Left: The entrance to the mine in Tallmansville, WV; photo courtesy of L'express.
(Toledo, OH) By now the story has been out for over 24 hours; unless you have been in hibernation for the past few days, you know that something went horribly wrong in the dissemination of the news regarding the status of the 13 miners trapped after an an underground explosion in Sago, WV.
Instead of passing along the news that 12 of the 13 workers were killed, the message was inverted. Hundreds of residents of the small Appalachian town spent several hours with a false sense that they had been party to a miracle, and then found themselves dragged to the opposite end of the emotions spectrum when the truth finally arrived like a helmet-to-helmet collision (historymike is still cringing from watching Matt Leinart get drilled on that tremendous hit he took in the Rose Bowl last night).
We may never know the original source of the false rumor, but one thing is certain: the members of the media and their drive for a scoop played an important part in the propagation of the spurious communication. The media is now camped out at the hospital in which sole survivor Randal McCloy clings to life, hoping to be the first to report on his condition.
As a journalist I have felt that all-consuming impulse to get the story out at any cost, and it is both exhilarating and sickening. During the October 15 riot in North Toledo, I was able to get some of the first written accounts of what was happening out to the world, which gave me a sense of importance, that I was a critical cog in the machine of knowledge.
Simultaneously, though, there were more than a few times when I wanted to stop being a journalist and play peacemaker; Toledo, after all, is the city in which I live and work, and I felt that my work as a journalist could be part of the reason the anger of the crowd crossed over into illegal activity. I was disturbed by the nonchalance of some of my fellow journalists, and felt like a vulture lurking near fresh carrion.
Anderson Cooper of CNN first "broke" the story of the false miracle, and was one of the first to get the correction. I like Cooper, and I think his from-the-hip blistering retort to a clueless Senator Mary Landrieu was dead on during her smarmy interview with him in the midst of the New Orleans disaster. However, Cooper in a way represents the very problem in Sago: this incessant itch to get the news first can cause recklessness with outcomes that are disturbing.
In my rush to get a story out once, I inadvertantly endangered someone. Luckily for me and the other person, the issue resolved itself, but I know firsthand the dangers of becoming entranced with the beautiful serenade of the Sirens.
Unfortunately in Sago, the song was too delightful for many members of the media to ignore, and hundreds of people suffered - in part - because reporters succumbed to the temptation of the scoop.