The starting-point of this paper is the assumption that credibility and the right to be heard are differentially distributed in any social system and therefore a 'hierarchy of credibility' exists. To test this, the media coverage of the Love Canal, New York, hazardous waste landfill disaster and six other disasters was examined to determine if this hierarchy exists in all cases. A hierarchy of credibility emphasising the views of established news sources with routine and habitual access to the media was demonstrated in the majority of events examined However, the Love Canal disaster was one of two where this hierarchy was disrupted due to a number of factors. These included the contentious or political nature of the event, its duration, the extent of competition of credibility and coverage among news sources, the extent of information shortage, the type of news medium, the degree of sympathetic and representational salience of victims and the extent to which they organized and achieved status as 'newsmakers'. Building on disaster research, a model of the operation of the credibility hierarchy in coverage of disasters is presented and discussed.