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The Best of Us; The Worst of Us
The Best of Us; The Worst of Us
Crisis has a way of exposing the truth; disaster brings clarity to questions of character. Four days into the new year, the mine explosion in West Virginia brings out the best and worst in us and illustrates the stark difference between humble grace and self-centered disgrace.
The "best" was proudly on display as an entire community came together to support each other in dire times. Brave people lined up to risk their lives in hopes of rescuing their neighbors. For more than 40 hours, friends and strangers offered support and prayer for families in crisis. When the first fatality was discovered, the family of the lost man publicly offered their sympathy for the families of the remaining men and their prayers that they would be found alive and well. That was the best of human nature; the worst was soon to come.
Sometime later, someone (apparently a foreman at the mine) overheard a phone call from the rescue team saying that they had found the missing men. Without waiting for confirmation that they had, indeed, been found "alive", he telephoned 2 of the expectant families with the news that the men were alive. The news spread like wildfire as cries of "miracle" filled the air. Of course, the news media dutifully reported this "fact" around the world and many went to bed last night with a smile on their faces. Unfortunately, it wasn't true. Only one man had been found alive and he is, at this moment, in critical condition.
The president of the mine had been on-scene throughout the ordeal. He had given the families and news media regular, informative updates, but when the news of a rescue broke, he was unavailable for comment. In fact, no "official" spokesperson was available for comment, yet that fact caused no pause in the media's single-minded pursuit of "be first to put it on air; we'll check the facts later" mentality. And, just like the abysmal Hurricane Katrina reporting, the rumors started flying and each one was dutifully reported as "fact". This went on for more than three hours before an official announcement was made that only one survivor had been found.
I can't even imagine the crushing horror that this revelation must have brought to the families. In the beginning of the rescue attempt, it was widely believed that none of the men would survive. Still, as a family member, you want to hold onto hope. After 40+ hours of hoping against hope, the feeling of elation must have been beyond description. Three hours later, the feeling of loss must have been almost too much to bear.
So, let the finger pointing begin! I foolishly sat through a local 3-hour talk radio show this morning, listening as one caller after another pointed the finger of blame.
"We've got to know the name of the person who first claimed they were alive!" claimed many of the callers. Why? While I do not know his identity, I do know that he had friends in that mine (and possibly relatives). I do know that after working for more than 40 hours to get his friends out, this man was overzealous in reporting that they had been found alive. I do know that this man must feel overwhelming grief over the loss of his friends and his role in raising false hope. I do know that his error had nothing to do with their deaths. No one needs to know any more than that.
A United Mine Worker spokesman took the opportunity to assure us that this miscommunication "should have never happened" and that had this been a unionized mine, the union people would have run the whole thing much more professionally. Hey, way to exploit the dead to make a political statement, a-hole!
Of course, several reporters were on hand to express their outrage that this sort of mistake could have been made. They implore us to "think of the victim's families" while shamelessly exploiting their grief on camera. The reporters are portraying themselves as victims of some sort of cruel hoax; they, like the rest of us, demand to know the source of these rumors. I think I may have gotten a small clue last night while watching CNN. A man was running by Anderson Cooper and shouted out that the men were alive, and it was off to the races. This is what passes for professional journalism these days and CNN was, by no means, alone in their failure to confirm information from unknown sources.
Mr. Hatfield, the company president and spokesperson, is a little harder to understand. He has publicly admitted that he knew the truth shortly after the erroneous report had been made, yet he chose to wait nearly three hours before making the official announcement. What a stupendously callous thing to do. Why would any thinking, feeling human being do such a thing? His excuse is that he wanted to make sure he had all the facts correct before making a public statement. Come on man, people's grief is in your hands and all you can think to do is to cover your ass? Well, maybe we can begin to understand his hesitancy by the first vow - but probably not the last - by a victim's family to sue; not for safety violations or any such lofty ideals, but for the emotional trauma of erroneously being told her husband was alive. Is this what our litigious society has come to? Are we now going to argue for the right to not be disappointed?
Given the emotion involved, I'm inclined to hold out hope that cooler heads will prevail and we can begin to have a serious discussion about what went wrong here. I've heard reports of numerous safety violations at this mine, stretching back years. Where was the oversight by those in charge of ensuring occupational safety? Why did it take so long to get to the trapped men? There are plenty of serious questions that need answers, but this orgy of finger pointing and shrieking about who said what and when is counterproductive and an insult to the miners and their families.
1/4/2006 6:12 pm
Hi Joc I couldn't agree with you more! Even through I live in Virginia I had followed the news like everyone else. Hoping against hope that somehow they would make it out of that mine. It was not to be and pray for the men who died and the families that were left behind.|