Dewey Defeats Truman?2006 Version
A Media Tragedy of Tectonic Proportions
Jan. 10, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 2
IN THE NEWS
Donald Dawson, 97, Dies; Master of Truman Whistle-Stop
Donald S. Dawson, who as a presidential aide marshaled Harry S. Truman's crucial whistle-stop tour in the 1948 election campaign and who later had a long career as a Washington lawyer, died on Sunday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 97.
—Wolfgang Saxon, The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2005
Joy Turns to Heartbreak as 12 Miners Confirmed Dead
Only One Lives as Initial Reports of Multiple Survivors Prove Wrong
TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. (Jan. 4) - In a stunning and heartbreaking reversal, family members were told early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners were dead—three hours after they began celebrating news that they were alive.
—AOL News, Jan. 4, 2006
In 1944, Sen. Harry S. Truman was picked by the political bosses to be the vice president during Franklin Roosevelt's fourth term. Four months into the job, FDR died of a massive stroke and this plain-spoken product of Missouri machine politics became president of the United States.
In 1948, Truman was the underdog for reelection. His Republican opponent was the slick former district attorney, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey was smug and short, with a little black mustache. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Theodore Roosevelt's outrageously funny daughter, said he looked like the little man on a wedding cake.
Although Truman was riding a wave of unpopularity, he dug in his heels and decided to run hard to keep his job. In a masterstroke of political savvy, Truman and his frumpy wife, Bess—who hated Washington, hated being First Lady and spent a great deal of her time back home in Independence, Mo.—undertook a 22,000-mile "whistle-stop" train tour that crisscrossed the United States.
According to the organizer, Donald Dawson, who died last week at the age of 97, "If the boss saw 20 people out of the window, he'd stop the train. The back platform of the train is where he really hit the people. Off the cuff, he was the best. And he was never afraid of politics."
Truman connected with the American people, and to everyone's astonishment, was reelected.
As with the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, Illinois was a pivotal state. Returns from the Chicago area were overwhelming for Dewey, so the early edition of the Chicago Tribune ran a huge headline: "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN".
When the downstate returns came in, Truman won Illinois—and the election. The following day, every newspaper in the country ran a photograph of Harry Truman with a huge smile on his face holding up a copy of the newspaper with the bogus headline.
Everyone had a laugh. It was all in good fun.
Nothing was fun about the West Virginia tragedy at the Sago coal mine that unfolded last week.
In the wee hours of the morning, television news gleefully proclaimed that 12 of the 13 trapped miners were alive. Joyful families were interviewed. Allen G. Breed of the Associated Press wrote the story and newspapers all across the United States ran with it, often embellishing the details.
The following day, the awful truth came out.
Twelve miners were dead.
As you might guess, I'm mad as hell.
A Bad Night
I fell asleep watching the Orange Bowl—that splendid match-up of teams with geezer coaches—79-year-old Joe Paterno of Penn State vs. Florida State's 76-year-old Bobby Bowden. I went to bed, woke up just before 1 a.m. and turned on my tiny radio to see who won. To my astonishment, the game was tied 23-23 in the third overtime, so I listened to the end of it. Whereupon the dog announced that he wanted to go out. So I stumbled out of bed, put my clothes on over my pajamas and walked the dog.
When I returned, I put on the kitchen TV and heard the great news that 12 of the 13 lost miners in West Virginia had been found alive. Going around the dials, I watched CNN's hotshot Anderson Cooper, Bill Hemmer of Fox News and MSNBC's whisper-voiced Rita Cosby, gushing over the great good fortune and interviewing anybody they could get their hooks into. The families of the lost miners—indeed everyone in town—were jubilant, and I was thrilled for them.
At the same time, I went back to bed feeling very uneasy. If 12 men had been rescued, where were they? Nobody seemed to know—not the cable news reporters, not the governor of West Virginia. They were expected for a reunion with their families; a news conference would be held.
The following morning, the headlines and stories in my Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times proclaimed the great news. So it had to be true.
But upstairs in my office, when I logged onto AOL I discovered the horrible mistake. Of the 13 trapped miners, only one came out alive.
A Breakdown in Communications
Throughout the day and into the evening, the "breakdown in communications" was being used by everyone as the excuse for the massive error.
The following morning, The Philadelphia Inquirer (which got the story wrong) stated in an editorial:
Officials from the International Coal Group must bear the anger of families who needlessly went for three hours believing a false report that their loved ones had survived ... The false report came from a "miscommunication from the rescue team, a miscommunication between that point and the command center," said International Coal Group Inc. chief Bennett K. Hatfield.
In an Inquirer story, "How the media got it wrong," Larry Eichel wrote, "To a large degree, this unfortunate and embarrassing error was the result of bad timing."
And in an utterly incomprehensible story in that same Inquirer titled "For the media, a bit of sympathy on miner story," Jeff Gammage quoted Drexel University psychologist James Herbert, a self-proclaimed news junkie, as saying:
I tend to have a degree of sympathy with the media. They're under constant pressure, twofold: one, to get the story right; the second, to get the story out.
Pardon my English, but this is all BS.
This isn't a case of "miscommunication," "bad timing" or "constant pressure."
What has occurred is a complete meltdown of journalistic competence across the entire United States.
My guess is that many of the stories were perpetrated by horses' asses who wanted to be able to regale their grandchildren about the time they yelled, "STOP THE PRESSES!"—which is every editor's dream.
Many in the media were flat-out unrepentant. Jack Lessenberry, ombudsman for The Toledo Blade, wrote, "We had the nation's major news services and governor of West Virginia saying the men were alive. I do not think a single editor in the country would have done things differently."
Why Jonathan Klein of CNN Should Be Fired
From the Jan. 5 online edition of Editor & Publisher:
Most bullish of all was CNN president Jonathan Klein, who offered no apologies and hailed his cable network's performance, which resulted in three hours of faulty coverage. He said the sourcing of the report that the men were alive was "pretty solid," adding: "This situation points to the strength of TV news coverage because we were able to correct as better information developed."
Gimme a break!
Instead of staying at the entrance of the mine and closely monitoring what was happening, CNN's new glamour boy, Cooper (son of Gloria Vanderbilt), was telling anyone and everyone that the miners were alive and asking for a comment. Hemmer of Fox News and Cosby of MSNBC were in town on the same mission.
When CNN, MSNBC and Fox News say a thing is so, it is so. The people believed them. The governor of West Virginia believed them. They all fed off each other and reinforced each other.
And the AP and newspapers all over the country went with the story.
And they got it wrong. It was lousy, sensation-seeking, incompetent reporting by the cable guys that picked up on a false rumor, and ran with it.
And two days later, CNN president Klein said, "This situation points to the strength of TV news coverage because we were able to correct as better information developed."
This emphatically does NOT point to the strength of TV news coverage.
It shows off its sickness.
These people broke the hearts of a West Virginia community and the nation.
Klein should be fired along with Cooper, Cosby and Hemmer. Let them be replaced by competent, experienced people.
Take a Look at the Front Pages
One of the most interesting Web sites for a news junkie is "Today's Front Pages" (http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/).
Every day you can see the front pages of 506 newspapers from around the country and across the world with hyperlinks to the individual papers' own Web sites.
On the morning following the tragedy, I looked at the front pages of every major newspaper in the United States and noted which papers got the story dead wrong. Not included in the list were those headlines with qualifications, such as "12 minors reported saved" or "Families report miners alive."
These headlines were unambiguous. Twelve miners were alive.
I run the list here for two reasons:
1. If you see your hometown paper, you might drop the editor a note suggesting that the fact-checking department be replaced and asking him why he or she is still employed.
2. I want it on the record that this was not a little giggler by the Chicago Tribune—as in "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" (even though that paper got the Sago mine story dead wrong).
Rather, this is a widespread failure of the entire media industry, and I want these creeps to be accountable with the hope that they will be more careful—a lot more careful—next time.
You'll note that The Washington Post is not included. In the early edition, it ran a page-one story by Ann Scott Tyson with the headline: "Miners found alive: W. Virginia Jubilant After 41-Hour Ordeal."
I didn't see that actual front page on the "Today's Front Pages" Web site; presumably a later edition was picked up. But the Post got it wrong on the front page, so you can add it to the Newspaper Hall of Shame that follows.
Here are the papers and their headlines:
Anniston Star: Miracles Happen in West Virginia
Montgomery Advertiser: Twelve Miners Found Alive
Tucson Arizona Daily Star: 12 of 13 miners found alive Scottsdale Tribune: 'They're alive!'
Contra Costa Times: 12 TRAPPED COAL MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Los Angeles Times: Suddenly, There Is Joy: 12 Miners Found Alive
Aurora Daily Sun: Miners found alive
Colorado Springs Gazette: Miners found alive
Rocky Mountain News: 'They're alive!'
New London Day: A 'Miracle' In West Virginia
Hartford Courant: THEY'RE ALIVE
Meriden Record-Journal: Miracle in WVa mine: 12 found alive
Waterbury Republican-American: They're Alive
Wilmington News Journal: 'They're Alive': 12 of 13 miners survive ordeal
Daytona Beach News-Journal: 12 MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Melbourne Florida Today: Miner miracle: 12 alive
Bradenton Herald: 12 MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Miami Herald: MINERS ALIVE
Panama City News Herald: 12 men found alive in mine
Ft. Myers News-Press: 12 found alive in W.Va. mine
Orlando Sentinel: "THEY'RE ALIVE!"
Pensacola News Journal: 12 WVa. miners found alive
Vero Beach Press Journal: 'They're alive': 12 of 13 miners survive
St. Petersburg Times: 'THEY'RE ALIVE'
Stuart News: 'They're alive': 12 of 12 miners survive
Tampa Tribune: 12 Miners Survive Ordeal
Augusta Chronicle: Twelve miners found alive
Savannah Morning News: 12 miners found alive
Idaho Statesman: 12 MINERS ALIVE
Chicago Sun-Times: 'They're alive!'-12 miners found
Chicago Tribune: 12 miners rescued
Suburban Chicago Daily Herald: 'Miracles Happen In West Virginia'
Peoria Journal Star: 'Miracles happen in West Virginia'
Crystal Lake Northwest Herald: Twelve miners found alive
Rockford Register Star: 'Miracle' saves miners
The Indianapolis Star: 'THEY'RE ALIVE!' IOWA
Quad-City Davenport Times: 12 miners found alive
Lawrence Journal-World: 12 of 13 trapped miners found alive
Topeka Capital-Journal: Mine miracle-12 alive
Wichita Eagle: Twelve minders found alive
Louisville Courier-Journal: 'Miracles happen:' 12 miners survive
Fort Mitchell Kentucky Enquirer: 'They're alive!" - 12 saved
Lexington Herald Leader: 'THEY'RE ALIVE': 12 MINERS SAFE
Baton Rouge Advocate: 12 miners rescued from WVa. mine
Shreveport Times: 12 miners found alive
Portland Press Herald: 'Miracle!' 12 miners alive
Lewiston Sun Journal: Dozen miners found alive
Boston Herald: MINER MIRACLE! America's prayers answered
Lansing State Journal: 12 W.VA. MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Port Huron Times Herald: Prayers answered: Miners found alive
St. Paul Pioneer Press: 12 miners alive
St. Cloud Times: 41 hours, 260 feet, 12 alive
Minneapolis Star Tribune: 12 miners alive
Omaha World-Herald: A miracle: 12 miners found alive
Nashua Telegraph: 12 miners found alive
Asbury Park Press: 12 miners found alive
Burlington County Times: 12 miners found alive in W.Va.
Atlantic City Press: 12 coal miners found alive
Newark Star-Ledger: 12 miners found alive as town rejoices
Buffalo News: 12 trapped miners found alive
New York Daily News: ALIVE!
New York Times: 12 Miners Found Alive 41 Hours After Explosion
Newsday: Miracle in the Mine
Syracuse Post-Standard: 12 Miners Alive
Durham Herald-Sun: Miner miracle: 'They're alive!'
Raleigh News & Observer: 'Miracles happen in W.Va.': 12 miners found alive
News & Record: 12 miners alive after 41 hours
Winston-Salem Journal: 'Miracle' happens
Fargo Forum: 12 miners found alive in W.Va.
Cincinnati Enquirer: 'They're alive!'-12 saved
Columbus Dispatch: 12 miners alive
Wooster Daily Record: 12 of trapped miners are alive
Dayton Daily News: 'THEY'RE ALIVE!'
Middletown Journal: 12 miners found alive
Cleveland Plain Dealer: They're alive
Oklahoma City Oklahoman: 'THEY'RE ALIVE'
Beaver Country Times: 12 alive
State College Centre Daily Times: Twelve miners found alive
Erie Times- News: 'They're alive!'
Easton Express-Times: 12 MINERS ALIVE
Doylestown Inetelligencer: Rescuers find 12 miners
Lancaster Intelligencer Journal: 12 miners found alive
Harrisburg Patriot News: 12 MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Philadelphia Daily News: 12 MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Philadelphia Inquirer: Joy at mine: 12 are alive
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown: 12 miners found alive
Williamsport Sun-Gazette: Trapped West Virginia miners found alive
Greenville News: Miners found alive
Rock Hill Herald: 'They're alive!'
Charleston Post and Courier: 12 miners found alive
Columbia State: 12 miners rescued; 1 dead
Sioux Falls Argus Leader: 'They're alive"-12 rescued in mine
Rapid City Journal: Miners survive
Knoxville News Sentinel: 12 W.Va. miners found alive
Nashville Tennessean: 12 miners found alive 41 hours after blast
Amarillo Globe-News: Miners' miracle: 12 alive
Austin American-Statesman: 12 of 13 trapped miners rescued
Corpus Christi Caller-Times: 12 trapped miners found alive in W. Virginia
Dallas Morning News: 12 of 13 trapped miners survive
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Trapped miners found alive
Houston Chronicle: Bells ring out for 12 rescued miners
Tyler Morning Telegraph: 12 Miners Alive
Deseret Morning News: 'It's a miracle'
Logan Herald Journal: 12 of 13 coal miners found alive in W.Va.
Salt Lake Tribune: 12 miners beat odds, survive in disaster
Burlington Free Press: Miners survive
Hampton Roads Daily Press: 12 miners alive
Strasburg Northern Virginia Daily: 12 miners found alive; one body discovered
Richmond Times-Dispatch: 'Miracle' in mine: 12 alive
Norfolk Virginia-Pilot: 12 COAL MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Everett Herald: 12 MINERS FOUND ALIVE
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Miners found alive
Takeaway Points to Consider
- "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it."
- What happened in West Virginia is the same sick syndrome that I wrote about in "A Superstar Crashes and Burns" (Nov. 17, 2005). In that case the CIA reported that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (CIA Director George Tennent said it was "Slam Dunk" true). New York Times reporter Judy Miller wrote a series of stories based on bogus sources that said the same thing. The Neocons in government said, "Hey, if both the CIA and The Times say it's true, it must be true. We will march on Baghdad!"
- Careers have been ruined by belief in rumor and false reporting. In a speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell—using PowerPoint illustrations—detailed Iraq's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. He relied on totally bogus information from the CIA and very likely discredited reportage by Judith Miller in The New York Times. No WMD were ever found. When asked if his reputation will be tarnished by his U.N. speech, Colin Powell said, "Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."
- In business, bad information is more dangerous than no information.
- If you—as an executive or a salesperson—are about to close a big deal, don't announce it until you have the final paperwork signed.
- "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip."
Web Site Related to Today's Edition
Today's Front Pages
- Alice Roosevelt Longworth
- Allen G. Breed
- Anderson Cooper
- Bennett K. Hatfield
- Bill Hemmer
- Bobby Bowden
- Donald S
- Franklin Roosevelt
- Gloria Vanderbilt
- Harry S
- Jack Lessenberry
- James Herbert
- Jeff Gammage
- Joe Paterno
- John F. Kennedy
- Jonathan Klein
- Larry Eichel
- Rita Cosby
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Thomas E. Dewey
- Truman Whistle-Stop Donald S. Dawson