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.
Read more from Brian Williams 2006
Late rundown changes
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Read The Comments I was pointed to this article via the corner. It's from Brian Williams blog and he asks the question: In the light of day, media types and civilians alike were asking a question last asked during Katrina: Weren't they (officials)...
Posted on Jan 4, 2006 6:40:02 PM at: