...busting up my brains for the words

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Media sloppiness and limitations

It's a big, bad world of half-truths and mischaracterizations and yes, even a little bit of truth out there. Consumers of news must find those sources that are credible. The series of events that transpired in the coal mines of Tallmansville, West Virginia and then by extension, the nation's news media is instructive. If you think you know where I'm headed with this, then keep reading because I'm going somewhere else entirely.

One of the prime sources of news I utilize is the Hugh Hewitt Show. But he let me down today. Fortunately, I have the Internet to clarify the facts for me. Listening to the HH Show this Wednesday evening, he took a phone call from a woman right here in my home town of Minneapolis. She reported that the StarTribune had carried the false front page story that the 12 miners were recovered alive. Hugh remarked that he wasn't aware that any newspapers had gotten the story wrong and went on to point out that the Strib is one of the worst papers in the country. Hugh, who lives and broadcasts from California, is at the opposite end of the lower 48 from West Virginia. That puts him into four hours of time lag from the Eastern Time Zone. Consequently, the newspapers Hugh reads had plenty of time to correct their story before going to press. I find that odd, as according to Mr. Hewitt, he doesn't read the papers. So why then, did he say he wasn't aware that any papers had miscarried the story? Many of them miscarried the story. The Strib story, for example, was carried from the Washington Post.
Hugh then went on to lambast the newspapers.
"They are lazy. They don't check their facts.", says Hugh.

Well, it turns out that many of them actually did check their facts.

Television also got the story wrong;

"We didn't take the family's word for it," "Nightline" executive producer James Goldston said. "We had confirmation from two separate, very well-sourced people involved in the rescue, from a very high level. They both told us repeatedly the same information. We had five or six separate sources. By our reckoning, it was enough to go with, and we went with it."
But the sources were just wrong. Does Hugh expect the papers to fly a reporter out to Tallmansville and dig into the mine shaft himself to uncover the true facts? It turns out that the Governor of the State of West Virginia was sourced. He thought the false story was true. As we all know, the family members of the miners thought the false story was true. The mining company was incommunicative on the matter while they tried to gather more information.
Hugh urges us to cancel our newspaper subscriptions. I'm not going to disagree with that advice. I don't subscribe to any papers and for the same reasons Hugh cites, I don't intend to.

Hugh also challenges any newspaper person to phone his show if they want to disagree with him on the accuracy of newspapers. I hope James Lileks will take him up on that challenge. If Lileks is aware of the challenge, I think he will, as the Strib is his employer.

Here's the way I see it. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody's wrong sometimes, including news reporters, "radio shock jocks" and yes, bloggers. The key question is, does your favorite news source correct itself in a competent manner and in a competent time frame? On a story such as this mining story, which is essentially a human story, 24 hours will pass and these media will have time to correct. What's the problem? To my mind, the real problem might be the mining company. Why did they wait three hours to correct the information? This is literally a life and death issue. The mining company should have a well defined policy regarding control of information to avoid this terrible sort of thing from ever happening. You don't play yo-yo with mining family's heart strings. I understand the control of information was lost because someone misunderstood a telephone communication. As soon as the mining company learned that the town was celebrating, they should have issued a corrective, even if only a limited corrective.

Three hours is a long time to be overjoyed that your family member has been saved from a horrible death in the mines. Consumers of news media around the country might have been under the thumb of false information for at least that long before word of mouth or a television update corrected. But those folks around the country are not, most of them, family.

What's the lesson? Simple. No matter what your political persuasion, for the love of Mike, get your news from a variety of sources. Don't depend on just one or two, especially if they happen to be the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Hugh Hewitt is right. MSM is lazy and biased. But I think he's overplaying his case on this miner story. The lost lives of the miners, each and every one of them, is tragic and terrible. But since this really is just a "human" story, it will be easily corrected. This, unlike other more egregiously mischaracterized stories the msm never corrects regarding the war in Iraq or Joe Wilson, III. And so far as I know, no further lives were jeopardized through the false reports coming out of West Virginia.


  • At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Rob said…


    Check out our SD63 Blogosphere Dinner

    New Media vs. Old Media

    Should be a good time!


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