Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Egypt Coverage: Don't Blame the US Media

The DC Middle East policy wonk community took particular pleasure over the past few weeks in bashing Western coverage of the protests in Egypt. Twitter post after Twitter post bemoaned the lack of proper coverage here in the US of the events rapidly unfolding in al-Tahrir square.

A new study from the Pew Research Center, however, demonstrates that at least as a function of viewer interest, Western media coverage of the protests was relatively high. The survey claims that while 32% of the public followed protests in Egypt last week, the protests accounted for 56% of the media coverage in the same time period.

The social scientist side of me questions the inherent correlation between these two variables. It wouldn't make sense for a news outlet to have coverage relative to the percent of Americans interested for two reasons.

1) Not all Americans pay attention to these sources, so media outlets aren't attuning coverage to people who aren't going to read or tune in anyway.

2) The 32% of Americans interested in Egypt may have watched a disproportionately high number of hours of television. So only 32% may have been watching, but they may have been watching for more hours. In which case the 56% coverage wouldn't be a disparity at all.

But despite this murky relationship, 56% is still very a high percentage of coverage, accounting for a higher percentage of the news than the week of the Haiti earthquake, Iran protests, and Operation Cast Lead.

So perhaps our little epistemic community here in DC is slightly biased in our extreme interest in all things Middle East. And perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to jump to conclusions about our friends in the press.

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