Asked directly about the criticism he has faced for the way he managed his company, Blankenship said he was unmoved by it.
“I would prefer to be liked by everybody,” he said. “And I think I've done things that should warrant that. But I can't affect the way people think. Everybody has their own opinions.”
Blankenship’s financing of a documentary about the Upper Big Branch disaster has touched a sensitive nerve in his home state.
“I just can’t believe he’s doing this,” said Gina Jones, whose husband, Dean Jones, died in the blast. “He’s just rubbing our noses in it.”
Manchin, who appears in the documentary, said he was tricked into appearing in the film, and is outraged by what he called a “callous” attempt by Blankenship to rewrite history.
“Don is taking his millions of dollars that he made off the sweat and blood of the miners and using it now, trying to turn things around and vindicate himself,” Manchin said. “Now you talk about a cynical approach to something. That’s heartless. And that’s about as bad as it gets.”
The investigations specifically cited safety violations at the Massey-owned mines as having contributed to the deadly outcome. Davitt McAteer, a West Virginia mining expert, helped lead one of the official investigations into the disaster. The report he helped author includes a section about the culture Blankenship fostered at mines owned by Massey – a culture where McAteer said coal production goals were paramount.
“That is exactly what we call the Massey way. A disregard of fundamental basic principles,” he told ABC News in an interview. “These are not new protections. These protections have been around for 100 years. We’ve known we need to keep ignition source away from methane, we've known we need to keep away coal rock dusted; we've known we have to ventilate to push that methane out. The failure to do that - mines have a danger in them.”
Blankenship said he believes at least some of those who lost loved ones in the mine disaster will appreciate his efforts to promote safer conditions through his film.
“I know that if I had lost a loved one, that improvements being made in safety in his honor, and having a documentary that gives me at least a perspective of what actually happened – that I would appreciate it,” he said.
But that’s not what 10 relatives of the victims told ABC News after viewing the video. Those relatives said they continue to harbor strong feelings about Blankenship and his film, and they are not positive or appreciative.
“It was just like a slap to our faces that he would do this on the anniversary of this,” said Sherry Mullins Scurlock, whose brother Rex died in the blast.
“He’s just making us stand together harder and firmer, and we’re going to fight longer and harder,” said Clay Mullins. “He might have more money, but he ain’t got more fight.”