Letters: Sago Coal Mine Disaster, Lobbying

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Michele Norris and Robert Siegel read from listeners' letters and e-mails. The letters comment on our interview with a lobbyist about his trade, and our coverage of the Sago coal mine disaster. We also make a few corrections and update our story on the man dragged from his car and beaten in Milwaukee.


A couple of corrections start off our Thursday letters segment.


Last month we featured a story about a marketing firm that arranges for college students to promote products to their peers and we got the name of the firm wrong. It's actually called EdVenture Partners.

NORRIS: We also made a mistake in our feature on the band Soulive. We introduced one of our guests Alan Evans as Aaron. Thanks to listener Rebecca Evans of Miami for pointing that out and our apologies to Alan and Soulive.

SIEGEL: We also wanted to bring you up to date on a story we brought you from Milwaukee. A man was dragged from his car there and beaten in the street by a group of young people. It shocked the community and it seemed completely random. Well, now the man has confessed to Milwaukee police that he was in the area to buy drugs and that he had, in fact, met with one of the youths before the incident to discuss the potential sale. Milwaukee police have arrested and charged seven people in connection with the beating. Now onto your e-mails.

NORRIS: Fran Day(ph) of Franklin, West Virginia, wrote in about our coverage of the disaster at the Sago coal mine. She takes issue with the common characterization that coal mining is a way of life in Appalachia.

SIEGEL: Fran Day writes, `Coal mining is not a way of life. It is not a culture. It is a way to make a living. Often it's the only option open. Coal mining is a dirty, dangerous job. Lives are lost quickly as in the case of the Sago miners, or slowly as my uncles died from the black lung and other diseases. Reporters and government officials talk down to us, depict us as unsophisticated, uneducated and often just plain stupid. In the current coverage of the mining disaster, stereotyping abounds. The coal miners and the people of Appalachia are humans deserving of dignity and consideration.'

NORRIS: A number of listeners were unhappy with my conversation with Mike Berman. He's a lobbyist and we discussed the basics of his profession. Emil Brisson(ph) of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, writes, `Mr. Berman makes it all sound so ethical and upright. However, left out of the discussion is the fact that much of the lobbying is done for companies and advocacy groups that also make large contributions to candidates, thus ensuring that they have the ear of the legislators. This also ensures that the issues of the companies and groups have greater weight than those of the average citizen. The playing field would be leveled and the real issues debated if we had public financing of political campaigns. Let companies and groups make their arguments based on the merits of the ideas rather than the size of their contributions.'

SIEGEL: Bruce Peoples(ph) of Roswell, Georgia, was unhappy with the discussion but for a different reason. `Mike Berman did a poor job of explaining why lobbying is an important part of the political process,' he writes. `Lobbyists represent all of us whether you work for a corporation, are a plumber or a member of a religious order. What the press calls special interests are often our interests. In a properly functioning democracy, they provide information to our elected representatives on complex issues. Good congressmen weigh all the facts and opinions and make policy that is in the best interest of their constituents, you and me.'

NORRIS: We want to hear from you. Write to us. Go to our Web site, npr.org, and click on `contact us' at the top of the page.

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