If you've been reading reporting on the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 in West, Texas, late last week, you know about safety and environmental compliance problems at the plant, going back decades. If you're relying on cable news as a source of information, you probably don't know quite as much. West Fertilizer Co. had
not followed disclosure rules
about the massive amount of ammonium nitrate it had been storing over the past year, but cable news isn't reporting on that
A Media Matters study found that following the Reuters report, CNN's coverage of the explosion never mentioned that West Fertilizer violated federal regulations by failing to disclose their storage of 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, and MSNBC and Fox News rarely mentioned the violation.
Between 8:38 am on April 20, when Reuters' story was published, and 9:00 am on April 23, CNN featured 24 segments on the story, many of which mentioned that ammonium nitrate was stored at the plant, but failed to note the DHS reporting violation.
MSNBC featured 16 segments on the story in that time frame, 15 of which did not mention Reuters' report; in one segment on April 21, NBC's Charles Hadlock noted that the plant had "several tons of ammonium nitrate" but then wondered out loud, "What is the limit of the amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that one company can store without notifying federal authorities? That's an unknown question right now." However, on his April 22 show, host Chris Hayes devoted several minutes to covering the Reuters report and concluded, "If the Department of Homeland Security didn't know about the West Fertilizer plant, what other plants does it not know about?"
The ammonium nitrate isn't the only issue. A Dallas Morning News
report makes clear that this plant can never be trusted
to adhere to regulations or report what it's doing, ever:
In 1984, the company moved two large pressurized tanks of liquid anyhydrous ammonia, a potentially lethal poison, from a site in nearby Hill County to its current location in West without notifying state authorities.
Seven years passed before Texas regulators took notice and told the company to fix its paperwork. The tanks had sat at their new location, near homes, schools and a nursing home, with little or no state oversight for all that time.
The Office of the Texas State Chemist, responsible for regulating fertilizer, says it repeatedly inspected the West Fertilizer Co. in 2012. Gov. Rick Perry says more inspections aren't needed
. Meanwhile, a town is practically flattened because of a fertilizer plant that had been ignoring regulations for decades. Don't mess with Texas, indeed.