The New York Times claimed that concerns about the potentially hazardous effects from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, are overblown by “right-wing commentators” that seek to “sow distrust” in government agencies.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals present on the train to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have propelled shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was released from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Despite multiple state and federal agencies insisting that the air and water supplies were not affected by the incident, residents and first responders have noted a lingering smell in the air, an oily chemical sheen in local creeks and rivers, sudden deaths among wildlife and livestock, and worrisome health impacts such as sore throats and headaches. Carter Andrews, who is part of a team of staff members with The Daily Wire on the ground in East Palestine, said his “eyes sting” and his “head is throbbing” after spending time in the town.
Stuart Thompson, a reporter with The New York Times who covers “misinformation and disinformation,” admitted in a Thursday article that the smell and the dead wildlife are worrying residents. He nevertheless claimed that the handful of media outlets covering the incident, especially those which lean conservative, are exaggerating the possible impact of the crisis.
“For many commentators from across the political spectrum, the speculation has gone far beyond known facts,” Thompson wrote. “Right-wing commentators have been particularly critical, using the crisis to sow distrust about government agencies and suggest that the damage could be irreparable.”
Thompson noted that some commentators have indeed speculated that the disaster could be “Chernobyl 2.0” or could have been the result of a “planned attack.” He meanwhile took statements from the EPA and other agencies claiming that air and water supplies are safe at face value.
“They warned, without evidence, that vital water reservoirs serving states downriver could be badly contaminated. And they suggested that the authorities, railroad companies and mainstream news media were purposefully obscuring the full toll of the crisis,” he continued. “The EPA has said air quality has returned to safe levels. Residents have been allowed to return. A chemical odor lingers because people can smell the contaminants even when they are far below hazardous concentrations, according to the agency. Water testing found ‘no indication of risk’ to public water systems so far.”
The article from The New York Times comes as several legacy media outlets granted minimal attention to the derailment and subsequent fallout. Analysts from the Media Research Center examined all broadcast coverage of the incident between February 4 and February 14; the conservative nonprofit concluded that CBS devoted a mere 9 minutes and 53 seconds of total airtime to the scandal, while ABC had 9 minutes and 31 seconds, followed by NBC with 8 minutes and 52 seconds.
“Rather than healthy skepticism, reporters approached statements by Norfolk Southern and the Ohio EPA, both of whom had a blatant incentive to downplay the seriousness of the situation, with slavish credulity,” analysts at the Media Research Center noted. “Perhaps this explains why they haven’t gone back to the story: because they abandoned it too early before asking any meaningful questions. For the broadcast networks to revisit East Palestine now would be to admit that their prior abandonment of it was an error born out of laziness and a lack of curiosity.”