NEWS BLOG (WSAU) President Obama spoke at the memorial service for the West Virginia coal miners yesterday. 29 people were killed in the underground blast earlier this month.
The President’s world last night we eloquent, and perfectly appropriate for the occasion. But just a week ago at the White House, the President said this: “We know what caused this disaster. It was caused by years of safety violations and lax federal oversight.”
The truth is, we don’t know what caused this. Working in underground mining is inherently dangerous. We’ve made tremendous safety progress, but some mining accidents are unavoidable. And some of those accidents take lives.
People who work in construction will tell you a grim rule-of-thumb: One life for every ten stories. As safe as we try to make construction, there are tragic accidents in large building projects. Ask the ski patrol. Sometimes there are avalanches. We’re getting better at preventing them. Sometimes they just happen.
This is not the first time President Obama’s words have run ahead of the facts. He told the world during a prime-time news conference that a Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer “acted stupidly” when African-American professor Louis Gates Jr. was arrested. The officer was responding to a possible break-in at Gates’ home, when, in fact, the professor was trying to force his way in after locking himself out. But there is near-unanimous agreement that it Gates’ behavior that was appalling.
Every word that’s spoken by the President of the United States is recorded, published and available on-line. And sometimes what’s not said is more important that what is. I want to know what caused this tragedy. If possible, I want those circumstances corrected or managed so it doesn’t happen again. Assigning blame before an investigation is complete makes a solution less likely. Until the true cause of the West Virginia disaster is known, the President should hold his tongue.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau