CBS Passes Off Coal Critic as Dispassionate Expert

     CBS anchor Bob Schieffer used vehement coal industry critic Jeff Goodell as an unbiased expert on the coal industry in an in-studio interview on the January 3 Evening News. The very next day, however, Goodell, who will soon release a book critical of the coal industry, ran an op-ed in the New York Times entitled Black Gold or Black Death,  in which he attacked the coal industry while portraying miners as victims of corporate greed working extremely unsafe jobs.

     According to that op-ed: [T]here is nothing pretty about coal, as we have been grimly reminded by the plight of the 13 miners trapped by a mine collapse near Tallmanville, W.V., Goodell insisted. An editors note in Black Gold or Black Death informed readers of the Times that Goodell will soon publish a book on the coal industry entitled, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind Americas Energy Future, a fact that Evening News anchor also left out of his guests introduction.

     In his Times op-ed and a special commentary written in July 2002 for CNN.Com, Goodell attacked the coal industry as contributing heavily to pollution and global warming. He suggested in his Times piece that the best way to make his allegations about the coal industry stick in the public consciousness is if Americans see people suffering miserable deaths in Appalachian coal mines.

     Yet last year went down as the safest on record for the U.S. mining industry, reported London Guardians Peter Enav, citing a U.S. government official who tallied the number at 22. By contrast, at least 5,000 workers died in Chinese mines in 2005, where regulation and industry standards are much lower than in the United States, as are wages.

     Coal mining is a dangerous occupation, but hardly the most dangerous in the United States. In 2004, the last year full data are available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coal mining yielded 26 deaths on the job, the same number as animal slaughtering and processing and nine less than dairy cattle and milk production. It is far less dangerous than forestry, which yielded 106 on-the-job fatalities in the United States in 2005.

     Goodells hyperbole on the dangers of mining contributed to his attack on the industry under-compensating miners for dangerous work. Goodell complained in his New York Times op-ed that industry groups portray coal mining work as well-paid, echoing a complaint from one miner he talked to who says he cannot afford a new truck on his wages. Yet on a set-up piece for Goodells interview on the January 3 Evening News, correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi placed a West Virginia miners pay at about $700-a-week, which comes out to $36,400-a-year, a little over 10 percent more than the median income for residents of the Mountain State.