August 15, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that a third borehole has reached a cavity in the Crandall Canyon mine, but efforts to lower a microphone into it have failed so far. The Tribune has the most extensive coverage of the rescue efforts, and in a blog post yesterday Arianna Huffington contrasts its performance to that of the New York Times:

… the Times has been thoroughly scooped by the Salt Lake Tribune, which uncovered a memo revealing that there had been serious structural problems at the Crandall Canyon Mine in March — in an area just 900 feet from the section of the mine that collapsed last week. And even AP did much better than the paper of record. AP reporter Chris Kahn wrote about the role retreat mining — “a sometimes dangerous mining technique that involves pulling out leftover sections and pillars of coal that hold up the roof of a mine” — might have played in the collapse.

Huffington charges the Times with allowing mine co-owner Robert Murray to dominate news coverage, keeping the focus on rescue efforts and away from factors that may have contributed to the collapse. Here are more examples she gives of details appearing in the Salt Lake Tribune but not the New York Times:

But we get precious little on the Murray who had enough political muscle to get a Mine Safety and Health Administration district manager who had cracked down on safety issues at one of Murray’s mines reassigned (clearly, contributing $213,000 to Republican candidates over the last ten years, as well as another $724,500 to Republican candidates and causes through political action committees connected to Murray’s businesses, has its benefits). The Murray who rails against the United Mine Workers Association, claiming it wants “to damage Murray Energy, Utah American and the United States coal industry for their own motives.” The Murray who called Hillary Clinton “anti-American” for saying America needs a president who will fight for workers’ rights, and telling a Senate committee this summer that Al Gore and Congressional Democrats are bent on “the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit.”

But in today’s networked world, this kind of news doesn’t need to appear in the New York Times to get noticed. Tom Bethel notes in his piece “Mr. Murray’s Misstatements” (published in The Mountain Eagle and posted on this blog earlier today), that Murray’s coverage domination is crumbling:

For awhile, though, he got away with it. Among the hordes of reporters who descended upon his mine were many who seemed to regard Bob Murray as bumptious but benevolent – even heroic. In the absence of any hard news about the hoped-for rescue, they floated soft pieces about the mine owner’s personal rags-to-riches saga (a Washington Post headline called him “coal’s best friend”) rather than doing some digging to see whether Mr. Murray’s self-serving briefings might be obscuring the real story.

Gradually, however, his Berlin Wall of bluster began crumbling. The first blows came from seismologists who reported that the “seismic event” at Crandall Canyon was the violent cave-in itself, not an earthquake triggering it. Then MSHA contradicted him, confirming that Crandall Canyon was indeed doing retreat mining in the area of the cave-in. Then, toward the end of the week, came reports that miners who had been working in the area had been fearful about their safety. Mr. Murray promptly gave those “rumors” the back of his hand.

But they were more than rumors. Most damaging to Mr. Murray was the news, reported in the Salt Lake Tribune on August 12, that the mine experienced “serious structural problems” in March – so serious, in fact, that mining had to be abandoned in an area not far from where the cave-in subsequently occurred, and mine managers called in a consultant to advise on whether that area could be safely retreat-mined.

Thanks to the reporters at the Salt Lake Tribune and elsewhere who refuse to settle for Murray’s simple narrative and are investigating the events that led up to last week’s collapse. Knowing the full story may not help the six miners at Crandall Canyon, but it could help prevent future mining tragedies.

One thought on “Huffington Blasts NYT and Praises Salt Lake Tribune for Crandall Canyon Coverage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.