The media stands exposed with egg all over its face, having once again published unverified news as “facts”, in the West Virginia trapped miners story.
The propensity of the media to publish what it thinks the public wants to hear, (presumably in the service of gaining readership or viewers), has never before been so much laid bare in all of its stark awfulness as it was last night. Herein the Ultimate Spin.
We watched breathlessly as CNN on the Larry King Live hour, and the rest of the pack (FOX News, MSNBC, etc.) report breathlessly to us that 12 miners had been found alive. Miracles! Glory be!
And a scant 3 hours later, they reported that they had got it wrong, sorry, actually it was 1 miner, the rest were dead.
The scenario of what goes on behind the scenes is not guesswork. The field producer would have called in to the program director with the rumor. The program director would have asked if there was corroboration. The field guy would have said no. The question then became how to run the story. The decision would have been made that the upbeat story should be run as fact and not rumor. If later proved to be false, well, then there’s two stories for the price of one.
They blamed “miscommunication”. But what they really did was willfully repeat what was only ever a rumor derived from outsiders listening in to rescuers’ communications, borne by a wildly excited unnamed enthusiast rushing into the church where the families were waiting and praying for the safe deliverance of their loved ones. Whoever this person was, only heard that the miners had been found, and the throng of relatives quite naturally assumed the best because they wanted to. And the news media took up their cry and rushed to publish without even a caveat, or disclaimer, that the report had yet to be confirmed.
This unverified news appeared next morning in papers such as the New York Times and USA Today as fact. Only West Coast papers had the time to make a corrected report. The L.A. Times had to recall its delivery trucks and destroy thousands of copies, and run a new headline.
Who’s at fault here? The mining company? The search and rescue teams? But these official sources did not release this false news.
No. The media, who got it wrong, cynically betrayed a trust to their readers and viewers, and are solely responsible for the grief it brought to countless people.