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It's a Snidely Whiplash Thing
When a formerly great American newspaper punts its legacy | december13.2022
By Douglas John Imbrogno | Editor, WestVirginiaVille.com
“Sustained outrage” — that was Ned Chilton’s marching orders to staff in the Charleston Gazette’s heyday in West Virginia’s capital city.
THE BULK OF MY FEATURE WRITING AND EDITING CAREER unfolded at the kick-ass-and-take-names family newspaper The Charleston Gazette, in the capital city of West Virginia. The paper’s legendary, often foul-mouthed owner, Ned Chilton, had some famous aphorisms reflecting the paper's take-no-prisoners approach to any public officials using their power to rob and abuse common folk and suck up power. The most famous was: "Sustained Outrage." This conveyed his marching orders to investigative reporters, hard-news beat reporters, and editorial staff to stick like a bloodhound to a story of misuse of power, corruption, and naked self-interest.
The corollary criticism — which was a dig at too-many local newspapers across America — was this: "Most newspapers have the attention span of a postal clerk..." (With apologies to hard-working postal clerks. His point was an indictment of all the newspapers that moved on way too soon from scandal or corruption coverage to the next daily story, without 'sustaining' their coverage so that abuse was finally rooted out.)
So, it was with sadness, regret, and rage that we media and writerly folk in West Virginia learned 48 hours ago that three kick-butt reporters for what is now called the Charleston Gazette-Mail were fired this week — Ryan Quinn, Lacie Pierson, Caity Coyne. This came after they publicly objected to an “Outside the Echo Chamber” podcast interview the paper's president, Doug Skaff, did with none other than Don Blankenship. As noted in my “Coal Country” review below, Blankenship was “the Snidely Whiplash of the West Virginia coal fields.” (He even looks like him.) Blankenship bears direct responsibility for the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia in 2010, which killed 29 miners and devastated miners families across the region. All because of his safety-quashing, oligarchic greed and soulless oversight of Massey Coal.
THE FACES OF THE 29 MEN LOST in the 2010 UPPER BIG BRANCH MINE DISASTER in WEST VIRGINIA
AN AWARD-WINNING OFF-BROADWAY PLAY, “Coal Country,” is a searing indictment of what went down, set to the actual testimony of West Virginia families, as gathered up by playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. The play is set to a Greek chorus of powerful songs crafted by the great troubadour Steve Earle. The play came to West Virginia for one night in May 2022. It was a blow to the soul to see it. As my review linked below notes:
I wasn’t planning to review “Coal Country” after heading this week to Beckley, WV, part of a pilgrimage of nearly a thousand people given free tickets to a one-night show, hosted May 9, 2022, by Audible Theater and Theater West Virginia. Yet in the vast Woodrow Wilson High School auditorium that night, my immediate physical and emotional response was profound:
Tears wetting my cheeks halfway through the 90-minute production. Hearing Grammy-winning Texas troubadour Steve Earle perform his gutting, original songs written for the play. Feeling long-smoldering embers of outrage, stoked again into a bonfire by tales of the cold-blooded handiwork of Don Blankenship, the Snidely Whiplash of the West Virginia coalfields.
The play’s anguish—and its significance—is the cry-from-the-heart testimony of survivors and families of 29 miners lost in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in Montcoal, WV, on April 5, 2010 ...
READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE: westvirginiaville.com/2022/05/coal-country-the-review/
THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE HAD A NATIONAL REPUTATION and many reporters outside the state dreamed of working for it. You could see why by studying the dogged investigative work of Ken Ward covering Blankenship and the coal industry. He simply gave no quarter to his lies and obfuscation, then backed it up with document production. It wasn't just coal coverage the paper excelled at. Raby refers to "Three reporters from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in West Virginia ..." He is referring to my friend and former colleague Eric Eyre's groundbreaking reporting that won him the Pulitzer, exposing how equally heartless, money-snuffling pharmaceutical companies shipped an avalanche of pills into West Virginia, helping to jumpstart the opioid crisis.
A VIDEO I AND MARIA PURDY YOUNG DID ON HOW THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL WON A PULITZER FOR ERIC EYRE'S OPIOID CRISIS REPORTING:
SO, IT IS WAS WITH MOUNTING OUTRAGE that the West Virginia mediascape and lovers of the old Charleston Gazette from its genuinely glorious heyday learned that the dilettante president of the HDMedia LLC company — which now owns much of the most high-profile papers left standing in the state — used the Gazette-Mail’s still considerable influence to platform Don Blankenship (a k a “American Political Prisoner”), in an interview discussion for the papers "Outside the Echo Chamber" videocast. The results were a body blow to whatever tatters remained of the Gazette and Ned Chilton's legacy. Stalwart AP reporter John Raby just posted a story about the tempest, which the Washington Post just reprinted. You know the caca has hit the fan when @WaPo picks up a local story. It ain’t local anymore.
AS THE STORY NOTES:
In response to a question about the dwindling coal industry, Blankenship calls climate change “an absolute hoax.” The comment goes unrebutted, even though scientists say their confidence in the fact that global temperatures are rising and that the increase is caused by human activity is equivalent to the scientific certainty that cigarette smoking is deadly.
Blankenship also is asked to promote his 2020 book about the mine disaster, in which he repeats his claims of innocence and blames the administration of then-President Barack Obama.
HERE IS THE WASHINGTON POST'S REPRINT OF THE AP STORY ON THE FIRINGS. PLEASE PASS IT FORWARD.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three reporters from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in West Virginia say they have been fired after publicly criticizing an interview conducted by their company president with a former coal executive who was convicted of a safety violation in connection with the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades.
Charleston Gazette-Mail reporters Caity Coyne, Lacie Pierson and Ryan Quinn said Tuesday that they were fired due to their comments on Twitter about the video interview, now removed from the paper’s website, with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
Quinn said no specific policy was cited. “The person who fired me said it was because I had publicly hurt the company on social media,” he said … | READ ON
PS: Listen to “Coal Country”
If you have an Audible account, you can hear the entire play. The music by Steve Earle is gripping and haunting. And the testimonies of the miners' families are the realest portrait of how the lives of laborers and commonfolk are devastated by oligarchic greed and unfettered, amoral corporate capiltalism: LINK HERE AND ABOVE