Dead Coal Miners: The Advertisement

On Monday, October 4, the Washington Post published a special feature on coal mine deaths in the U.S.A. since April 5, 2010. If that date doesn’t ring a bell, it represents the day of the worst coal mine disaster in this country in four decades–the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed.

The Washington Post feature included a story by journalists David A. Fahrenthold and Kimberly Kindy, brief biographies of the nine miners who have died since early April (Thomas N. Brown, 61; Michael Carter, 28; Justin Travis, 27; Robie Erwin, 55; Jimmy R. Carmack, 42; Bobby L. Smith, 29; Wilbert “Ray” Starcher, 60; John King, 28; Jessie Adkins, 39 — it is important to say and hear their names), and a photo gallery from Montcoal that details the community, families, and after-effects of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

While I applaud the journalists and photographers for their continued attention to the ongoing deaths in the coal industry (and for not forgetting about the families in Montcoal), my applause ended when I clicked on the photo gallery to see Pulitzer Prize winning photograph Michael S. Williamson‘s images.

Many of us, unfortunately, are slowly getting used to being force-fed brief commercials before we are allowed to view news videos online. The link to my appearance on the BBC earlier this year to speak on the dangers of global mining, when I clicked on it this morning, was preceded by an ad from British Petroleum “Making it Right” campaign.

It’s one thing to be subjected to Xerox or Amway ads before watching the latest news from around the world (I can’t stand the ads myself, and always mute them). Yet to me, it seems, it’s even more egregious when a corporate energy lobby like purchases space to promote the industry that killed the miners. Yet that’s just what happened when I clicked on the Washington Post‘s photo gallery for this feature:

The advertisement accompanying “Deaths at America’s Coal Mines” opens with a symbolic sunrise over a coal facility. Viewers then hear the story about Daniel Connell, an engineer/project manager at Consol Energy, and his work on attempting to find ways to capture and store CO2 (a job, as the images show us, that occurs above the surface of the earth).

As we hear about Dan’s research, the advertisement shows us an iconic image of Pittsburgh, the once sooty industrial town that has slowly been transforming itself in the more sanitized post-industrial age. By contrast, mountain top removal operations in West Virginia or Kentucky, or photos of miners suffering from black lung like those of Les Stone, are–it should go without saying–nowhere to be seen. Remember, coal is clean.

If you visit the website of America’s Power, you can see the entire 2-minute video advertisement. Near the end of the piece, the lobby enlists Dan to proclaim the future they see for coal. “The technical pieces are all there,” Dan says. “The challenge is finding ways to do this on a widespread scale and also to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of the technology…” There is no mention of the miners who will die mining it–nor the mountains whose tops will be removed to extract coal, or the communities that will be devastated in the removal’s aftermath.

Only then, fortunately and finally, will the patient viewer be rewarded with Williamson’s photographs. And only here, in these images from West Virginia, will we see something beyond the “technical pieces” that are all there; only here will we see the utter and permanent inefficiency of the technology.

The text that accompanies the photograph below reads as follows: “Joan Adkins and Buddy Adkins hold a photo of their deceased son Jesse Adkins.”

Jesse died on July 29, 2010 at the Loveridge Mine in Marion County, West Virgina. The Loveridge Mine is owned by none other than Daniel Connell’s employer, Consul Energy.

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