TV Network News Coverage of Three Mile Island: Reporting Disasters as Technological Fables

March 1984 (VOL. 2, NO. 1)

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Nightly network news coverage of the accident at Three Mile Island raised questions about the nature of TV news as well as the capacity of the three major networks to inform viewers during disasters. A key emphasis in TV news is story-telling, especially the weaving of fables. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the content of network news coverage of TMI reveals differences between networks in techniques of newsgathering and reporting, but even more so in stories told: CBS narrated a tale of responsible political and technological elites, ABC a nightmare of common folk victimized by elites, ABC a nightmare of common folk victimized by elites, and NBC a story of resignation and demystification. Coverage of TMI, when compared to network coverage of other crises, suggests that in reporting disasters CBS, ABC, and NBC respectively and consistently construct rhetorical visions of reassurance, threat, and primal assurance.