CBS Evening News Connects George H.W. Bush to Trapped Miners

Friday's CBS Evening News managed to link former President George H.W. Bush to the plight of the trapped miners in Utah as correspondent Nancy Cordes used archive video to show how Bush, when Vice President back in 1984, toured an Illinois mine with many safety violations that's owned by the same man who owns the Utah mine. Anchor Katie Couric introduced a story on how the mines owned by Bob Murray of Murray Energy have “been cited over and over for safety violations.” Cordes undermined Couric's implication by relaying how the “Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah has a better-than-average safety rate.” But, she added, over 1984 video of Bush wearing a hard hat as he rode in an underground truck, “the same cannot be said of this Illinois mine owned by the same man, Robert Murray, and toured by then-Vice President Bush senior in 1984. This mine has racked up $1.4 million in proposed fines so far this year.” Cordes noted how new mine safety laws are being phased in, but fretted that “new legislation being considered in Congress that calls for even tougher safety standards has been attacked by the industry.”

However, a Thursday Washington Post profile of Murray reported that “Murray has been at the company's helm since he founded it [Murray Energy] 20 years ago.” That would put the founding in 1987, meaning that in 1984 he didn't own the mine Bush toured.

That front page Washington Post article, “Collapse Is Latest Fight for Coal's Best Friend,” delivered a less than admiring profile of Murray as reporter Alec MacGillis related how “Murray has emerged as one of coal's most ardent defenders against charges that it is driving global warming, arguing on Capitol Hill and in interviews that restricting coal would decimate the U.S. economy.”

Cordes is the same reporter who in May scolded 41's son, President George W. Bush, for not wearing a seatbelt. My May 24 NewsBusters item, “Using Corzine as Peg, CBS Evening News Scolds Bush for Not Wearing a Seatbelt,” recounted:

As if President Bush needed any new actions for which to be criticized by the news media....In a Thursday CBS Evening News story on the federal government's Memorial Day weekend effort to get people to wear seatbelts, reporter Nancy Cordes maintained that President Bush “is taking heat” for not wearing a seatbelt while driving his pick-up truck at his Texas ranch. Cordes began with a new public service announcement (PSA) from New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine who was seriously injured in a high-speed auto accident (“I'm New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and I should be dead....I have to live with my mistake. You don't. Buckle up.”)

After showing how characters in television shows often don't wear a seatbelt, Cordes turned to Bush: “Corzine's not the only politician taking heat for his habits. The White House press corps wants to know why President Bush won't buckle up when he's tooling around his Texas compound.” But she had to concede, as she led into a clip of White House Press Secretary Tony Snow: “It's not illegal. He's on private property, but still.” As for “taking heat,” that heat came in the very last question posed at Snow's May 22 briefing -- so hardly a priority for any journalist but those at CBS News.
The August 10 CBS Evening News story which aired after reporter John Blackstone, in Huntington, Utah, concluded with how “since 1995 there have been eleven fatalities” in Murray's 19 mines.
ANCHOR KATIE COURIC: Bob Murray's mines have also been cited over and over for safety violations, but does that mean he and other mine owners are actually endangering their workers? Nancy Cordes has that part of the story.

NANCY CORDES: We've heard a lot this week about mines that rack up hundreds of violations. But what does that really mean?

ELLEN SMITH, EDITOR OF MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH NEWS: They don't have guards or they're missing on conveyor belts or on some pieces of equipment where someone could lose a finger or an arm or get their clothing entangled in the equipment.

CORDES: In fact, of the 31 fatalities in U.S. mines in the U.S. so far this year, the majority took place above ground involving equipment that malfunctioned or vehicles that overturned. With 324 violations, Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah has a better-than-average safety rate. But the same cannot be said of this Illinois mine owned by the same man, Robert Murray, and toured by then-Vice President Bush senior in 1984. This mine has racked up $1.4 million in proposed fines so far this year.

SMITH: They had a high number of citations for accumulation of combustible material. That's what makes mine a mine blow up. It's incredibly dangerous.

CORDES: Safety equipment that's commonplace in mines from Canada to Tanzania is rarely used in the U.S.: Things like two-way tracking devices for miners or underground rescue chambers stocked with food, water and oxygen. Laws enacted after the Sago mine disaster will help to change that. They're being phased in through 2009. But new legislation being considered in Congress that calls for even tougher safety standards has been attacked by the industry.

U.S. REP. LYNNE WOOLSEY (D-CA): I don't think they'd say they don't want to keep their workers safe. They want to keep their profits up.

CORDES: Mining is considered one of the most dangerous professions, but mine safety experts say it doesn't have to be this dangerous. Nancy Cordes, CBS News, New York.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center