of accidents at Sago. 42 workers and contractors have been injured in accidents since 2000 and the average number of working days lost because of accidents in the past five years was nearly double the national average for underground coal mines.
What do we think of these respective treatments as examples of news judgment and editorial decision-making?
The standard human interest approach (12 Miners Die in Accident, How Sad) actively erases obvious and newsworthy issues we can actually do something about as a democratic society.
Alternative, non-human interest directed news questions we could ask about the mining deaths last night and today include:
How seriously has the US coal mining industry been taking safety issues and how has government oversight under the Bush administration been performing in upholding previously designed strategies that have been proven successful in the past for preventing such deaths? Were the companies and the Bush admininistration doing everything they could, everything they reasonably should have, or not? Were private corporations recklessly endangering lives or not? Were elected officials charged with supervising working conditions doing their job or not? Are the laws that define their job adequate or not?
This issue calls for more reporting but so far it looks like we have at least three basic narrative options newspapers could choose to go with:
Possible narrative number one: not only has the coal mining industry and the company in question not done everything it could, or even what it could be reasonably expected to do, it was probably an active cause of the deaths. The company was cited for dozens of safety violations that they never bothered to fix over a period of years. If their negligence is proven to be a direct cause of the miners' deaths, a corporation that kills people should be held accountable. How many newspapers are asking AND REPORTING ON this question? The corruption of the coal mining industry in itself is a failing of contemporary American morality that considers profits more important than lives.
Possible narrative number two: Some enforcement of safety regulations on coal mining has continued under the Bush administration, but the regulations as they stand now are nowhere near adequate. We need new and better laws that make worker safety a higher priority.
Possible narrative number three:
Under the Bush administration, not only have state regulators not done everything they could, or everything they could reasonably be expected to do to prevent such disasters, they have repeatedly reduced funding for inspections, actively obstructed legally required citations and working condition improvements, and actively persecuted people trying to force them to take coal mining safety inspection responsibilities seriously. After the responsibility of the coal mining corporation that has blood on its hands for the deaths their active negligence over a period of years made more likely than not, the responsiblity of the officials we elected to oversee this area of working life actively obstructed enforcing safety protocols that might well have avoided today's deaths. Voters will need to know how actively the Bush administration has obstructed enforcement of the laws it is obligated to enforce and uphold so they can make an informed decision in 1996 and 1998.
(Of course it is possible many people voted for the Bush administration precisely so they would gut and obstruct labor safety enforcement. It is even possible that any such action that didn't bother to change the laws they are legally required to enforce under current law would be an impeachable offense. That would be a different post and a somewhat different topic.)
really, tim, do you work hard at turning everything into black/white simplicities? Or it just an art?
On the CNN tape I watched, people ran up to the reporters, screaming, 'they're alive. Twelve are alive." When the reporters asked how they knew, they were told a 'company guy' told them at the church.
This was literally two minutes before 12 in West Virginia. By deadline a few minutes later, print and tv reporters were able to quote, by name, state officials who confirmed the 'miracle.'
What they did for every minute of nearly the next three hours, I can't say. Check notes. Confer with editors about the folo up. call home. get a drink. All of the above.
But at some point, about three hours later, the company men came out, went public and said 12 were dead. Which prompted another round of reporting, trying to get the updated info in the few papers that hadn''t run off the presses.
What was Anderson Cooper doing three hours after the news broke? As best I could tell, he was doing what Anderson Cooper does: emoting and rambling on about the joy of the moment. Which is when the woman walked up.
Who said Cooper was an exemplar? Or that the media had to be 'dragged, reluctantly, back into the story? That's your creation, Tim, sorely at odds with the facts. Your choice, I suppose.
But this - "The stories were published with the fore-knowledge (that wasn't true) that all 12 miners were rescued." I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying the reporters had foreknowledge the story wasn't true? I hope not.
The foreknowledge was that they were alive. It sadly turned out to be false because the people with the knowledge, the mine execs, refuseds to come forward and tell the families or the media.
As for trust and my relative value, steve, I'd say I'm always going to run a distant third behind the Cowboy scores and the comics. Humility goes with working on a product that lines recycling bin the next day.
Re, Mark Anderson's "possible narratives:"
Here's a fourth "possible narrative."
Someone over at the New York Times joins those of us in the "reality-based community" and actually DOES THEIR JOB and looks up the numbers of mine fatalities nationwide compared to those numbers over the last decade, and provides a sober analysis of the trends:
Number of mine deaths per year:
So here's the REAL narrative: The numbers show pretty clearly that mine fatalities actually declined consistently and substantially after the Bush Administration took over federal mine enforcement. (The New York Times has soiled itself once again.)
What's distressing - or OUGHT to be distressing - is that your own set of assumptions had blinded you to the possibility that the Bush Administration had actually been effective in reducing the number of mine fatalities.
And this is how media bias really works. It's not a conscious thing. The reporter, who lives in an echo chamber of like-minded people who share the same basic assumptions he does, starts with a basic meta-narrative: The Bush Administration is pro-business. Therefore the Bush Administration doesn't care about workers. And then he writes the story based on those basic assumptions.
Since the editor lives in the same echo chamber, it never even occurs to the editor to consider whether those assumptions are actually warranted. So it passes three or four rounds of editors and similarly like-minded fact checkers. And because of the lack of diversity of intellect at the Times, their cogitively inbred staff soils itself again, blaming the Bush Administration for compromising mine safety by appointing people from the mine industry to the Mine Safety Administration (As opposed to, say, the Clinton Administration's enlightened system of appointing trial lawyers or people from some other randomly selected industry to oversee safety in an industry they don't understand.
And you fell into the same trap.
First of all, if American corporations actually took care to protect their workers, there would be no need for any US administration to regulate worker safety. Let's not forget to put the primary blame where it belongs: on corporations that recklessly endanger their employees.
For the NYTimes or Jason Van Steenwyk to actually arrive at persuasive conclusions regarding the government's role in this story, they would have to take at least two more steps:
1) Translate the number of injured miners into a percentage of the mining work force. Fewer injuries in a work force that is much smaller is not necessarily an improvement in safety standards. It can easily be the reverse.
2) Account for administration resolve in enforcing the law. It is entirely possible that either the Clinton or the Bush administrations were falling down on enforcement but the corporate sector was doing better, or sheer chance happened to fall in one direction for a limited period of time. Variation within a very small range is not indicative of much.
The Democracy Now story yesterday included the firsthand account of a man who worked for FMSHA who was investigating a mining disaster that occurred during the late Clinton administration who had political appointees of the Bush administration actively obstruct his work when they took office and demand that ongoing investigations of labor law violations be halted, that labor law not be enforced, and a report exonerating the corporation in question be written in administration enforced ignorance of the facts.
On top of that, Bush's FMSHA changed government policy from one of issuing citations and demanding compliance as the law requires, to one of passively requesting corporate compliance and refusing to use the legal authority already at their disposal to bring about compliance.
These last two points empirically establish FMSHA's active opposition to enforcing the laws on the books under the Bush administration.
How should we describe attempts to give an administration that actively opposes labor safety enforcement credit for successful safety regulation? Truthful is not the first word that springs to my mind. Reliably contributing to my safety in the workplace would not be near the top of the list. Actively helping the Bush administration endanger Americans would come closer to the evidence at hand.
Numerical trends in fatalities in a shrinking work force are irrelevant to the fact that we have first person testimony establishing the Bush administration's active opposition to enforcing current mine safety laws and regulations. Jason Van Steenwyk's lack of interest in this aspect of the case suggests a lack of interest in what is actually happening.
A few days ago, a prominent media figure was suggesting that given how many more employees than managers there are in the American newspaper marketplace, perhaps major American papers could improve their falling circulation by running regular labor sections in their newspapers to help balance the predictably management-oriented coverage they regularly run in the business sections. That would go a long way toward balancing out the egregiously pro-management coverage our current press models leave us with. In that case, celebrations of lower inflation on the business page would be balanced out by lamentations stagnant wages and increased health insurance co-pays, celebrations of increased business profitability over the last twenty years would be balanced out by investigations into where those profits are going and why that is a good thing given that they clearly have no connection whatever to the standard of living of most Americans.
Well, you can prove anything with anecdotal evidence.
But you're missing two things:
1.) The media can't get its facts right, even if you leave aside bias arguments.
2.) Sudy after study after study confirms the hypothesis: The national media are distinctly and significantly and demographically biased to the left.
The Pew study found it. The Annenberg school found it. The S. Robert Lichter survey in 1980 found it, and was subsequently independently confirmed by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1988 and again in 1997.
The most recent ASNE survey found that in 1996, Democrats/liberals outnumbered Republicans/conservatives in the newsroom by more than four to one.
There is no way that that's not going to affect news coverage, consciously or unconsciously.
Other large-scale surveys by the Freedom Forum (1992), came up with similar findings.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found in 2001 that only six percent of the press was conservative - and duplicates the ASNE numbers cited above as to the liberal/conservative ratio (4 to 1) in the newsroom.
Journalist and Financial Reporting, an NYC newsletter, surveyed 151 business reporters and 30 publications in 1988 and found that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 5 to 1!
More than half rated Reagan's term in office as "poor" while only 17 percent rated him positively - this as Bush was humiliating Dukakis in the elections that year!
In 1985, the Los Angeles Times found that while 55 percent of newspaper reporters self-described as liberal, only 23 percent of the public did. Simultaneously, the LA Times found that only 17 percent of journos self-described as conservative. 44 percent of the public at large self-identified as conservative.
According to the LA Times, reporters voted 2 to 1 for Mondale in 1984. Mondale!
The Kaiser study found that the public at large was more likely to consider themselves conservative by a factor of six!
And that's just the demographic surveys. The analytical surveys of the articles themselves - such as UCLA's latest - are bearing the findings out. (I know, I know. Santa Monica California is really a hotbead of radical right-wing conservatism.) There's also Hamilton (2004), Lott and Hasset (2004), and Sutter (2004), the Cato institute,
So not only is it abundantly easy to find anecdotal evidence, but the institutional bias of the national media has been quantified many different ways, over and over again. Now, some, like Joe Conason and Eric Alterman, make a game attempt to muster anecdotal evidence to support claims of a conservative bias. But actual quantification of their claims based on peer-reviewed surveys or extensive polling is sorely lacking - and generally overrelies on carping about Rush Limbaugh (an opinion talk show host, not a journalist) and Fox News.
Really, that debate is so over it makes you guys look like charter members of the flat earth society.
It's a ritual by now for those on the red state side of the red blue divide to come to PressThink and recite the long, and lengthening list of studies proving liberal this and Democrat that in the nation's newsrooms.
The ritual calls for the expression of mock astonishment that the proposition can even be doubted at this late, late stage in its establishment as concrete and self-evident fact.
Usually the word "overwhelming" makes it in (thus Jason's "truly overwhelming collection of data"); very often the charge will be "willful" blindess to the evidence, a phrase like "study after study" is common (Jason: "Sudy after study after study confirms the hypothesis") but always it ends with the certainty that there can no longer be any debate.
The truth has been established. Science hath spoken, and so politics can shut up. No fairminded person can doubt... no serious person can deny... There can no longer be any argument that... on and on. Who knows, really, why the parade of certainty has to run through these parts so often--if it's really so certain--but run it does. Jason would have no way of knowing how many dozens have come before him-- listing the studies, expressing the mock astonishment, sorting the "serious" ones who accept the data from the flat earthers who don't.
On the other hand that's what a ritual is-- it repeats and re-affirms membership. There must be something satisfying in it for the reds, though; and here is where I have more trouble because I am not certain what the satisfying part is.
Maybe it's: Q. Can they really be so blind? (type, type, type) A. Yes, they can! One has the illusion of running a little test, and getting back the expected answer. One is almost a scientist one's self, then. Not a citizen making a political argument in a contentious field, but a data-accepter among child-like and cultish data-deniers. Maybe that's it.
Anyway, welcome to the bias study drill. You're in it.
i entered this thread suggesting that we work to define the problem properly so that we can have some chance of actually fixing it, rather than the usual dance where we make a gesture toward fixing the problem but don't really change anything -- other than make the existing screwed-up system more crazy-making for the people who work in it (not to mention the people it's supposed to serve). I thought this might be a good topic for that discussion.
Dan, this is one of those "problems" for which I don't see a solution -- at least in practical terms.
Especially with the East Coast papers, the explanation really is "shit happens." There was a "small hole" in the story -- no confirmation from the mining company -- but the families and government officials and clergy were all acting in expected ways (the word would be passed to the families before the general public), and with the presses about to roll, there was no reason not to go with the story.
When you say "how we can fix it", the "we" you are referring to is appears to be daily print journalists. But the real problem isn't with that "we", its what passes for "journalism" on CNN, MSNBC, and FoxNews --- and I think Jay explained that problem when he made the distinction between "the story" and "the information." Nothing that real journalists like yourself can do can change the way the cable news networks conduct business.
And in cases like this, the cable networks don't merely set the news agenda, they actually reinforced the bad story. The cable networks never expressed any skepticism in their interviews over those three hours -- and everyone who was interviewed went back to their friends with their own beliefs in the truth of the story confirmed (after all, if there was any question if the story was true, the interviews would not have been conducted with the presumption that the miners were alive.)
Anyone who might have had concerns about the lack of information coming from the company would happily ignore those concerns, secure in the knowledge that if there was anything to worry about, Anderson Cooper would be the first to know....and Anderson Cooper wasn't concerned...
Print journalism's biggest problem has always been covering "breaking news" that shows up "at deadline." "Shit happens", and there is no way to fix that problem without creating even more problems.
You (the print journalists) are at an important juncture -- you now have the capacity to cover "breaking stories" and report on them as they happen "in print" -- even if its only "electronic" print. This is going to require some adjustments in how reporters do their jobs -- "adjustments" that are happening right now.
Hopefully, this also means that the serious journalists who make up the print journalism community will be able to regain some control over the "news agenda" as your capacity to cover "breaking stories" evolves, and you decide which "breaking stories" deserve "breaking story" coverage.
Ultimately, the question comes down to "when is a fact a fact, and not just something that you have been told by an informed source?" The answer isn't "when an official announcement is made", because "officials" are constantly trying to hide, distort, or disguise the "facts".
I guess what I'm saying is "you've got your work cut out for you -- but I wouldn't use this particular story as a basis on which to make any decisions on the way you do your work in the future."
Well, what about this as an online feature: What if we got more explicit about what we do now in vague code? What if we publicly evaluated our confidence level in the information we were presenting?
The first report on a breaking news story might rate a 1: Interesting and worth monitoring, but by no means solid info. Yet. As more info came in, editors could raise the credibility grade. Over time, the grades should rise.
At the other end of your spectrum should be your serious investigative reporting, which should rate a 9 or a 10. If you're publishing investigative work and you can't rate its credibility above an 8, I really don't know what to tell you other than "good luck."
The tricky part is that being explicit about confidence means editors would have to accept greater accountability. If I've overrated my 12-miners-alive story a 7 and it reverses, I look pretty damned stupid. Then again, if I'm systematically underbidding my confidence to prevent being revealed as wrong later, I'm not doing much to build my credibility. You want an incentive for people to be candid and thorough, and I think this might provide it.
To be truly useful, such a system would need to be keyed to something, whether it's a number system or a color code or a bar graph or a slider. Whatever. A 5 rating should mean the same thing to the reader as to the editor. The beauty of the web is that editors don't have to redundantly explain this stuff in print -- rather, they can post the rating and know that anybody who isn't sure what it means can click and find out exactly what it means. And the more specific the better.
The web also lets you get feedback on your stories. And if we're smart, we'll make metrics out of that feedback and use it to improve all sorts of things. "Grade this story" doesn't tell me crap. We need to offer more telling questions, and then make use of the results.
Could you use this on TV? Maybe. Maybe if you make it a background element or something visual. Lord knows there's enough clutter on most of the cable news screens already -- why not have a dynamic editoral confidence rating, too? Could you use it in print? Yes, although maybe not as elegantly.
This wouldn't as valuable as a true source credibility rating -- but it's got the benefit of being much less complex.
And now for the imagination-impaired take on the situation.
First, though, a confession: I missed it. Didn't know there was a mining accident, didn't know there was a press circus, didn't know the outcome was misreported and don't really care now that I do know.
Someone earlier asked why the situation was a national story in the first place, and someone else answered correctly that -- paraphrasing -- the cable networks had a decent shot at a happy ending and the accompanying narrative. Even without the happy ending, mining disasters offer opportunities for extended coverage that simply don't exist with more immediate carnage.
When the Jessica Lynch story was extant, a friend of mine suggested we start a rumor that she was the "Baby Jessica" of having-fallen-down-a-well fame. We figured the narrative was so perfect that someone would bite on it regardless the intractability of the timeline and other facts. We never got around to trying it, although I suppose it isn't too late.
Jay, I understand the distinction you're drawing and it's one worth drawing. I'm wondering, though, whether you can think of any examples where editorial mensch-ness actually had a noticeable impact on the quality of the news operation.
Daniel, I like your ratings idea. I'd suggest that in order for it to be effective — in this dream world where editors don't feel compelled to project unlimited confidence — stories would have to have editorial bylines along with reportorial ones. I'd be interested in hearing what PressThink readers with editorial backgrounds (that's you, Steve) think about that possibility.
I'd also like to note for the record that I've been referring to the "MSM" as "the institutional press" for a long while, primarily because even before it was cool, I thought of blogs as the substitute for an institutional memory in the institutional press.
Jason: As I've said other times here, I do not take the media bias discourse seriously. Intellectually, it's a joke. I don't think it has much to do with journalism, or news at all. It's value to me as press criticism is approximatey zero. In my opinion--and I don't expect you to share this--bias talk is not "truth-seeking" at all, but point-scoring. That's what it's about.
"Point-scoring" holds on the left and the right, but the right is more invested in it because Big Media is one of the last institutions left that the right does not control. For conservatives and Bush supporters, bias complaints are one of the few semi-plausible victimologies they have. The Right used to have a healthy suspicion of politics-as-victimhood. Media bias is where today's conservatives go to indulge in that heady feeling.
The way I look at it: Some people do politics by talking about issues and policy. Other people do politics by reference to politicians and what they stand for. Other people do politics by going on about media bias. That's their right. I prefer to leave them alone. It's not always possible.
Nor is it possible to express how cynical I am about studies like the ULCLA one and the uses made of it. But just to give you one teensie-weensie example of why... The UCLA study suggests that we can draw sound conclusions about the "tilt" of a news organization by looking at how many times various think tanks are cited in news articles.
You are interested in "the evidence," in what "study after study" shows; and you went through the trouble to find a long list of them. You plainly believe the UCLA research is impressive work. But somehow in casting your net widely for evidence you missed this little count by the NPR ombudsman:
Here's the tally sheet for the number of times think tank experts were interviewed to date on NPR in 2005:
American Enterprise - 59
Brookings Institute - 102
Cato Institute - 29
Center for Strategic and Intl. Studies - 39
Heritage Foundation - 20
Hoover Institute - 69
Lexington Institute - 9
Manhattan Institute - 53
There are of course, other think tanks, but these seem to be the ones whose experts are heard most often on NPR. Brookings and CSIS are seen by many in Washington, D.C., as being center to center-left. The others in the above list tend to lean to the right. So NPR has interviewed more think tankers on the right than on the left.
The score to date: Right 239, Left 141.
Am I surprised that this simple count didn't make it into your list of "study after study?" No, Jason, I am not surprised. I told you I'm cynical. But I would be shocked if, on the basis on this tally, you began to discuss NPR as a "right-leaning" news organization, which it clearly was in 2005, if we're measuring by think tank voices, as the UCLA study does. Although it's easy to find, that evidence somehow didn't make it into your review of "the evidence."
I will save you the trouble of debunking the NPR ombudsman's study. He does it himself when he writes, "There may be other experts who are interviewed on NPR who present a liberal perspective. But they tend to be based in universities and colleges and are not part of the think tank culture."
He's right, of course. I don't think the ombudsman's count proved anything, and I don't think the UCLA study proves anything, and I don't think bias talk--including yours--is about proof or evidence at all. It's high horsemanship, victimology, culture war-- another way of doing politics.
Besides, the question that interests me is not, what bias does the press have? but: what kind of bias should the press have? Rare to the point of extinction is the bias warrior who wants to talk about that. It spoils all the fun because the high horse is taken away.
For more on my take, see this.
I'm mulling this ratings idea over, and trying to imagine how it would work with specific stories I've been involved with.
The following descriptions, complete with names, are plucked from two specific examples that come from my 22 years of experience at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and are accurate in every detail.
On a fairly simple story it would go like this:
-- Look, Tommy Gibbons has been our police reporter for 25 years, and he has seldom done us wrong ... on the other hand, there are some cops who are pissed off at him because he has caught some of their colleagues with their hands in the cookie jar, and those guys are off to jail, so there's always the possibility that some bitter bigwig in the police department is trying to sandbag him. (It wouldn't be the first time.) Gibbons himself gives the story a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, but, hey, it's his story. The rest of us -- his editors -- are worried about the sandbag possibility, so we give the story a 7.6, which is why we're putting it on page b12, and not on page one.
And, trust us, Tommy is plenty unhappy about that.
On an ambitious story or series, the ratings idea could get a lot more cumbersome. Had we had an honest and utterly transparent ratings system on the following story (which won a Pulitzer prize), it would have to have said this:
-- This series was reported and written by Donald Barlett and James Steele, who give it a perfect 10. You have to take them seriously, since they've been working here forever, they've won enough awards to wallpaper a high school gymnasium, and they have yet to write anything that required a correction.
-- National editor Steve Seplow, who came up with the story idea in the first place, gives the series a 9.9.
-- Copy editor Marty Grabel gives the story a 6; Grabel still remembers the time Barlett and Steele stiffed him with the bill at lunch at The Press Bar & Grille. He is also disgruntled that copy editors are so often over-ruled by the Bigfeet at this place.
-- Manuscript editor Lois Wark, for whom the glass is always half-full and never half-empty, gives the story a 10.5.
-- Managing editor Steve Lovelady, who retreated to a mountain cabin for 10 days with nothing but a laptop and a dog -- no phone, no TV, no radio, no car -- to completely overhaul Wark's work, gives the story a 9.75. (Keep in mind, Lovelady ran out of whiskey on day four. Also, on day nine, his dog died.)
-- Publisher Bob Hall, who hasn't read the story, and probably never will, is still trying to figure out why Lovelady gave two highly-paid reporters 15 months to report out an 8-part series that, before we're done, is going to eat up 31 open pages of expensive newsprint and ink, in a year when newsprint prices are up 22 %.
-- Anyway, we hope you like it.
Now I am really proud of PressThink reader, writer and participant Ron Brynaert for putting into Raw Story--lefty investigative journal--the tale of the Washington Post mangling a news account involving Bill Roggio, a military blogger who supports the war and leans right.
I don't understand what you (or Ron) meant by "mangling".
The Post story was about the "information war" that is going on with regard to Iraq, and the military's role in it. It included references to Roggio, and separate and distinct references to the stories about how the military is paying for favorable press coverage in Iraq. At no point does the story state, or even imply, that Roggio is on the Pentagon payroll; the story makes it clear that Roggio's trip was funded by his blog readers.
What the story does do is tell the reader that Roggio was invited by the Marine Corps to come to Iraq, and that the invitation was made after a thorough review of Roggio's work (i.e. the implication being that the invitation was granted only after the Marine Corps was sure that Roggio would provide the kind of coverage they wanted.)
Roggio cites a few minor factual errors that are irrelevant to the story (he's a "former" member of the military, not a retired one, he wasn't stil in Iraq when the story was published). But he also cites as an error that the Post said he was credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute, when he was actually credentialled by the Weekly Standard. One small problem, however.... On October 31, Roggio had written I have received media credentials, thanks to Dr. Michael Ledeen and the American Enterprise Institute. And according to Rawstory, Roggio subsequently denied any involvement by Ledeen.
Roggio also makes a huge deal out of this quote from the article... "A thorough review of his work was taken into account before authorizing the embed," said [Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, public affairs officer for the 2nd Marine Division]. "Overall, it has worked out really well." Roggio claims that the Marine Corps has no authority over embeds, that anyone can get credentialled and be embedded -- then admits that he needed special clearances to be embedded with Marine Special forces.
Roggio's real problem is apparently the fact that he doesn't want to think of himself and his trip to Iraq as just one part of the military's information campaign. Of course, the issue isn't what Roggio wants to think of himself, but what the military is doing and how Roggio fit into their strategy -- and that is what the article was about.
I think that Ron did a really good job of reporting on this piece --- he provided all the facts (and links) necessary to understand what happened, and is happening, on this artificial controversy.
Indeed, Ron's "story" isn't really about Roggio.... the "news" in the story is that our good friend, Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell, has taken an interest in this -- thanks to the the fact that far-right wingers like Michele Malkin and Hugh Hewitt have taken up Roggio's crusade. Howell is practically batting a thousand with her choices of issues to explore (today's column decried the relative dearth of coverage of religion in the Post) -- she responds to conservatives who criticize the Post, and so far has ignored anything that "liberals" have to say about the Post's coverage.
I basically agree, KC, except that I am not myself well informed on CNN's current staffing patterns for a story like this. They had... how many reporters (producers) there?
If I'm Copper and Klein, the two people with asses on the line, I say: we did this all wrong, although we come out looking okay because the governor was wrong, and this deputy something or other guy too. That was just luck: his sources were as bad as our sources.
That's no "victory," we're CNN; we're supposed to be more reliable than anyone.
Klein's speech to staff:
"It is absolutely unacceptable to me that for three hours of live television starring our top talent, Anderson Cooper, we're reporting twelve alive, and we never saw those miners, no ambulances for them ever moved, and we had no real confirmation from the rescue operation itself. None.
"Meanwhile, any reporter who stayed where the information was coming from would know there was no one with the rescue operation putting his name and ass on the line with those facts.
"How is it that I realize all this days later by reading about the reporter from the Inter-Mountain newspaper of Elkins, W.Va., the local daily profiled in Editor and Publisher, when we had our own people on the ground, who should at least know what the reporter from the Inter-Mountain newspaper knows?
"Totally unccceptable..." And if I'm Cooper I'm standing next to him nodding my head.
What do we hear from the head of CNN? (via E & P)
Most bullish of all was CNN president Jonathan Klein, who offered no apologies and hailed his cable network's performance, which resulted in three hours of faulty coverage. He said the sourcing of the report that the men were alive was "pretty solid," adding: "This situation points to the strength of TV news coverage because we were able to correct as better information developed."
I don't think anyone knows what Anderson Cooper is yet as Franchise Player for the CNN Squad. As a live TV journalist his number one job is to keep track of what we know, and the state of that knowledge, especially how well verified it is.
On the gauge of reliable story tracking during a live event--journalistically, this is why we most need anchors--the loss of the miners was a disaster for Cooper, but on the other hand it was gripping TV too. He was human; and he at least broke the news created by a citizen informing him, live, of his own mistakes.
Oh and CNN won the ratings that night, so how bad could it be?
No, you're the one not getting it, Steve. And you, Dave, when you write: "The local paper didn't get it wrong because they had more time to get it right. By the time they published, the correct story had already been reported."
Pay attention, please...
If the Editor & Publisher account is correct, and if the editor and reporter are telling the truth about what they did and why, then not only did they not print the wrong story, they never had the wrong story, and never believed what CNN and the Times believed. They didn't fall for the signs of rescue that seemed so certain to bigger news organizations.
You can't tell me that's impossible, can you?
If they never had the wrong story, then we can ask why, and it's an interesting question. But it's obvious why they didn't print the wrong story: as you say, afternoon deadline.
This matters because some of you seem to believe that it's impossible for the yahoos in West Virgina to have been smarter than the national press corps, whereas to some of us that does not seem implausible at all. The editor knows you think this about her: that's why she pointed out that she didn't update her site with "twelve miners found alive, families say."
Next post, I will put what Editor and Publisher reported. If you think E & P is full of it, fine, say so. Think the locals are puffing themselves up and BS-ing us? (They don't really know how to update their website, and anyway they wouldn't think of it!) Fine, just say so.
I don't think that, myself.
Just saw Anderson Cooper finding the news out for the first time. I thought he did a nice, classy job. He shut up and just let an articulate witness talk.
I'm really surprised that CNN didn't do a zone defense, and send one producer to the mine with a walkie talkie. I doubt CNN showed up to this one with just Cooper and a cameraman. I've seen Amanpour and 60 Minutes both show up and spread three producers around, but that might just be because she was in Iraq.
Had CNN kept someone at the mine - you know, where the ACTION was, and like the local yokels did, they wouldn't have been caught flat-footed. At least Cooper could have been saying "Well, here at the church, the word is they've been found alive. But so far, Bill, we've only seen one ambulance leave the site. The others are still sitting idle, and don't even have the engines warmed up. The atmosphere here at the church is indeed jubilant, but we're still waiting for confirmation from the site itself. Back to you Bill."
Maybe the governor should have done the same thing - at least via a representative from the Mining authority for the state. The governor also has to be careful not to look like he's micromanaging local officials.
For the life of me, I don't know why they'd involve the governor as an intermediary, rather than the mayor's office or the sherriff's department.
That might be another case of CNN not knowing these rural communities too well, either - which is a pretty obvious advantage the local paper would have had.
Same deal in hurricanes - the action happens at the county level - not state or federal. The lowest level that has a true multi-disciplined EOC is the county level. That was one of the reasons CNN's reporting on Katrina was so bad - these idiots hadn't figured out that the story plays out at the county level, not at FEMA.
Come to think of it - local papers consistently outreport the nationals, too, when it comes to their own local units.
Just a thought....
for three hours the national media was reporting that the miners were alive. Readers of the Inter-mountain News who checked the paper's website would not have seen the story confirmed, its true.....but (apparently) they would not have seen any reference to what was appearing on TV for three hours.
Now, what was the average Inter-mountain News reader to make of that? That the paper was skeptical of the reports? Or that the website wasn't being updated?
There was, in fact, something to report --- that the town and families were celebrating, and that the national media was reporting that the miners were alive, but that Inter-mountain News had not been able to confirm the story with mining company officials. In other words, if there was cause for skepticism, that paper's readers should have been alerted to that fact. The paper did not actively confirm the story --- instead they acquiesced to it.
I think that Steve is closest to the truth --- they got "lucky". They had only one reporter on the scene, and no immediate deadline to meet, so the editor decided to have the reporter wait at the mine where the story was expected to return at any minute as the company made a statement, and miners started being brought to the surface and put into ambulances.
That was a sound journalistic decision, but I find it difficult to believe that if the Inter-mountain News had more resource on the scene, that some reporters would not have been interviewing family members at the church without expressing any skepticism.
I don't think that Skidmore is BSing. What I do think is happening is that Skidmore made the right decisions for sound journalistic reasons in which "skepticism" played something of a role -- but the driving force behind those decisions was simply that the reporter needed to be where the narrative the paper needed to have for Thursday's edition would be coming from -- and that narrative was the details of the rescue.
(In other words, even if there was no skepticism, that reporter would have stayed at the mine to cover the story, and people are now lauding Skidmore for her skepticism, rather than for the fact that she displayed good journalistic judgement in deploying her resources that night.)