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Dear Media: Help Prevent the Next Unnatural Disaster

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Stop the presses. The horror story unraveling in central Utah just lost the plot. Tragically.

The doomed efforts to assess the fate of six miners missing after a cave-in was the daily go-to lead for news outlets of all media for nearly two weeks. The "race to save trapped Utah miners" [LA Times, August 9] never quite seemed real -- a human interest spectacle rivaling that of serial programs such as "Lost" -- with an utter lack of real reporting to boot.

This morning's headline (LAT | AP | Salt Lake Trib) would seem to bring some sort of resolution to the fate of the six miners, but with three confirmed dead and more injured after a tragic cave-in halted hasty rescue efforts, six miners are still "missing."

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As Americans, we're constantly reminded to "never forget" and to consider "safety first." We were also led to believe that the tearful Robert Murray, co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mining operation was too sympathetic a character to be a shady businessman who cared more for greed than safety. Rescuing, if not confirming the fate of six missing miners was his sole concern and priority.

It seemed that however Murray Energy Corp.'s crack disaster aversion PR team crafted the daily presser, the media dutifully relayed it to the world with very little independent investigation and even less objectivity.

10-year-old Adilene Lerma's father, Natalio, is a rescue team member at the Crandall Canyon mine disaster. He was uninjured in last night's cave-in (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong).

The initial mine collapse, on August 6 at 2:48 a.m. MT triggered a measurable, 3.9 magnitude seismic event.


Early reports inadequately balanced Bob Murray's insistence (with all signs of guilt obscured by tears) that an actual earthquake triggered the cave-in and not the reverse, as scientific experts quickly concluded.

Many news outlets overlooked -- or at least gave a fair shake -- to Murray's false hopes for the next ten days. The feds (U.S. Mine Safety Board) backed Murray without question, claiming nothing indicated Murray Energy Corp could be at fault in such a disaster.

A stout, balding superman, or at least the disenfranchised, yet well-intentioned leader of a tragically misguided rescue mission, Murray was determined to save the missing miners by any means necessary. Smoke them out of their holes.

"I will not leave this mine until those men are rescued, dead or alive," declared Murray on August 7.

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Richard Stickler, Assistant Secretary of Labor and director of the U.S. Mine Safety Board, has insisted that the feds would not begin an investigation into the causes of the mine disaster until after the rescue operation was complete. Stickler, a former coal mining industry executive, was one of President Bush's controversial recess appointments, buddied into the gig despite twice failing Senate confirmation. At last count, Bush has made 167 personnel appointments that normally require Senate confirmation.

This is an unbelievable age in which our government is somehow incapable of preventing the most unimaginable disasters. The story of Bob Murray, the U.S. Mine Safety Board, and the tragic Crandall Canyon mine disaster is turning very ugly -- apparently in a not-made-for-TV way.

As recently as last year, Murray lobbied the Republican-controlled Congress to NOT pass stricter mining safety laws in the wake of the Sago disaster in West Virginia that killed 12.

This is not a blame-the-media tirade by any means. The coverage of the horrific spectacle of the Crandall Mine catastrophe is nowhere near as appalling and disturbing as the event itself. News media can be revived with the return of a genuine watchdog mentality.

For more dirt-digging and disbelief, see Arianna Huffington's August 14 column, "Why Are the New York Times and So Much of the Traditional* Media Neglecting a Vital Part of the Utah Mine Collapse Story?.

For more on Stickler and the sad state of our government's careless regard for safety and security, see Olbermann below (from Thursday's Countdown). I'm afraid to hear what KO and other reporters uncover today, in light of last night's tragically failed rescue mission.

Photos of Richard Stickler and Robert Murray both AP/Rick Bowmer.