Reporters from CNN, CBS, USA Today, the New York Daily News and the Charleston Gazette examined media coverage of the Sago Mine Disaster that killed 12 miners and resulted in one of the most controversial media accounts of the 21st century.
“Searching for a Miracle: Media Coverage of the Sago Mine Disaster” was held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13 in the Mountainlair Ballroom on WVU’s downtown campus. The event was open to the public.
The event, coordinated by the WVU Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and sponsored by the university’s prestigious Festival of Ideas, covered the challenges faced by journalists covering the story, the lessons they learned and the role that 24-hour news coverage may have played in one of the biggest media faux paus of the century.
Panelists includes CNN’s Randi Kaye; CBS’ Sharyn Alfonsi and Mike Solmsen; USA Today’s Mark Memmott; the Charleston Gazette’s Scott Finn; and the New York Daily News’ Derek Rose. Kelly McBride, the Poynter Institute’s ethics faculty member, will moderate the panel, which was covered in its entirety by C-SPAN cable network and will be rebroadcast.
“The Sago Mine Disaster was a tragedy that hit close to home for us at West Virginia University because of our close proximity to the disaster. As journalism educators, it also provided us with a unique opportunity to teach our students about the challenges of covering crises in a 24-hour news cycle,” said Interim Dean Maryanne Reed. “We were proud to host this debate and felt it was our responsibility to help lead this national discussion.”
On Jan. 2, 2006, an explosion in the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., trapped 13 miners and began a two-day rescue mission to find and save them. Newspapers, radio and television reported just before midnight on Jan. 3 that 12 of the 13 miners had survived. National news broadcasters documented the families’ euphoria. Newspaper headlines throughout the country sang out in large black letter on their front pages the next morning that all 12 miners had survived.
In the end, only one miner, 27-year-old Randal McCloy Jr., lived, and the Sago explosion became the worst mining disaster in the U.S. since a 2001 explosion in Alabama killed 13 and the worst in West Virginia since the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster in Marion County took 78 lives.
But for three hours, family members, the media and the country believed there had been another “miracle” in the minds, much like the July 2002 rescue of nine miners from the flooded Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, Pa.
When the news of the miners’ deaths came at 3 a.m., family members were shocked and angered, and a nation questioned why they were told the miners were alive. Some newspapers and radio and television stations apologized, while others said they reported what they were told.