Digging journalists

Mine Saga | When it comes to the faith angle, few reporters even know the questions to ask

Issue: "Tools of a tyrant," Aug. 10, 2002

Down came the letters spelling out the latest meal deal at a McDonald's in Somerset, Pa. Up went a different message: "Pray for the rescue of the miners." After the last of the Quecreek Nine was pulled out of the 240-foot mine, the sign was changed again: "God gave us a miracle."

Details like these-and others like them-jazzed up dispatches from rural Pennsylvania last week. Stories took note of local calls to prayer and action. Television producers picked soundbites of grateful miners thanking God. National news coverage, print and broadcast, of the miners' saga clearly did not spike the spiritual.

But if the press conference last Monday with five of the miners released from the hospital was any indication, much of the warm coverage of the faith angle came about because details dropped into journalistic laps-not because reporters went digging.

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A reporter started the press conference by asking the miners whether they'd like to thank all the viewers and readers who were following their story. "I came today to thank everybody that was out there that helped us and prayed for us and dug in for us," answered miner John Unger. "And I thank our Lord God almighty, too." No follow-up.

Three questions later-one of which sought details on how it felt to sleep-a reporter asked about the "tougher moments" and "what carried you through it." Thomas Foy mentioned "faith" and will to live, which was followed by a question about whether the miners were "able to hear the rescuers above." Then, "What did you have for dinner last night or for lunch today?"

A long discussion of food ensued, including the tale of how the nine men shared a corned-beef sandwich and a Mountain Dew while they awaited rescue.

Eleven questions later: "Were you telling jokes or telling stories? How were you passing the time?"

"We done a lot of praying," said Randall Fogle. "I mean, that was No. 1, but I mean, we done a lot of praying." Again, no follow-up.

Several minutes passed before a reporter asked, "What was the one human trait that helped you guys live through this?"

So there you have it. The guy who earns minimum wage to change the sign at McDonald's has a better sense of spiritual cause and effect than do trained journalists.


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