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The Entitlement of Don Blankenship « The Washington Independent

Since last month’s explosion in Montcoal, W.Va., killed 29 Massey coal miners, there’s been a great deal of focus on the company’s management style as it pertains to safety. This week, though, an editorialist for The Charleston Gazette lends a glimpse of Massey’s management culture through a different lens. And here’s a hint: It would make Al Capone proud.

In an op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Susanna Rodell tells the tale of joining the Gazette in 2003, after which the first visitor to the paper’s editorial board was Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO. At that point, Blankenship hadn’t yet attacked an ABC reporter; he hadn’t yet [spent $3 million](hadn't yet attacked an ABC reporter) of his own cash to unseat an unsympathetic state judge and replace him with a guy who would later help overturn a $50 million verdict against Massey; and he hadn’t yet been caught vacationing in Monte Carlo with another state judge even as the $50 million case was pending (that judge would eventually side with Massey as well).

Still, Rodell says she was put off by the “quiet arrogance” of Blankenship from the very first.

He arrived at our office with a PR guy in a green suit and regaled our little gathering with his Local Boy history: childhood in rural Mingo County, graduation from West Virginia University, working his way up from the bottom of the industry. **He then told us he thought it would be only fitting for us to give him a regular column. **(Emphasis mine.)

The Gazette, of course, refused the request. “We weren’t in the habit of handing out weekly space to anyone who asked for it,” Rodell writes. But it was a response that didn’t sit well with Blankenship.

He was clearly a man used to getting what he wanted and utterly convinced of his right to walk into the local newspaper and demand a forum. Once he figured out that wasn’t going to happen, we paid a price: He slapped the paper with a $300 million defamation suit. He lost the suit eventually, but it cost our little paper dearly in legal fees.

Blankenship isn’t alone in his feeling that the coal industry should have its way in Appalachia. The Bush administration also felt this way, Rodell notes, and was quick to appoint industry-friendly folks to head both the EPA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The results — a string of fatal accidents and a new level of disdain for the communities surrounding the enormous mining operations — were tangible.

Still, Rodell concludes, the abetment by lax regulators shouldn’t let Blankenship off the hook in the wake of the Upper Big Branch disaster.

“The Massey CEO’s aggressive tactics, combined with the recent anti-regulatory atmosphere in Washington, helped perpetuate both environmental and human disasters.”

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