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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Talk About It ...
How Could the News Be So Wrong?

After midnight, the word got out. It crawled across screens during Penn State's overtime win in the Orange Bowl. People picking up their morning papers read it in headlines. Twelve miners were found alive! Heart-breakingly, the reports were wrong. A few hours later, the truth came out: Only one miner had survived.

Unlike other celebrated wrong headlines ("Dewey Defeats Truman") this wasn't a case of the news media jumping to conclusions. Here's a timeline of what happened, pulled together from various sources:

"At about 8 p.m. Tuesday, coal company officials announced that one miner's body had been found near the area where the explosion occurred." (Associated Press)

Before midnight: "Officials and rescue supervisors were gathered at a command post near the mine when the voice of a rescue worker crackled loudly over a speaker phone, saying they had found 12 miners and were checking their vital signs. Somehow, [coal company CEO Ben] Hatfield and everyone else in the room who heard the call believed they were being told the men were alive." (Los Angeles Times)

"Just before midnight, the roar of jubilant shouts from rescue crews near the mine entrance signaled that searchers proceeding cautiously 260 feet below ground had found all the remaining miners." (Los Angeles Times)

W. Va. Gov. Joe Manchin tried to confirm the information, and went to the command center coordinating the rescue effort. "When we got to the command center, they were ecstatic too," he told CNN. (N.Y. Times)

Shortly after midnight, a W. Va. official told reporters that the rescued miners would soon be taken to nearby hospitals. (NY Times)

"The news flashed out across the globe and into the late editions of east coast newspapers, where the encouraging headlines remained this morning because of the lateness of the second announcement." (Washington Post)

Within 20 to 30 minutes, officials knew a truer death toll, Gov. Machin told Today's Matt Lauer. See video titled "Victim's son quizzes governor" at MSNBC.com.

But no one informed the families for a couple of hours. Hatfield later said of the delay: "Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate?" (AP)

About "three hours" after midnight, "Hatfield told the families that "there had been a lack of communication, that what we were told was wrong and that only one survived," said John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was one of the trapped miners. ... Chaos broke out in the church and a fight started. About a dozen state troopers and a SWAT team were positioned along the road near the church because police were concerned about violence. Witnesses said one man had to be wrestled to the ground when he lunged for mining officials. (AP)

At 2:50 a.m., an Associated Press news alert stated: "Family members report that 11 of the 12 coal miners who were initially thought to have survived an explosion in a coal mine have died. The sole survivor is hospitalized."

What were your reactions and thoughts?


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