Cable news panned for lack of disaster coverage


Tens of thousands have died in the natural disasters in Myanmar and China, but coverage has been fighting for airtime with Campaign 2008 on the U.S. cable news channels.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press said Thursday that there was a fair amount of interest among Americans for news about the Chinese earthquake, about as much as the ongoing presidential campaign. But it accused cable news channels of devoting way more coverage to the political campaign.

A Pew survey conducted last week said that 22% of Americans said they followed the earthquake more closely than any other news story over the week of May 12-18. It was slightly ahead of the percentage of Americans who closely followed the 2008 presidential campaign (22%) but nowhere near the top news story of the week, which was gasoline prices (31%). Yet the earthquake got 13% of news coverage for the week, compared with 37% for the campaign.

The Myanmar cyclone, high gasoline prices and the California gay marriage ruling all got about the same amount of coverage, from 3%-4% apiece.

Pew singles out cable news as the prime medium ignoring the earthquake, with only 4% of news coverage devoted to it while the campaign received 74%. Network TV news — ABC, CBS and NBC — and national newspapers split coverage more evenly.

Pew said that 36% of Americans correctly identified the death toll in the aftermath of the Myanmar cyclone as being 100,000 or more, while 17% said it was about 50,000. Six in 10 Americans correctly identified Myanmar as being located in Southeast Asia.

The survey of 1,000 Americans more than 18 years old has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. (partialdiff)