Emotional whiplash in mining tragedy
There is no easy way to find out that a member of your family has been killed. Families of the 12 miners who died in a coal-mine explosion in Tallmansville, W. Va., however, were put on an emotional roller-coaster whose apparently unintentional cruelty few can fathom. After three hours of relief and celebration, believing that their loved ones were alive, they learned that, in fact, only one miner had survived.
The incident does not reflect well on the International Coal Group mine managers, or on West Virginia's governor, or on the news media, especially the 24/7 cable outlets that descended on the small town.
One can understand wanting to believe in what one understandably hoped for. But going with a story that was apparently based on overheard and not fully understood phone conversations - which almost all the media, including highly respected newspapers, did - does not buffer one's credibility.
For consumers of news, the story should offer some lessons. Omnipresent cable news coverage highlights what most professionals learned long ago. In a major news story, the very first version, the first impression, the way things appear the moment you arrive on a scene, is almost always somewhat incorrect - perhaps only in small and unimportant ways, but sometimes in significant ways. It takes repeated questioning and checking to get the facts straight and events characterized correctly.
That carelessness, added to the agony of the miners' family members, only compounds the mistakes.
Coal-mine disasters are less frequent and less deadly than in years gone by. But that is no consolation to residents of Tallmansville who lost family and friends. Each individual life is unique and uniquely valued by those who love or are simply friendly with a person.
Death cuts off so much potential, leaves so many people with regrets and tears. An unexpected death strikes at the heart, reminding us in the most unwelcome manner possible that we live in an uncertain and dangerous world, that any of us could be taken unexpectedly. A death that represents the dashing of hope raised so high is especially tragic.
Mere words cannot express the sorrow we feel at these deaths, nor can any sympathy offer true consolation. Nonetheless, we offer them.