Thursday, January 05, 2006

We All Wanted A Miracle

When I went to bed last night, it appeared as though the miracle everyone had been praying for had become a reality. Fox News was reporting that the thirteen coal miners trapped in a West Virginia coal mine had been found, and twelve of them were still alive.

While the death of even one of the coal miners would have been tragic, every prediction I had heard, painted a grim picture for all of them: It would take a miracle for any of them to have survived given the length of time since the explosion occurred and the almost certain threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. It appeared as though a miracle for the ages had indeed occured, but the reality of the situation reared its ugly head approximately three hours later:

NEW YORK In one of the most disturbing media performances of its kind in recent years, TV news and many newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course.

For hours, starting just before midnight, newspaper reporters and anchors such as MSNBC's Rita Cosby interviewed euphoric loved ones and helped spread the news about the miracle rescue. Newspaper Web sites announced the happy news and many put it into print for Wednesday at deadline. "They're Alive!" screamed the banner headline in the Indianapolis Star. The Boston Globe at least added a qualifier in its banner hed: "12 Miners Reportedly Found Alive."

In many cases, the same papers stopped the presses later, after tens of thousands of copies were printed and distributed, to carry the correct report. USA Today, for example, printed an update under the headline: "Official: 1 Miner Survived."

It was "Dewey Defeats Truman" all over again. Some editors blamed officials, including the governor, for misleading reporters. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners--and were checking their vital signs. But what leaked out to anxious family members was that 12 were found alive. The coal company, it later admitted, knew that the early reports were false 20 minutes after they started circulating, but did not quickly correct them.

While it's true that the media as a whole made the unfortunate mistake of reporting as fact what had not been confirmed, I think they, along with everyone else, wanted a miracle. While that does not make what they did right, it does make them human.

There are sure to be many lessons learned from this tragedy and plenty of blame will be shifted and assigned in the days and months to come, but now is not the time for assigning blame.

Now is the time to pray for those who went from sheer exhilaration to utter despair in a matter of hours and didn't get the miracle they had so desparately hoped for.

Tag:, ,

Technorati talk bubble
Locations of visitors to this page