Since the 2016 election, critics have often accused mainstream media outlets of over-covering President Donald Trump.
In March 2016, voices throughout the journalism world lamented the $2 billion in free, “earned media” Trump had received at that point in the campaign. In November, a MediaFile analysis showed that the 2016 election dominated the news cycle more than either of the two elections past — in large part due to Trump.
If anyone hoped that news outlets would “learn their lesson” after the election and give Trump less publicity, they haven’t. And important stories are being dramatically under-covered as a result.
In the last several months, severe famine has overtaken large swaths of Africa and the Middle East. The hunger crisis currently affects 13 countries, with the worst of it hitting Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Recent estimates find that the crisis will leave as many as 81 million people in need of aid.
In March, a UN official called it the “worst humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”
Despite the ostensibly eye-catching severity of this famine, only 15 percent of Americans are aware of its existence, according to a recent International Rescue Committee poll. Only 15 percent of Americans are aware that 81 million people are in need of food.
Once informed about the famine, however, 70 percent of Americans became “concerned” about it.
In order to better examine this deficit in awareness, MediaFile compared the amount of coverage Trump has received to the amount dedicated to the famine.
Using website search data, MediaFile examined articles published on various news websites, comparing the number of articles published in March 2017 (when the crisis was publicized by the UN) containing the word “famine” to that of articles containing the word “Trump.”
Fox News published 2,216 articles pertaining to Trump in March, while it only published 44 containing the word “famine.” At Fox that month, Trump received approximately 50 times as much coverage as the famine did.
The New York Times published 1,564 articles containing the word “Trump” in that time period and only 39 containing the word “famine.” At one of the nation’s preeminent national newspapers, the president received approximately 40 times as much coverage as the famine did.
The Wall Street Journal had the widest disparity, publishing 1,746 Trump-related articles and only six articles containing the word “famine.” Of those six, only one article appears to actually cover the famine happening now in Africa and the Middle East.
At best, the Journal placed 291 times as much emphasis on Trump as it did on the lives of 81 million people. At worst, that factor rises to 1,746.
It is also worth noting that many of the Fox and New York Times articles published in March containing the word “famine” do not necessarily cover the severe famine that is occurring right now (one of the Times pieces covers Indo-Pakistani nuclear relations, another covers the New Right), so these estimates for relative coverage provided are likely conservative.
Journalists and news outlets are the gatekeepers for the national discussion. They decide what issues to emphasize and which to ignore. So when they choose to emphasize one issue (or person) to the near-total exclusion of others, they are partly responsible when only 15 percent of Americans are aware of a hunger crisis affecting 81 million people worldwide.
In this, media companies do a disservice to these arguably more important issues where awareness of the problem (or a lack thereof) among wealthy countries can mean life or death for those affected.
To help out with famine relief efforts, consider donating to one of the charities recommended by CharityWatch.