West Virginia has had its share of disasters with coal mine accidents, flooding and other catastrophes over the years. Apparently sitting in the backwater of news, West Virginia typically is forgotten about on the national level, unless dozens of miners are killed. Recent coverage of the toxic chemical spill highlights this and shows the right way — and the wrong way — to cover stories.
300,000 residents of West Virginia are still without drinking water after 7,500 gallons of a toxic chemical spilled into the Elk River. From watching the news reports Sunday, you might not have known it happened.
West Virginia’s latest disaster is a story that is very important to people beyond the mountains and valleys, but you wouldn’t know it from the news shows on Sunday morning which ignored the greatest environment disaster in America since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
What was so important that this story was denied coverage? Chris Christie and the dual scandals that have rocked his governorship. Yes, time is really of the essence here. There’s a full two years left before Christie MIGHT make a run for the presidency.
CBS’ Face the Nation was all aflutter over the fifth anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson water ditching of U.S. Airways Flight 1549.
When not talking about the plane ditching in the horizon, Martha Raddatz was absolutely giddy about an event that is definitely more important than the Elk River spill. Bao Bao, the four month old panda at the National Zoo, had her big public coming-out party. How exciting. The panda sleeps 20 hours a day.
Supporters of the morning news shows say that the shows are tightly booked and timed to the second, leaving no time to break in with the latest news. Really?
If we take a look back at just one week, we see Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, giving an urgent update to the bitter cold that gripped the U.S. From the Northeast to the Midwest to the South. As if that wasn’t news worthy, Mr. Schieffer went on to talk for 10 minutes about the 49ers and Packers game to be played outside, in sub-zero temps, at Lambeau Field.
Well, someone must’ve covered the poisoning of the water, right? Nope. A disaster that is caused directly by the presence of king coal and big money takes a back seat to cold weather and Panda Bears.
And Americans wonder why they’re so ill-informed.
Companies with deep pockets have always had a large say in West Virginia politics and news coverage. Freedom Industries enjoys a long tradition which was raised to an art form by Massey Energy, the company responsible for the largest coal mine disaster in the nation’s history.
Freedom Industries was formed by Gary Southern and Carl L. Kennedy II in 1992. Merging with three other companies on December 31, 2013, Freedom Industries has become the largest distributor of coal mining chemicals.
Freedom Industries has stored toxic chemicals along the Elk River in 14 storage tanks. The tanks, situated 1.5 mile upstream from where the Elk and Kanawha Rivers meet, constitute the largest collection of chemicals in West Virginia.
The spill which was first noticed mid-morning on Jan. 9, by Charleston area residents, was later confirmed by two Freedom Industries employees when they noticed leakage from one of the tanks. Southern claims that workers immediately began cleanup operations. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection disagrees.
When the department’s inspectors arrived at the facility, after being notified by Freedom Industries officials, the toxic chemical was still seen leaking through a containment dike and no cleanup efforts were underway. The Kanawha County Volunteer Fire Department found the source of the leak by following the strong, licorice-like smell. Inspectors estimate that by the time of the leak’s discovery, roughly 30,000 gallons had escaped.
Southern went before the cameras, and tried to do damage control
Then there’s always another way of how journalists should do their job.
Kallie Cart, a local reporter in West Virginia managed to corner the boss of the company responsible for the water crisis, interviewing CEO Gary Southern, Cart prevented him from cutting off the press conference — twice.
Lacking any clue whatsoever, Southern continually sipped from a water bottle as he tried to end the press conference.
When Southern started to walk away, Cart called him back, saying, “Hey, hey! No! We’re not done!”
“You’re not done?” Southern asked, sheepishly returning to the mike.
West Virginia and its population need to be shown that the rest of America cares what happens in poverty stricken Appalachia. In the meantime, West Virginians keep hanging in there and telling the rest of the country, “We’re not done”.
An Editorial By Jerry Nelson