Stunned and weeping family members were told early Wednesday morning that 12 of the 13 miners trapped 12,000 feet into a mountainside since early Monday were found dead.
They were given the news about 2:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, just a few hours after being led to believe that all but one of the men were alive. Company officials confirmed the deaths at 3:06 a.m. and said a “miscommunication” stemming from an overheard cellphone conversation resulted in the spreading of the original information—that 12 were alive.
Imagine how the families must feel.
UPDATE: “Media reports say screaming and fighting could be heard outside a nearby church as a mining company official told relatives in a closed-door meeting that initial reports that all twelve miners survived are wrong.”
UPDATE II. Families believed for three hours that the miners were alive.
UPDATE III. One take on how this evolved:
The media is backpedalling as hard as they can to evade getting raked for this. To understand how, first we need this paragraph from an earlier CNN story:
A friend of one of the miners told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that a mine official had come out and said, “We got 12 alive!” The friend, who did not give his name, said rescue crews were then going into the mine.
Just now on CNN, that same Anderson Cooper just retold that story—but with a telling twist. What the network previously relayed as being a “mining official” according to that family member now is being described as “someone from the mine or the mining area.”
Anderson, that’s the sort of distinction you should have been chasing down four hours ago.
UPDATE IV. Naturally, it’s Bush’s fault.
UPDATE V. Published online ten minutes ago by the Chicago Sun-Times: “12 miners found: Relatives shout, ‘They’re alive!’”
UPDATE VI. A Media Bistro report from five hours ago:
CNN fired on all cylinders as the miners were rescued in West Virginia tonight. The network was first with the breaking news. Anderson Cooper heard cheers and church bells from the Sago Baptist Church, and the network had a camera outside the church where people were heard screaming “12 alive, 12 alive.”
And a subsequent Media Bistro report, posted about two hours ago:
After watching CNN’s breaking news coverage around midnight, a West Virginia woman walked to the Sago Baptist Church with her young son and daughter to rejoice about the rescue of 12 miners. She stopped by Anderson Cooper’s live shot for an interview. She said her family was heading to the church to celebrate.
At about 2:45am, she walked back to Cooper and interrupted his broadcast. There was fear and anger in her eyes. She said the families were distraught. Her son said they ran away as fistfights broke out. “Only one made it out alive,” she said. “There’s eleven that apparently did not make it.”
Cooper initially seemed skeptical of her comments, and nervous about repeating them on-air. “Where have you gotten this information?” he asked. But as he heard screaming from the church, and he saw other family members crying down the road, he realized it was true. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m completely stunned.”
With the massive benefit of hindsight, this line—from an earlier AP piece that repeated claims the miners were alive—was a warning that went unnoticed:
Neither the company nor the governor’s office immediately confirmed that the men were alive.
In fact, according to a later item by the same AP reporter:
International Coal Group Inc. never confirmed that the 12 other men were alive.
My emphasis. CNN’s Cooper may be the initial source for this misreporting—well, no; the initial source was the nameless person Cooper spoke to—but rapid amplification and repetition of those claims throughout the media (FOX, MSNBC, everybody) created truth where there was none. It is understandable that journalists wanted this story to be true, but unforgivable that so many outlets ran with it in the apparent absence of any confirmation stronger than that provided by a friend of one of the miners, who did not offer a name, passing on information said to be from an unidentified mine official.
UPDATE VII. Zander writes:
According to reports, mine officials knew twenty minutes after the “good” news started circulating that it was bogus but they waited another three hours before telling the truth to the families.
Anderson Cooper blasted the mining company for its despicable behavior and asked the question on everyone’s mind: “Why in God’s name did they wait three hours to tell family members?”
Of course, another question might be: why didn’t the assembled media work harder to confirm the story before running with it as hard as they all did?
Quite so. And at Oliver’s Place:
The false news was never verified, and it spread like wildfire. No one bothered to get offical word that the miners were indeed found alive. The media kept saying the news was not verfied, but kept reporting as if it were true.
That seems to be an accurate summary.
UPDATE VIII. Strong piece by E&P’s Greg Mitchell: “In one of the most disturbing and disgraceful media performances of this type in recent years ...” Among the indicted are Rita Cosby, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (quoted by the NYT saying that the rescued miners would shortly be taken to hospitals, although he added he was unaware of their medical condition), AP, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, a mining company spokesman, and Gov. Joe Manchin.
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