More Bread and Circuses on The Home Front
guest post by Cujo359

Latest Outrage on the Utah Mine disaster.
image via: Dept. Of Labor – DOL Photo/Rich Kulczewski

Our “news” services continue to cover up for what happened at the Crandall Canyon mine. Karen Zaleski writes:

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips treated [mine owner Robert] Murray like a hero on Wednesday, the same day the Salt Lake Tribune reported on documents that prove Murray had pushed for risky mining methods at Crandall Canyon. Risky mining methods Murray has strenuously denied employing, but which may have contributed to turning his mine into a death scene for three rescuers and six miners.

CNN Nails Mine Owner Murray… With a Big Wet Kiss

It seems strange that the Salt Lake Tribune, one of the few news organizations that might be counted on to shill for a local mine owner and potential advertiser, is actually one of the few that have shown any real interest in the affair. Here’s what Robert Gehrke has to say about the cause of this disaster:

The Crandall Canyon mine was nearing the end of its life and mine owners were trying to extract the last deposits by cutting out the coal pillars that were holding up the massive amount of rock above the main tunnels.

Huge sections on each side of the main tunnels had already been mined with longwall machines. Once that coal was gone, the sections collapsed, leaving behind piles of rubble called “gob.” That essentially meant that the thick coal pillars that protected the tunnels were the only support for the mountain that rises as much as 2,200 feet above.

“Everyone understands that in the West you have tremendous pressure on those coal pillars from the overburden and they are subject to bursting or bursting of the ribs,” [former senior MSHA advisor Tony] Oppegard said. “In either case, that can be deadly for coal miners.”

In the Crandall Canyon mine, miners have for the past several months been cutting those pillars away, removing the last of the coal and allowing the roof to fall in.

Critics blast feds’ approval of controversial ‘retreat’ mining at Crandall Canyon

They’ve also displayed a rare interest in the victims of this disaster, which is to say they’ve done something beyond filming them crying or asking them how they feel:

Anger and frustration at Crandall Canyon mine co-owner Robert Murray has boiled over among some families who are clinging to hope that six trapped miners might still be alive.

Murray has been asked not to brief families anymore on efforts to try to reach the trapped miners after a confrontation with two families at a briefing this week, one of the families said Wednesday night.

Jackie Taylor told reporters that family members also are angry that Murray and federal officials are saying that any bodies likely will be left in the mine and not recovered.

Angry relatives of Crandall Canyon Six tell mine owner to stay away

Another news organization that has shown some curiosity is the New York Times:

[MSHA Director Richard] Stickler has been faulted for letting Mr. Murray claim center stage in news conferences and act as a go-between with the trapped miners’ families. He also allowed Mr. Murray to take reporters deep into the unstable mine days after the collapse. Most disastrously, he helped oversee a doomed rescue effort, in which two miners and a federal mine safety worker were killed and six people injured in a cave-in on Aug. 16.

Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah

Unfortunately, that curiosity is tempered with the knowledge of where their bread is buttered. The Times tries to explain Stickler’s failures away by saying that Stickler is a bookish sort of fellow, but as Arianna Huffington points out:

Stickler is a former coal company manager with such a lousy safety record at the companies he’d run that his nomination as head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration was twice rejected by senators from both parties, forcing Bush to sneak him in the back door with a recess appointment.

The Utah Mine Disaster: A Teachable Moment About Workplace Safety

The Times finally gets around to mentioning this on page two of the article:

In trying to block his appointment, critics highlighted Mr. Stickler’s tenure as director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety and questioned his management at the Beth Energy mines in Pennsylvania, where the mine workers’ union said mines he supervised had an accident rate higher than the national average, in some cases double it.

Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah

Who writes this stuff, the MSHA’s press secretary? Even when they actually take Stickler to task for his lousy safety record as head of the country’s mine safety agency, they do it in muted tones on the second page (below the fold, no doubt, in the dead tree edition) of an article. Even the article’s title “Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah” is an understatement of titanic proportion. The guy has spent much of his career ignoring mine safety in pursuit of profit for his employers. A better title would be “Mine Safety Leader Loses Last Shred of Conscience Down a Mineshaft In Utah”. Can’t anyone besides a blogger point this out?

Not to be outdone, Bob Murray posted this comment to Google:

August 22, 2007 – We are totally focused on the recovery of these miners and in administering to the welfare of their families.

The trauma from this natural disaster has been great for many, but we will not be deterred, and we will not leave this mountain until we achieve a resolution to this tragedy.

Google News: Comment by Robert E. Murray, Chairman & CEO, Murray Energy Corporation

I wish I had half this guy’s chutzpah. To continue to maintain that this was a natural disaster, when both mining safety experts and seismologists from the USGS and two universities have quite clearly explained that it wasn’t is a new low in this department. If we had a few more honest journalists in this country, it might actually be considered unnatural, or at least doomed to failure. As it is, he’s just working the system. Apparently, he’s working it pretty well, too. Here’s Richard Stickler, as quoted by the NY Times:

As for the deadly rescue effort, he said: “We felt confident we were putting in the maximum support and protection, and that there was no immediate danger. These mountain bumps are something you can’t predict.”

Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah

Yep. Those little bumps just can’t be predicted, can they? Except by people who understand physics and geology, of course – things you’d expect someone who is running the Mine Safety and Health Administration to comprehend. For that matter, anyone who has seen termites undermine the structure of a house could probably comprehend this situation. Yet the press largely refuse to call bullshit on either Stickler or Murray on this issue.

Has anyone besides Arianna Huffington and the Salt Lake Tribune called him out on this one? Doesn’t look like it. In stark contrast to the reporting of the “local” newspaper, the national news seems to not miss a chance to shill for the owner of the mine and his protector in the MSHA.

All in all, the press in this country have shown themselves to be the same sort of people who caused this disaster – people more interested in their own profits than they are in doing the jobs they’re supposed to be doing.