Media Report Miracle Mine Rescue — Then Carry the Tragic Truth

An Associated Press dispatch first carried the news at 11:52 pm: “Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, more than 41 hours after the blast, family members said. Bells at a church where relatives had been gathering rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation.” But many newspapers, and all of cable TV news, reported the rescue as fact, not merely based on family claims.

A later AP account by Allen Breed grew more, not less, certain: “Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, sending family members streaming from the church where they had gathered during the nearly two-day ordeal. Joyous shouts rose of ‘Praise the Lord!'”

Anderson Cooper, the CNN host, ripped the coal company at 3 a.m. for not correcting the wrong reports for so long, but did not explain why CNN went with the good news without strong confirmation.

The Chicago Tribune, which had reported the rescue, later carried a new story on its site opening with, “Jubilation turned to anger early Wednesday when relatives of 12 coal miners believed alive in a West Virginia coal mine blast were told that 11 of their loved ones were dead. One survivor was in critical condition at an area hospital.”

It took three hours for the coal company to correct the reports. It is unclear why the media carried the news without proper sourcing. Some reports claim the early reports spread via cell phones and when loved ones started celebrating most in the media simply joined in. —Greg MitchellMedia Report Miracle Mine Rescue — Then Carry the Tragic Truth  (Editor & Publisher)

Basic Journalism 101.