The Unholy Art of Spin

13 04 2010

Last Monday’s explosion in West Virginia Upper Big Branch coal mine in which 29 out of the 31 miners present at the mine died has been the deadliest since the 1970s. Records of pervasive safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine emerged. The heat is on for Massey Energy, the owner of the mine.

Amid flags raised at half-staff in the state of West Virginia, pleas for both answers and more stringent safety standards have been made. The industry felt compelled to unfold its crisis management strategy as greater stringency in mine safety requirements could have for effect of eroding bottom lines in the entire industry.

Strangely, in the realm of crisis management the U.S. coal industry and the Catholic Church were taking cues from the same PR handbook. I collected a number of statement made in connection with the Upper Big Branch disaster in order to apply what Maureen Dowd’s column “Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope?” established as the 6-step unholy art of spin.

“First: Declare any new revelation old and unimportant”

Don Blakenship, CEO of Massey Energy, was prompt to inform the public that safety violations in coal mines are part of the lifestyle. In an interview on April 6th he said: “I mean violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. You have inspections every day and it’s hard to differentiate sometimes between head count or number counts of violations and the seriousness or type of it.”

“Second: Blame Somebody Else –even if it’s the pope’s popular predecessor, on the fast track to sainthood.

Let’s leave the former pope out of this. There is a wave of finger-pointing going on. Who’s responsible? Dead miners? The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)?

In the same aforementioned interview, Don Blakenship said: [Upper Big Branch] was a mine that had violations. I think the fact that MSHA and the state and our firebosses and the best engineers you can find were all in and order this mine and all believed it was safe speaks for itself. None of these groups would have allowed this mine to operate had it been unsafe“. So in the end, the miners, the engineers and the MSHA were wrong about their assumptions. It’s not the company’s fault for pulling an Alan Greenspan either.

Miners however have blamed the Mine Safety and Health Administration for using timidly the powers that it has.

Third : Say Black is White

Rather than reiterating that safety violations in coal mine are a way of life Massey Energy has been trying to defend its safety record in a SEC Filing saying ” We do not condone any violation of MSHA regulations, and we strive to be in compliance with all regulations at all times“. “Most of the citations issued by MSHA to [Upper Big Branch] in the last year were resolved on the same day they were issued.” In fact, despite 20 employees killed at mines operated by Massey Energy [or contractors and subsidiaries], the lost-time incident rate is better a Massey.

“Fourth: Demonize gays, as Karl Rove did in 2004.”

This one does not apply.

“Fifth: Blame the victims”

See second item.

“Sixth: Throw gorilla dust”

In this case, the dust glitters. Here’s a quote from a New York Times article.

While blaming the U.S administration of reacting hysterically to the Upper Big Branch accident, Bill K. Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association stated that “750 people die each year in the U.S from eating bad or ruined potato salad? Do you think we could get some new laws put on the books to control these deaths?




One response

26 04 2010
ZLV-The ex-fed

I found this one very amusing!


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