West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin says he was misled about the focus of a documentary in which he appeared and is warning the production company to either stop distributing the “propaganda” piece or face legal action.
Manchin said he thought the documentary was about mine safety, but it was in fact an attempt to clear film backer Don Blankenship, who is under investigation for his role as chief executive of Massey Energy, which owned the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010 when an explosion killed 26 people.
“The propaganda firm behind this shameful documentary never disclosed to me the intent of this film,” said Manchin, who was West Virginia’s governor at the time of the accident. “They lied to my face and told me this documentary was focused on mine safety, an issue I have been committed to since the Farmington Mine disaster that killed my uncle and 77 miners. Had I known the film was in any way associated with Don Blankenship, I would have never agreed to the interview.”
The 51-minute documentary -- titled “Upper Big Branch – Never Again” -- was posted online Monday and disputes the official report on the disaster issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which attributed the methane gas explosion to a series of safety violations by Massey. The agency also criticized the company for an alleged corporate culture that valued profits over safety.
In Manchin’s cease-and-desist letter Tuesday to Virginia-based producers Adroit Films, he wrote: “Your fraudulent behavior in securing the interview and your misrepresentation of my interview are actionable offenses. I expect you to cease distribution of this film and remove any references to my name, image, and likeness.”
The company responded Wednesday, saying in part that it neither deceived nor intended to deceive any interview subject about the film or its participants.
"Subjects were asked to comment on mine safety and mine disasters," Adroit said in a statement. "Each signed a release to agree to be interviewed for the film which was identified in the release as being about the Upper Big Branch mine. Information about Adroit Films and its projects is on its publicly accessible website, including information about a recent project produced for Don Blankenship."
Blankenship insists the cause of the explosion was natural gas, a theory that official investigators have rejected. The documentary includes interviews with “independent experts” who agree with his theory. It also begins with a disclaimer that the experts are "not in association or affiliation with Don Blankenship.”
Machin said he was interviewed for roughly 30 minutes for the film, which devotes only one minute and 32 seconds to mine safety. He appears twice, first talking about the importance of coal in the United States, then saying he had never heard of the natural gas explanation.
FoxNews’ Kara Rowland contributed to this report.