All that coverage--the tick-tock rescue, the stoic families, the Dickensian boss--was just as expected except for a single missing element. Not once, in all five days of coverage, did a single reporter mention the organization that has worked hardest over the decades to make sure that mining management does not cut safety corners and that miners can monitor their own working conditions with impunity. The union went unmentioned, as did the fact that the Upper Big Branch workforce went unorganized.
As Tyndall chronicles, a few reports noted that reporters encountered many people in the field who were hesitant and fearful to offer criticism of Massey Energy out of fear of reprisal. "I assume that such intimidation derives from the fact that Massey Energy workers have no union to protect them. Yet that is something I am obliged to assume, since [the cited reports did not offer] it as an explanation."
Hey, with reporting that poor, maybe Rush Limbaugh deserves a pass for bleating this through his bellow-hole: "Was there no union responsibility for improving mine safety? Where was the union here? Where was the union? The union is generally holding these companies up demanding all kinds of safety. Why were these miners continuing to work in what apparently was an unsafe atmosphere?"
Per Brad Johnson, here is where the union was:
In fact, the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) "tried three times to organize the Upper Big Branch mine, but even with getting nearly 70 percent of workers to sign cards saying they wanted to vote for a union, Blankenship personally met with workers to threaten them with closing down the mine and losing their jobs if they voted for a union."
Blankenship rose in Massey's ranks by breaking its union mines in the 1980s. Blankenship said then that busting unions is "invaluable" to profits, as non-union companies can "sell coal cheaper and drive union coal out of business."
Tyndall closes: "So the next time you hear conservative culture warriors dismissing the network nightly newscasts as just another tired example of the same old liberal media send them this link to disabuse them of that stereotype."