The Daily Nightly from NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

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The Daily Nightly began on May 31, 2005. As Brian wrote in his first post it aims to provide a narrative of the broadcast day and a window into the editorial process at NBC Nightly News. Brian weighs in every weekday and NBC News correspondents and producers post regularly.

Brian Williams became the seventh anchor and managing editor in the history of NBC Nightly News on December 2, 2004. Read his full biography.

The day after

Millions of Americans went to bed last night thinking it had been a great night. Notes were left for sleeping loved ones so that they'd know the moment they awoke in the morning that the 12 remaining miners were found alive. Newspapers went to press proclaiming the same thing. Cable anchors and assorted other television correspondents were already coining terms like the "Miracle Dozen" to describe the story. The coverage was joyous, breathless and few cautions were ever voiced.

It was wrong. All of it. What a nightmare, and what awful, crushing cruelty for these families. What an awful night for the news media. The explanation seems to center on a garbled communication that 12 men had been found alive -- first uttered by rescue team members wearing full-face oxygen masks (germane because it makes it hard to discern words) uttered over a two-way radio frequency, then repeated over a speaker system in the mine office, then forwarded via cellphone, and then broadcast by humans inside the church -- where understandably, utter joy broke loose. All the while, workers were trying to save a life. The only life to save, it turns out. It also turns out there were safeguards against this: the mine rescue teams were given a radio code to use meaning: alive or dead. It worked, but not well enough, and not in all instances. "It came to the surface (word from rescuers) as: 12 are alive" said a mining official today. It was overheard by the wrong people... an estimated 30 people or more heard the information... and it was wrong. Even though the mining company had put the word out to keep a "lid" on all early reports, the lid blew off the story. The church exploded, the church bells rang, the usual systems of confirming a news story broke down, celebrations broke out. And then hours later, hearts were broken.

The question today: why did so much time elapse before the truth was known, and then told by mining officials?

"In the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than it should have," said Ben Hatfield, the mining company CEO, at this afternoon's briefing. Even Hatfield admitted, "We were celebrating... the Governor gave me a bear hug I will never forget... We thought we had a celebration that would never end. It was just too preliminary."

In the light of day, media types and civilians alike were asking a question last asked during Katrina: Weren't they (officials) WATCHING the coverage on television?

"We sincerely regret the manner in which events unfolded early this morning" is how Hatfield just put it at the briefing.

For the record, the miners did exactly as they had been trained. They went to the safest place they could find, and barricaded themselves in. They just ran out of time.

Tonight we will devote the majority of the broadcast to this story, which today rightfully dominated the national conversation. For the third straight day, our thoughts and prayers are with the families.

We have other material in the broadcast tonight of course: on topics like Mr. Abramoff, and our continuing series on pain. And there is late word which we will follow closely... that Ariel Sharon, on the eve of heart surgery, has been rushed to the hospital yet again. But for all intents and purposes there is only one story today, and our coverage will be focused squarely on it. Our thoughts as humans and fellow citizens will be focused on that town in West Virginia. We hope you can join us.

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COMMENTS

I find that our country is failing its self based on the efforts of our goverment also it citizen.
I believe that someday americans will wake up and relize that rights given to us by free men and women that fought for these privaledges. our laws our out of touch with reality, we have truly lost our way.
It never seems to amaze me when i here of cituations
such as our boarders. when our soldiers are confrunted by armed forieners that they are told to stand down. are our leaders out of there minds, or are they making money off of the drugs, cheap labor and what ever else they can. I find it very hipacriticle that mexican drug dealer can escape justice, and the people charged with keeping our borders secure are sentanced, based on the words of a drug smuggler, and american citizens will be locked up for a fue grams of marijauna or what else forieners are alowed to traffic into our country.
bottum line there is a skunk in the chicken house, and it is all the chickens fault. one more thing
its hard to believe that our yuong men and women are over sea fighting for this corruption, we call justice. I hope someday we can staighten out this mess,and get back to what my family menbers have fouhgt for in many wars. mt grandfather told me before he passed away that the communist had infaltrated our goverment. at first i didn't understand now I do, someday as history has shown
americans will standup and take our country back and the people that get richer off the backs poor americans will someday be pointed out and shamed.

Although my local newspaper is not known as a bastion of journalistic excellence, I wanted to share with all of you reading this, that there is some integrity left in journalism. The Orlando Sentinel did not "go to bed" till 2:35am Thursday morning due to the late finish of the Orange Bowl. At that time, the miners were all thought to be alive, so the front page story reflected that headline. Friday's newspaper included a front page note to readers detailing the reportters' timeline in reporting the story and apologizing for the inaccurate reports. Kudos to the Sentinel and the publisher for owning up to tragic inaccuracies-- a breath of fresh air in this time of public figures and politicians doing everything they can not to own up and take responsibility for their mistakes!

Honestly NBC News. Own up to your responsibilities as editors. It's easy. Don't report unsubstantiated information. Ban on-air speculation. Demand attribution. Refuse to report rumor. Instead, say, 'We don't know. When we do know, for sure, we'll tell you." Do your job. Honestly (sigh).

For those of you are asking 'how is this the media's fault' and are appalled that the majority of the comments are critical of the media, I think you misunderstand.

Nobody is claiming the mining disaster is the fault of the media; the issue is the _reporting_ of that disaster. Who should be responsible for that reporting if not the reporters (and here I include those Mr. Williams terms 'civilians,' who passed on bad information)?
Personally, I am, or was, willing enough to accept that the mistaken reports were just the result of a series of unfortunate and heartbreaking compounded errors that really cannot be blamed on anybody.

HOwever, it would seem Brian Williams doesn't agree. When a media representative says with a straight face, In the light of day, media types and civilians alike were asking a question last asked during Katrina: Weren't they (officials) WATCHING the coverage on television?

I have to ask if he watches his own coverage. During Katrina the media got almost nothing right. So I sincerely hope the officials were not watching television. I hope they were busy doing their jobs.

It was MSNBC, in fact, which aired a report featuring MSNBC's Tony Zumbado claiming to have seen bodies stacked around the convention hall, bodies in the street, to have actually witnessed seeing two deaths right before his eyes, and then recounted four other specific deaths, bringing the total he claimed to know of personally up to six specific deaths plus those 'bodies around the walls.' The last I heard, there were only four deaths, which is tragic enough, had we not be misled by MSNBC in the first place. That report is still online here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9160710/
There is no correction on that page.

Given the absolutely dreadful coverage of Katrina by the media (is there anything they got right?), it is absolutely stunning to me that Brian Williams could mention Katrina in the same sentence that he demands in such accusatory tones, "Weren't they WATCHING' the coverage on television?" Why on earth would they?
It was also that demand, IMO, that made the media coverage the issue most responders wished to reply to. Mr. Williams is the one who implied criticism of the officials specifically for not watching the media coverage, bringing Katrina up as some sort of standard in coverage- and people are responding to that.

We all wanted a miricle. We wanted to prove God exists and hears our prayers. The Tsumani, Rita, Katrina, the fires, the landslides ... we wanted to prove that in a church loving town, God heard our prayers. Now our real faith is needed.

While we may never know exactly who passed on the eroneous information, I can say from experience that in situations like this, people hear what they want to hear. In this age of scanners, anyone could have picked up that first transmission. There were all kinds of local emergency personnel who could have heard it and could not resist the urge to get out their cell phone and call one person. I am sure there was quite a phone chain once the first call was made. Yes, the company should have contacted the families as soon as they knew that the first information was not accurate. I am sure all companies, emergency agencies, etc., world wide, will be discussing what happened here for a long time, and hopefully will be more cautious with their communication in the future. In a perfect world, the mis-information never would have happened, but in a perfect world, the explosion wouldn't have happened either. The story should have been the tragedy of the miners lost and the one who survivied. I do blame the media for their head-hunting tactics once the truth was announced officially. Perhaps the media was as upset as the families and were taking it out on those they interviewed. We will never know the true answer to that question either.

Brian, please tell the NBC reporters in West Virgina, to tell all of the families in that church, that all of us in Las Vegas and the whole nation, are praying for them...

Dear Brian,

Many of the bloggers are pointing fingers at the media, but the media didn't created the false information. False information was given to the media by sources who were in a position to know the facts. These sources should have been more careful, especially given the sensitive nature of the story.

Mike Smith
Las Vegas Sun

What happened to those men and those families is heart breaking. I'm sure that mine will not be the only prayers for them tonight.

But do not understand your comment about Katrina and officials watching television. If anything, the media's coverage of Katrina showed just how pointless it can be to try to get the facts from TV. The police there wasted resources on non-existent crimes the media reported. Time was wasted dealing with toxic waste that didn't exist and death tolls were inflated by an order of magnitude over the real and still very painful totals.

I'm sorry, but this is another example of the media putting speed above accuracy and not serving the public.

So, the media should report whatever rumor is floating about as news, and if it's not corrected immediately, it's the fault of the officials in charge, despite what larger responsibilities they have? Way to dodge any responsibility!

That's the way the tabloid press works... if the major news organizations are operating like the National Enquirer, maybe I should look elsewhere.

Too often the media is blamed for mistakes. We want to use the media for our own personal needs and then, when they fail us, we want to bash them. But the media did not fail us here. This was not the fault of the media, but the fault of the company itself. It was not the media's responsiblity to correct this mistake, because they did not make it. The company made that mistake therefore they should have corrected it. For them to wait that long to tell the media what they were reporting is deplorable. The job of the reporter is to report what is happening. They did so. Can we blame them that they did not say: "No company officials have confirmed this yet?" Maybe. But consider the hour. Consider the circumstances. These men and women of the media are humans not robots as they are portrayed to be. They hurt too and what a crushing blow it must have been to them to hear that what they had reported was wrong. I wish more people would think of that.

My husband and I were talking about the terrible news today and the horror of jubilation turned to sorrow. In looking at the erroneous headlines in papers across the country, I was reminded of the day after Katrina, when the media reported that New Orleans "dodged a bullet." Then my husband brought up an even older case, the early reports on the Titanic. Some newspapers reported early on that the Titanic was being towed in and everyone was saved. It seems the errors made last night have little to do with our fast-paced technology, but the age-old human desire to hear good news and spread good news. The intentions are the best, but when you're wrong, the results are cruel. Obviously the mining company and the media made mistakes. Word-of-mouth news in a small town was transmitted across the nation, with no filters and not enough thought. Sleeplessness probably made for poor judgment all around. However you analyze it, in the end you are still left with the anguish of the miners' families. It won't be forgotten soon.

Just another example of irresponsible "journalism" and the feeding frenzy we have come to expect over the past years. And it's always the innocent victims and their relatives who have to suffer. Frankly, I'm sick & tired of the news media beating stories to death (remember Whitewater? That was well researched, too, eh?) and I hope this mine disaster teaches them a lesson. Somehow I doubt it, though.

Brian:
Tell me please, that the lesson learned here is restraint in trying to outdo one another in a jam packed race to be the first and best. We as viewers want it to be done right. Families deserve it be done right. The world demands it be done right. Tell me that the NBC networks will lead the way to ensure that it's done right from this moment forward. God bless these families...

Regarding the press, I feel they simply wanted to report good news; they are humans after all, right? Objective or not, they were hopeful for better turnout for these men and their families. Should they have waited for an official announcement? Maybe. Could any of us have waited to report such wonderful news? I doubt it. It's a hard, terrible lesson for us all and it's also wasted energy. The focus should be on mine safety and improving conditions in them. As someone who grew up in Southeastern Kentucky, full of sweet and wonderful folks, beautiful mountains, and coal mines, I watched in deep sadness as the news unfolded about these poor men and their families. I was 9 years old when Scotia (pronounced "Sko-shuh") Coal Mine in Letcher County, KY, had several explosions and many men (26) were lost. A dear, sweet boy in my fourth grade class lost his father. This affects everyone because coal kept our community alive, financially and emotionally. My prayers go out to those people who have lost loved ones and to the members of the community.

the media is a powerful tool...last nite there was a huge mistake made...but more then one. but use the power of the media to find out if these mines are operating safely and what may done to make them safer for the miners. God bless those miners and their families.

To err is human. Therefore, we ought to set aside the immature charade of pointing fingers and truly celebrate the lives of these twelve unsuspecting miners who tragically lost their lives as we embark upon a new year. Even in death, life has always been celebrated and this incredibly unfortunate event should be no different nor should it be overshadow with such a dispiciable display of anger and contempt for those in authority. The death of these brave men is absolutely horrific. I can only hope and pray this tragedy will be used as an avenue to explore the real dangers, in a world so silent until now, that goes unnoticed all the while putting so many at risk....so many who willingly sacrifice their lives in an attempt to strive for a better future for their loved ones. May God's grace and peace be with these grieving families. And finally, thank you Mr. Williams, for being the epitome of what magnificient journalism ought to be. You have captured the mere essence of what true professionalism embodies. Our World is in dire need of more like you.

Mistakes happen and sometimes they have horrible consequences. This was a huge mistake with huge consequences. Let's move forward from this, and give respect to the coalmining community, the rescue crews, and yes, the media. This will at least aid the healing process.

Brian,
First, my prayers go out to all the families who have suffered through this horrific ordeal. I would like to add something to the conversation about the media coverage. Quite a few people are pointing the blame at TV reporters -- many of whom were filming LIVE on location when the church bells started ringing and people started cheering. As good journalists do, they kept filming and recording history in the making -- tragically, a very sad day in the history of that community. They continued filming what family members and other residents told them. I would've liked to have seen the news networks, however, remind viewers that despite what the families were announcing, that such news had not been confirmed or verified to the media by any representative from the mining company.

I believe no matter who said what to begin the gossip...every news agency ended the night with egg on their faces. I watched it live and it all looked like something that the Maury Povich Show left on the cutting room floor.
I simply do not understand why the families were not separated from the general public and in constant contact with all 3 "agencies" representing the trapped miners. The media should have all been in one building with limited access at appropriate times. Instead, everyone just seemed to be roaming around at will with no real organization.
Note that almost none of the families wanted to speak with the media so they were left with asking random little girls "You look upset...what's wrong?" (paraphrasing Anderson Cooper) What's wrong with this picture people?
I don't blame the media for the mine collapsing, I don't blame them for the initial miscommunication...but seriously, does the word "responsible" come in contact with the word "journalism" anymore?
We should all rejoice in Mr.McCoy's survival, pray for his eventual recovery and send our most heartfelt condolences to all the family members whose hearts were broken over and over again this week.
Their death is the tragedy.

Brian:
The media was so interested in being the first to report, they forgot the basic concept of reporting--confirm the story first!! The media needs to be more responsible before something like this happens again!!!

It is a shame. Very sad for the family's. Were was the PIO (Public Information Officer) when all of this was going down. But we should at least say that one did make it out so far and I pray that the this family can cope.

What we saw in West Virginia was not edited reporting but the raw data coming from the mouth of the mine and from the mouths of the citizens of Sago. There was little or no chance to check facts, no press conference. It is true that cable TV could have urged caution, could have waited until the miners appeared. But all of us watching were on the same footing as the media, had the same real time information, and wanted the miracle to happen. Now our hearts bleed for the bereaved.

Ironically last night, Brian, after watching TV
coverage of the attempts to save the miners, I popped in an old videocassette. It was NBC's coverage of the first 4 hours of the assassination of President John Kennedy. There, on my screen, was the late Chet Huntley and Frank McGee. No doubt they were covering a horrible tragedy of great magnitude.
What struck me was that about every few minutes, I heard Huntley, McGee and Bill Ryan stating, "This is no time for speculation. Facts are all that are warrented. Here is what we know." This is what was lacking from some, not all certainly, but some of the TV coverage of the rescue attempt last night.

The media had the report that the miners were safe from all sources...except the only one that mattered.
The mining company's official word. Instead, they relied on the word of family members who were reporting supposed "inside" information. And, then, some networks (not all) played on the jubilation of family members waiting for a storybook ending that, sadly, never arrived.

What would Huntley and McGee have said about that?

I watched the news unfold last night on MSNBC. Yes the coverage was about the "miracle". However, Bob Hager,news correspondent on the scene, was asked to comment about the news, and he stated something to the effect that he was clearly suprised and wondered why two hours after the news broke, there hadn't been any oficial word. At that time I thought he was being too cautious but then I also questioned why no Company spokesman had been heard from. Emotions run high and sometimes people only hear what they want to. Sad but true. There was a miracle last night only it wasn't quie as "Big". May GOD bless all the miners and their families.

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Posted on Jan 4, 2006 6:40:02 PM at: MangledCat