Routinized Reporting of Technological Accidents: Television Coverage of the Chernobyl Disaster

March 1988 (VOL. 6, NO. 1)

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An analysis of the US television network coverage of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl reveals that the networks relied more heavily on popular myths than scientific fact in reporting the story. The researchers found that three myths permeated the coverage: Soviets as technological bumblers, Soviets as uncaring for human life and Soviets as liars. Using Chernobyl as a case study, the authors suggest that while disasters are unpredictable, media behavior in reporting them is constant. This behavior will include treating the disaster as a human drama, using stereotypes to tell the story economically, focusing heavily on the technological cause, depending on familiar sourcing patterns and finally, turning the story into a moral fable. The authors suggest that this routine helps to \\"tame\\" the story for the networks\\' purposes.