How the Times Mined for Controversy in WV

On January 2, 2006, a coal mine explosion in Sago, West Virginia, trapped 13 miners for nearly two days. Only one survived. In the aftermath, any doubt about the existence of an anti-George Bush agenda at the New York Times disappeared.

In a January 5 editorial, the Times, sensing a pile-on opportunity, and without any tangible evidence, made it clear where it thought accountability for Sago resided:

The Bush administration's cramming of important posts in the Department of the Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil, and gas industry is not reassuring about general safety in the mines.

Just as Hurricane Katrina forced Americans to look at the face of lingering poverty and racism, this mining tragedy should focus us all on another forgotten, mistreated corner of society. ... The dozen dead miners deserve to be memorialized with fresh scrutiny of the state of mine safety regulation and a resurrection of political leadership willing to look beyond Big Coal to the interests of those who risk their lives in the mines.

There was only one problem with the paper's narrative, and it took very little research to prove it: Up until Sago, by any objective measurement, mine safety had improved during the Bush administration's four years of accountability, both in terms of fatalities and on-the-job injuries.

Most obviously, fatalities had fallen dramatically:

coalminefatals1995to2005upd08.jpg

Notes:

  • The 2005 total in the chart is one higher than shown at the original entry.
  • I assume that Clinton administration accountability ended, and Bush administration accountability began, on January 1, 2002, because a new administration's first budget, appointments, and full implementation of its priorities typically do not occur until after its first full year in office.

What was especially annoying was that anyone at the Times could have obtained this information from the website of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in minutes. But the paper apparently had little interest in letting the facts get in the way of an opportunistic rant.