CNN Doc On Mountaintop Removal Falls Flat

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien took a major look at mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, bringing national media attention to the “rape of Appalachia.” Unfortunately, her “powerful documentary on mountaintop removal and the struggle to save Blair Mountain from obliteration” is told primarily through “eyes and experiences of seemingly embattled strip miners who are afraid of losing their jobs,” ignoring “the already displaced coal mining communities afraid of losing their lives,” writes Jeff Biggers.

The documentary is presented in a “jobs vs environment” frame that is “devoid of any actual analysis of whether that frame is appropriate,” writes Appalachian Voices’ Matt Wasson. In reality, coal jobs disappear once mountaintop removal is instituted, since it requires fewer miners than traditional mining practices. Furthermore, the rise in mountaintop removal has done nothing to disrupt the long-run trend of declining production from the Appalachians.

Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. is sympathetic to the “pretty balanced overview,” but believes the documentary failed by presenting coal as “the only possible future” for West Virginia’s children:

The problem was most simple. CNN interviewed Art Kirkendoll, who has been a county commissioner in Logan County for 30 years. They let him go on about what God does or doesn’t want done with West Virginia’s mountains.

But they didn’t bother to ask him about the fact that Logan County’s poverty rate is twice the national average, or why the college graduation rate there is one-third of the national average … They didn’t bother to ask him why kids in Logan County don’t deserve more than one option in life.

“It’s not just about ‘how a mountain looks,'” Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard critiques O’Brien. “Even though the segment falls short of what I hoped for, I guess I am glad to see MTR getting any coverage on cable television. I just wish they’d done a better job of it.”

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