Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mine Kampf: In the days after the Sago mine disaster, the media are trotting out their follow-up stories on the issue of mining industry safety, and they make disturbing reading. Archetypical is this effort from The New York Times, which includes some disturbing statistics about the number of safety citations at the Sago mine and lax enforcement by the Bush administration: "Since 2000, 84 mines have not paid any citation levied against them that exceeded $10,000, according to federal records. Indeed, miners say that they are sometimes forced to accept unsafe working conditions in return for employment."

An earlier Times editorial made a more explicit link between the Bush administration's lax enforcement and the disaster: "As inspectors delve into the deadly mine disaster in Sago, W.Va., their starting premise must be that the explosion that choked off 12 workers' lives would never have happened if all the safety rules now on the books had been properly enforced."

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Howie Kurtz wonders why the story of mine safety was all-but ignored by the mainstream media for the past few years: "How many reporters have dug into the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration, which under the Bush administration was run by a former Utah mine manager until last year? About as many as did pieces, before Hurricane Katrina, on why a former Arabian horse official was running the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

Neither Times article, nor the Kurtz piece, seem to put much stock in statistics, perhaps because they might have contradicted the premise upon which they were built. The fact is that mining fatalities have shown a slight decrease under the Bush administration, from 38 a year under Clinton to 29 a year under Bush (I say slight, because the number of miners has also decreased, from 140,000 when Clinton took office to 108,000 in 2004).

There may be some logical explanation for this that does not undermine (no pun intended) the basic argument about lax enforcement, but if so I'd like to know what it is. As it stands, the media are just ducking the issue and hoping no one notices the facts that might get in the way of a good story. The blogosphere has actually done a better job of creating a robust debate about this issue, pro-administration and con.

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