Both candidates have used messages about coal. Mitt Romney ran two ads criticizing President Obama's alleged over-regulation of the industry the day after Alpha Natural Resources announced mine closures and layoffs. He also made a stop in Abingdon in southwestern Virginia, near the coalfield, last week. Obama continuously touts his advocacy for "clean coal" as part of his energy strategy.
"Coal has recently moved to the center of the message war in this swing state," Giddens reports. "The political story around coal in Virginia is rich -- but most of the coverage to date has been less so, and not only because ... most news outlets here aren't doing enough to fact check the ads on the airwaves." Giddens writes that they have largely failed to recognize that while Obama's didn't do well in coal country in 2008, in a tight race, every vote counts. "Coal miners are an eye-catching stand-in for the white working class," and both campaigns are trying to target that demographic, he writes. There's been very little push-back by reporters against "the narrative about regulations forcing layoffs at Alpha," when industry experts say the industry's layoffs are stem mainly from low demand, caused by cheap natural gas and a warm winter, which left big stockpiles of coal.
"The problem is that the context, perspective and expertise on display in some of the stronger opinion pieces has been mostly lacking in the political reporting on coal, whether it’s being done in southwestern Virginia or the state’s metropolitan centers," Giddens reports. "Even setting aside environmental concerns, as the candidates have mostly done while they present themselves as friends to coal, the news coverage hasn’t done enough to dig into the campaigns’ messages, explore coal’s influence on the race, or use this opportunity to explore the story of a changing industry and region." (Read more)