Report: U.S. cable news snubs Asia disasters

Pew Research shows dichotomy in interest, coverage

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

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

A Pew survey conducted last week said that 22% of Americans said they followed the Chinese 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, gasoline prices (31%).

Yet the quake got only 13% of news coverage for the week, compared with 37% for the campaign. The Myanmar cyclone, high gasoline prices and news that California's high court would allow same-sex marriage all got about the same amount of coverage, between 3% and 4% each.

But 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% of coverage. Network TV news -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- and national newspapers split their coverage more evenly.

Pew said 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 the nation, also known as Burma, as being located in Southeast Asia. Half of Americans surveyed knew the estimated death toll in China as well.

The survey of 1,000 Americans older than 18 has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.