Friday, August 17, 2007

The Utah Miner Story Takes A Tragic Turn (Thursday's Show)

Hi everyone. You might have noticed I slacked on Wednesday's show. I wasn't feeling well and the breaking nature of the news didn't make it very bloggable anyway. Speaking of breaking news, man, we've got some tonight. And it's of the actual variety too, which is why I'm forgoing my sarcastic all caps (although the "breaking news" tab AND the "breaking news" graphic together was kind of ridiculous). I'm also foregoing the standard review due to the circumstances. I'm sure most everyone has heard by now that during the search for the six trapped miners a seismic "bump" occurred, resulting in another collapse. At the time of this blog posting, three miners have been confirmed dead and another six injured.

We had Anderson Cooper covering four live hours as events unfolded. Now, I know some might argue that it was ridiculous to stay live the whole time when a lot of coverage just involved waiting to get things confirmed. I somewhat agree with this, but, you know, this is the nature of cable news. It's a 24-hour news channel and if you can't find breaking news on a 24-hour news channel, well, where are you going to find it? Besides, no way were they giving up those ratings (they'll be huge, trust me). The issue I've always had with things like this is that in another news cycle this may have just been a headline. There's such a randomness to it all.

Usually during breaking news my main criticism involves the requisite endless speculation, but given that this was four hours of nothing but breaking news, I thought CNN actually did an okay job with holding back. In fact, Anderson was extremely cautious, which is an apparent reaction to what happened at Sago. He got burned in the press a bit, though in my view his only crime was being the last man standing to cover the story. He probably felt singed on a personal level too because, man, it was quite a sucker punch to those us of just watching at home, so actually being there must have been horrible. Anyway, back in the current tragedy, I'd say CNN really didn't jump the speculation shark until they brought in Sanjay Gupta to, well, speculate. It was fairly ridiculous.

One of the things Sanjay talked about was what they saw going on in ambulances that drove past. I have to say, I found looking into the ambulances pretty exploitive, but I am going to have to give it up to CNN for at least hanging onto some respectability and keeping it at a wide shot. If you were watching CNN's wide shot, you could actually see people from other networks stick their cameras right up into the ambulance window. Completely disgusting. And while we're on that subject, at one point I flipped over to MSNBC to see how they were covering the situation and was horrified to find the camera stuck right in front of two extremely distraught people. Contrast that with CNN, who left out the exploitativeness and had Dan Simon only tell us about this scene. You can see why I only watch MSNBC for Olbermann. Props to CNN.

While, I'm giving out praise, I should mention that incorporating viewer emails was a nice touch. Props should also be given to Dan Simon, Gary Tuchman, and last but not least, Anderson. Our anchor handled an incredible amount of fast-changing information for over three hours with no commercial breaks (but they made them up in the last hour, let me tell you) and was somehow able to keep it all straight. But perhaps his finest moment was when he made a judgment call on air regarding disclosing one of the miner's names:
I've just been told the name of one of miners who has been taken to the hospital. This information came from the hospital. This is one of the rescue workers.
Before I say the name, though, I just want to confirm with our producers, and I want them to just double check that this information was intentionally released by the hospital, this was not just something overheard. Because I'm not about to say someone's name if their family hasn't been notified.

So I just want people at CNN here who are listening just to make sure this information is supposed to be released.
CNNers then check and we learn that:
Fine. It came from a producer on the ground at the hospital. But I just want to double check -- I just want to double check that it's not just an overheard conversation. So I'm just going to err on the side of caution on that. I'm just going to wait on that.

But we are anticipating a press conference from this hospital, literally, in the next two or three minutes. And I hope you at home at least appreciate the caution I'm trying to take, because I just don't want some family hearing the name of their loved one read out correctly, or incorrectly, even worse.
Then Anderson gets word on where the name really came from:
OK, it hasn't been officially released from the hospital. And it came from a hospital worker. I'm just going to err on the side of caution and not -- not announce this person's name. Clearly, there is at least one person now at this hospital. We don't -- we don't know this person's condition, but we do know the name of this person. But I'm not going to release it until it's official from the hospital, just out of respect for the family.
Now, imagine if he'd said it and the family hadn't been notified yet. They could have found out by watching tv, which would have been horrible. Good job, Anderson. I would have hoped the producer wouldn't have passed the info on if it wasn't officially released, but whatever.

Okay, I'm done with the praising. The only other thing I want to mention is that in hour two of the coverage Anderson speaks with a woman whose father and brother were in the mine. She implores that something really needs to be done about the safety of mines and as I listened to this, I couldn't help but think of how much coverage this past week-plus has focused on the mechanics of the rescue, and how little has focused on why mines are so unsafe. 360 has been all over the miner story, yet why is it that I had never learned the following about Richard Stickler until I read the Huffington Post?:

The man who will oversee the federal government's investigation into the disaster that has trapped six workers in a Utah coal mine for over a week was twice rejected for his current job by senators concerned about his own safety record when he managed mines in the private sector.

President George W. Bush resorted to a recess appointment in October 2006 to anoint Richard Stickler as the nation's mine safety czar after it became clear he could not receive enough support even in a GOP-controlled Senate.

Where was the coverage of this? Where was the indepth coverage of the legislation proposed and then passed after Sago? Yeah, coverage of that kind of stuff isn't sexy. Not ratings grabbing at all. But if it catches on it can produce real change. The woman on the phone with Anderson was right, we really need something done. So c'mon media, how about you do your part.


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