I’m about to say something that may seem cynical, so first: Seeing the Chilean miners (still being evacuated as I type this) emerge from the rescue pod into the light has been moving, inspiring and a reminder of the power of live television news to deliver a story of raw human triumph.
OK, now the little-bit-cynical part: the news story is probably a much-needed boost for CNN. A week after the debut of Parker-Spitzer, the channel’s primetime ratings are in a shambles; not only did the new show debut in fourth place (among five, if you count CNBC), but Monday’s Larry King Live cratered to a staggeringly awful 196,000 total viewers. The Chilean miners story, among other things, is a reminder of why people still have CNN on their cable dial.
That said, flipping around the cable coverage of the story last night, I found things to admire on each cable news channel. (Fox brought in Shepard Smith, maybe cable’s best narrator of breaking-news stories like this.) And I wasn’t especially interested in hearing King interview Jesse Ventura, of all people, on how his Navy experience gives him perspective on what the miners are experiencing.
Overall, though, watching the coverage into the morning, the story has shown off CNN’s continuing ability to devote professionalism, talent and reach to a big breaking story. Fortunately, the rescue is, knock on wood, still going well. CNN needed a bit of good news right now, and God knows so did the rest of us.
On that note, by the way, I’m reminded of an essay I wrote several years ago, about a less happy mining accident in West Virginia, and why stories like this have such a hold on us:
Mining… is a different kind of danger, and its disasters take us not just out of our routine but out of our time. The men—and they are still mostly men—risk explosion or asphyxiation, to say nothing of cancer and emphysema, not for a principle or a geopolitical end but to put food on the table. They hark back to Dickensian, even prehistoric times, when making a living meant chancing death.
The reminder that some people still do this—and that heating our houses and charging our iPods depends on it—is even more arresting now that such tragedies have become rarer. Particularly when so many Americans work in sterile, comfortable, safe environments, attention must be paid to those who don’t.