One of those nights when the name of this blog is reflected in the news. A few hours ago, I came back to my Las Vegas hotel room to drop off some things and caught the welcome news on CNN that 12 miners missing after a West Virginia mine explosion had survived. Back from dinner and working away with CNN in the background, I was half-listening to Anderson Cooper live in West Virginia — and noting that CNN was truly live, not Memorex — when a woman and children rushed up the camera blurting out that it had all been a mistake.One man survived; the rest were confirmed dead.
It was a startling moment in so many ways. With no way of confirming at that moment what he — and we — were being told, the story continued nearly unchecked. In a way, it was a replay of the way the news of survival was delivered hours earlier — a variation of the telegraph game run horribly amuck. This time, the news was right — one man survived and had been rushed to the hospital; the rest, in a horrible reversal, would not be coming home.
As I type, angry family members are being interviewed by Miles O’Brien. For now, the anger is aimed at the company, particularly the top exec. Earlier, during a press conference witjh Gov. Joe Manchini, reporters tried to figure out how much blame he should bear — some used a comment he made as a confirmation of the survival. But it wasn’t the governor who reported the survival story.
At some point, the media covering this story needs to look inward and consider the contribution journalists made to the spread of inaccurate reports. We all make mistakes (I made one Tueaday that’s still driving me crazy); most of us, if not all, likely have repeated inaccurate information because it came from a reliable source. But we can — and should — take responsibility for what we report and how we report it.
Addendum: I’m not suggesting this coverage was based
on reliable sources; the sourcing and decision-making is unclear at
this point. The AP’s reporting certainly contributed to some of the coverage but that doesn’t explain why so many journalists at what had become a major media event went with what appears to be hearsay instead of waiting for official confirmation. The live coverage of the euphoric scene had its own power. What would I or any of you have done in their place? The temptation to believe in miracles can’t be underestimated. Neither can group-think. I hope I would have been skeptical.