Mine Explosion Filmmakers: Manchin Wasn’t Tricked Into Participating

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is at the fulcrum of the national energy debate.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
April 2, 2014, 1:30 p.m.

The film com­pany be­hind a con­tro­ver­sial doc­u­ment­ary on a deadly coal mine dis­aster is deny­ing that it tricked Sen. Joe Manchin in­to ap­pear­ing in the film, even as the West Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat in­sists he was duped in­to par­ti­cip­at­ing.

The com­pany, Adroit Films, re­leased a state­ment Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon say­ing that it “did not de­ceive or in­tend to de­ceive any in­ter­view sub­ject about the film or its par­ti­cipants.” Par­ti­cipants, Adroit said, signed a re­lease be­fore film­ing and were asked to “com­ment on mine safety and mine dis­asters.”

Manchin, who is in­ter­viewed in the doc­u­ment­ary, has said that he was duped about former Mas­sey En­ergy CEO Don Blanken­ship’s in­volve­ment in the film, in which Blanken­ship says fed­er­al in­vest­ig­at­ors ig­nored evid­ence about the ex­plo­sion that killed 29 miners.

Adroit’s state­ment does not cla­ri­fy wheth­er sub­jects were in­formed that Blanken­ship was fund­ing or would be ap­pear­ing in the doc­u­ment­ary, but says that in­form­a­tion about a sep­ar­ate pro­ject with Blanken­ship was avail­able on Adroit’s web­site. That film — titled Amer­ic­an Com­mon Sense — con­cerned the cost of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions.

“The First Amend­ment to the United States Con­sti­tu­tion provides for the free­dom of the press and free­dom of speech for in­di­vidu­als and com­pan­ies,” Adroit said. “Every per­son is en­titled un­der the First Amend­ment to have an opin­ion and dis­cuss mat­ters of pub­lic con­cern, in­clud­ing Adroit Films and Don Blanken­ship.”

In a state­ment Wed­nes­day, Manchin ac­cused Adroit of prac­ti­cing “a pat­tern of de­cep­tion while pro­du­cing this sup­posed doc­u­ment­ary.”

“Nobody dis­putes Adroit Films’ con­sti­tu­tion­al right to pro­duce a doc­u­ment­ary,” he said. “What we dis­pute is their right to lie and de­ceive. They know­ingly omit­ted the fact that Don Blanken­ship, a man whom I be­lieve is re­spons­ible for the deaths of 29 miners, was fund­ing their pro­pa­ganda film in or­der to se­cure an in­ter­view.”

The doc­u­ment­ary re­leased Monday says that a buildup of nat­ur­al gas was be­hind the 2010 mine ex­plo­sion, con­trary to fed­er­al, state, and in­de­pend­ent re­ports that blamed coal dust and a faulty vent­il­a­tion sys­tem. In an in­ter­view on MS­N­BC, Blanken­ship said that his deni­al of man­made cli­mate change biased fed­er­al in­vest­ig­at­ors.

Sev­er­al oth­er par­ti­cipants in the film have since said they were not aware of Blanken­ship’s in­volve­ment. In a joint state­ment, pro­fess­ors Tom Heth­mon and Kim Mc­Carter of the Uni­versity of Utah Cen­ter for Min­ing Safety and Health Ex­cel­lence said that film­makers prom­ised them “that the doc­u­ment­ary for which we were in­ter­viewed was about the ad­vance­ment of mine safety stand­ards in this coun­try, and that Don Blanken­ship had no in­volve­ment, fin­an­cial or oth­er­wise, in the film’s pro­duc­tion.”

Ex­plo­sion ex­pert Mar­tin Hertzberg also told the Char­le­ston Daily Mail that he also was not aware that Blanken­ship was be­hind the video.

Manchin has vowed to take leg­al ac­tion against Adroit.

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