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NBC Savidges the Mining Industry

     Closing his story with a warning from an unnamed former miner that new safety laws are often written in blood, NBCs Martin Savidge presented viewers of the January 4 Nightly News broadcast with a one-sided call for more federal regulation of coal mining.

     Savidge didnt include any company officials or federal regulators, and he failed to point out that federal mine inspectors finished their final 2005 inspection of the Sago Mine a little more than a week before the accident took place.

     Anchor Brian Williams introduced Savidges piece by suggesting that the Sago Mine accident in West Virginia was already putting a harsh spotlight on mine safety in this country.

     Savidge began by noting that mining deaths in 2005 were less than half the number recorded 10 years earlier 22 in 2005 compared to 47 in 1995 but still used it as a springboard to present a one-sided call for more regulation.

     Critics contend the federal Department of [Labors] Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is now less a policeman and more a partner with the mining companies, Savidge warned, introducing a sound bite from Ellen Smith, publisher of Mine Safety and Health News.

     Savidges policeman analogy conjured a subtle image of mining companies as crooks, not as legitimate businessmen supplying the fuel for power plants that produce about half of the nations electricity.

     Yet Smith herself agreed in principle with the notion of regulators working in partnership with companies, adding that concern for safety has got to start at the top of mining company leadership for such a partnership to work.

     A few hours later on CNN, anchor Paula Zahn went straight to the top for answers, questioning International Coal Group (ICG) chairman Wilbur Ross about the West Virginia tragedy. Ross, interviewed live in-studio on the January 4 edition of Paula Zahn Now, told the CNN anchor that federal regulators finished their final 2005 inspection on December 22, a little more than a week before the accident. Ross reminded Zahn that federal authorities have the power to close the mine if they believe its unsafe.

     Rather than featuring Ross or another ICG official or reading a company statement, however, Savidge offered a mere half-sentence summarizing ICGs defense. Even that he quickly dismissed by featuring a clip of a victims son claiming the company was indifferent to worker safety.

     Savidge closed his one-sided dispatch with the thought that the tragedy may bring tougher regulation. As one former miner put it, new safety laws are often written in blood.