STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE….Is the media to blame for reporting that 12 miners had been found alive in the Sago mine disaster, only to report hours later that they were all dead? Ellen Smith, editor of Mine Safety and Health News, says probably not. Instead, she fingers a different culprit:
Don’t blame the media. First, the mine owners did nothing to correct the misinformation for three hours, a mistake they admit. However, I also know that in past accidents, the press office of the Mine Safety and Health Agency has played a significant, and sometimes exclusive role, in successfully communicating with the families and media, allowing the company to deal with the crisis.
In this case, MSHA sent down Dirk Fillpot from Labor Dept. headquarters. Although Fillpot is not to blame for the horrific miscommunication that led families to believe for three hours that their loved-ones were alive, he has absolutely no experience in dealing with mine disasters, unlike two highly qualified and seasoned press people ? Rodney Brown and Amy Louviere ? who sat back at MSHA headquarters in Arlington twiddling their thumbs. And who was in charge at headquarters? Suzy Bohnert ? another person with absolutely no experience in dealing with mine disasters and the confusion that the situation brings, and who in fact, has given out incorrect information in the past due to her lack of knowledge of MSHA policies and past practices.
I cannot imagine that Amy or Rodney would have let this incorrect information go unanswered for so long. In the past, MSHA has stepped up to the plate when the company failed in communications during past disasters. It’s time for the agency to recognize its role in this media and family nightmare.