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Fox News Reporter Jonathan Hunt Downplays Safety Problems At Massey Energy

Reported by Ellen - April 7, 2010 -

Jonathan Hunt joined Megyn Kelly yesterday (4/6/10) for a report on the rescue operation at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia where 25 miners died and four miners were still missing. ABC News reported that the company that runs the mine, Performance Coal Company, had amassed “scores of citations” from mine safety officials and that it was fighting or refusing to pay many of its steepest fines. ABC also reported that the CEO of Performance’s parent company, Massey Energy, is an extremely powerful figure in local politics who has driven out the United Mine Workers union from all the company’s operations except for a single processing plant. But while discussing the anger at Massey in the mining community, Hunt downplayed the safety violations by suggesting that many were insignificant, failed to report that the company was attempting to avoid paying fines and ignored altogether its antagonism to unions. With video.

During Hunt's appearance, Kelly asked “What are we learning, if anything,” about the mine’s safety record?" It’s hard to believe she didn’t know about their generally dismal record that included 600 violations in less than a year and a half, some of them for not properly ventilating methane — the highly combustible gas suspected in the blast. But playing dumb allowed her to go along with whatever Hunt reported.

Hunt understated the situation by saying, “This mine does not have a particularly good safety record would be the best way to sum it up.” Then he suggested that other, more dire reports on Massey’s safety record were overblown. “There are all sorts of figures out there about the numbers of violations and what those violations entail. When you hear about thousands and thousands of violations, over a period of years, Megyn, you have to decipher, first of all, which of those are very serious and which are very minor violations. So you have to dig down into it to really get a grip on that.” So wasn’t “digging down” and “deciphering” the seriousness of the violations exactly what Hunt should have done if he thought that’s what was needed to “really get a grip” on Massey’s safety record? It’s not as though Hunt had to really dig. As the Sunlight Foundation reported, Massey had garnered 202 violations in 2009 that were considered “significant and substantial.”

But in a neat sleight of hand, Hunt raised that doubt about the significance of the violations against Massey and then moved on. Kelly did not press him for the details he had said were important.

The fact that Hunt failed to answer his own question raised an immediate red flag in my mind. But when he went on to repeat his earlier sentiment, “According to all the mine safety experts that have been talking about this so far, this mine has not been particularly well run is probably the best way to put it,” another red flag suggested – to me, anyway – that try as he might, “not particularly well run” was the best face he could put on Massey's safety record.

So why would Hunt want to put the best face on a mine with hundreds of outstanding safety violations? Well, one reason might be that Fox hates unions and doesn’t want to give them a chance to say “We told you so” about a company that got rid of them. Another possible reason is that Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO, spent more than $1 million to sponsor last year's Labor Day Tea Party, also known as the "Friends of America Rally” which featured such Fox News notables as Sean Hannity and Ted Nugent. And last but definitely not least, Blankenship is also a big Republican donor.

Update: Brave New Films has a new campaign on Facebook to enact the Protect America's Workers Act.