Legacy media networks ABC, CBS, and NBC have spent less than 30 combined minutes covering the Norfolk Southern train derailment that has throttled East Palestine, Ohio, and threatened the health of millions living in the Ohio River Basin.
Local and state authorities evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 crash and started a controlled burn of leaked industrial chemicals to decrease the risk of an explosion. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was released from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Analysts from the Media Research Center examined all broadcast coverage of the incident between February 4 and February 14; the conservative nonprofit concluded that the three major networks “fell just shy of a combined 30 minutes” on the matter. CBS devoted 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.
East Palestine citizens were told they could return safely to their homes less than one week after the controlled burn; residents and first responders have since reported worrisome health issues such as coughing, sore throats, headaches, and diarrhea. The outlets nevertheless refused to continue reporting on the story: CBS offered 1 minute and 4 seconds of additional coverage, while NBC offered 38 seconds and ABC ceased reporting on the incident entirely.
“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 wrote. “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.”
The organization also noted that Columbiana County, Ohio, is more than 93% white and largely conservative. Some 72% of residents cast their ballots for President Donald Trump in the 2020 election cycle, according to data from the Columbiana County Board of Elections.
The Media Research Center commended CNN, PBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and NewsNation for providing updates on the crash. NewsNation correspondent Evan Lambert was arrested during a press conference with Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH); the outlet has nevertheless “continued to diligently cover the situation.” Reporters, however, have failed to note the absence of leadership from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who addressed the crisis on social media more than one week after the initial crash following pressure from Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) likewise noted during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson that legacy media outlets have devoted minimal attention to the crisis. He asserted that they are already prone to neglecting the problems faced by middle America, adding that many reporters are unwilling to question government agencies about the scope of the disaster.
“I think that the entire country, the media complex, the leaders of this country, have decided to disregard the people of East Palestine,” he said. “If you look at the way that this story has been covered, if it’s been covered at all, it’s about how there are poor people in East Palestine who have been victimized by this disaster. Well of course that’s true, but you want journalists asking tough questions about what’s going on.”