What happened to the liberal media, part 2

Nothing like a one-sided report about one-sided congressional hearings. WVMetroNews – an operation that gives lie to the notion of some monolithic liberal media cabal – ran an article about yesterday’s EPA-bashing hearings in the U.S. House. Dutifully, WVMetroNews reported all the dire warnings from coal industry apologists about how the EPA’s recent enhanced scrutiny of coal mining permits threatened the very existence of the coal industry in West Virginia, including thousands of jobs.

Now, this was a terribly one-sided hearing. House Republicans didn’t invite any residents of Appalachia to testify about the impacts of mountaintop removal on their communities. No scientists were invited to testify about the extensive environmental damage caused by current mining practices. But, unlike the first hearing, this one did at least have someone from the EPA to defend the agency.

If your only information about the hearing came from WVMetroNews, you’d know that official was there, but you wouldn’t have a clue what she said. This is all the ink WVMetroNews gave her:

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was scheduled to be on hand to address the subcommittee, but did not show up.  Instead a second tier representative of her office was on hand.

I wrote about Nancy Stoner’s comments for a post on the Appalachian Center’s new blog. She defended the agency’s handling of coal permits and pointed out numerous scientific studies outlining the dangers to water quality and other environmental hazards associated with current mining practices that justify a stricter look at permits.

WVMetroNews readers wouldn’t know anything about that, unfortunately. It borders on journalistic malpractice.

Whatever happened to sustained outrage at The Gazette?

I know I’ve been out of the loop of West Virginia politics for awhile and I’ll admit I haven’t been reading The Gazette editorial page all that closely, but I had a true WTF moment when I saw this headline on a Gazette editorial this morning: “Election: Tomblin endorsed.” Really? Earl Ray? The Earl Ray whose mom has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars through the state greyhound breeding fund? Whose wife was appointed as the first college president in the state lacking a doctoral degree? (Mrs. Tomblin didn’t need a Dr. before that last name, did she?) The same Tomblin whose family ran one of the state’s largest distributors of “grey machines” before video slots were legalized?

This slimiest of politicians really rises to the top in an incredibly crowded field? (Side note: It would help me out here if anyone who is not running for governor would raise his or her hand. Thanks.)

This endorsement has the feel – and I say this from personal experience – of an editorial position dictated from the owner’s office that the writer – almost certainly Jim Haught, bless him – struggled mightily to justify. The editorial says of Tomblin that “no blemish has touched his four-decade career in public life.” Ahem. See paragraph one above. True, Tomblin never was investigated or imprisoned – which can’t be said for every West Virginia Senate president – but to say his political career has been free of blemishes is just embarrassingly wrong.

The main rationale the editorial gives for picking Tomblin is also embarrassing: If anyone else wins, West Virginia would have had three governors in office in one year: “first Joe Manchin, then Tomblin, then the winner of the Oct. 4 general election. That’s too much rapid turnover.” That’s what’s suppose to happen when you have an acting governor, who should be nothing more than a temporary placeholder. The editorial quotes statehouse columnist Phil Kabler as saying: “If anyone else wins, the new administration will have barely six weeks to assemble itself and prepare for the 2012 legislative session, a recipe for a disastrous session.”

I can’t find where Phil wrote this in a column, so perhaps this was an off-the-cuff remark. But it’s pretty silly. How would that be any different from any year when a new governor is elected? In fact, the new governor will have longer to prepare for the session, since he or she will take office after the special election in October rather than being sworn in just before the new session starts in January.

A newspaper that prides itself on upholding Ned Chilton’s legacy of sustained outrage ought to be embarrassed by this endorsement of the worst kind of West Virginia politician.

Addendum: Though I remain appalled by the endorsement itself, I thought I should make clear that my criticism is directed at what I assume was a directive to endorse Tomlin, and not at the good reporters and editors at the Gazette who do great work daily that would make Ned Chilton proud. If I painted with too broad a brush in my criticism of that decision, I apologize.

Throw the book at ’em

This is a potentially heartening development:

The FBI has informed families of the miners who died at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine that they may be the victims of a federal crime, the Gazette has learned.

If that disaster, which cost the lives of 29 miners, was the result of criminal safety violations, I hope Don Blankenship is the first S.O.B. charged, convicted and held accountable.

Putting a human face on coal tragedy

The anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster is coming up on April 5. My friend Ken Ward Jr. worked with Gary Harki to put together a really moving story for The Charleston Gazette showing the human cost of that tragedy from the perspective of Bobbie Pauley, one of only two women working at the Upper Big Branch Mine. She wasn’t working the mine that day, but her fiance, Boone Payne, was. He was one of the 29 men who died in the disaster.

Read the article. And remember the price paid by so many last year.

‘The Dark Lord of Coal’

Don BlankenshipIf I have one regret about rejoining the fight in Appalachia now, it’s this: I’m coming back too late to help get rid of this scumbag. Don Blankenship “resigned” as CEO of Massey Energy late last year, a week after Rolling Stone published this devastating profile. I doubt the two events were related. Massey shareholders had been growing increasingly restless with Blankenship’s Snidely Whiplash routine and, as the federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster heated up, his departure was all but inevitable.

Still, the profile was powerfully damning. It revealed Blankenship’s true self: the ruthless reincarnation of a 19th century coal baron. Blankenship didn’t hesitate to utterly destroy anyone who stood in the way of profit – whether it was unions or competing coal companies. He used any means possible, up to and including buying a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court – an act so brazen it led to an unusual U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing the Supreme Court justice installed by Blankenship to recuse himself in a $50 million lawsuit against Massey.

The article’s conclusion nicely summed up the tragedy of Blankenship’s life story: “Given his local roots and his business acumen, he might have helped West Virginia turn toward the future and imagine itself as something more than a landscape to be raped and pillaged by greedy industrialists. Instead, he has become just another coal baron, a symbol of all the worst impulses of American capitalism.”

Blankenship stepped down and Massey is being sold to Alpha Natural Resources. Everything won’t suddenly be right in West Virginia as a result, of course. But it will be just a little righter.