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Newsflash! Media Out of Step with the Public

1:57 PM, May 23, 2008 • By GARY ANDRES
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For political junkies, it may be a finding against interest, but this recent Pew report demonstrates that the content of cable news coverage and Americans' news interest are out of sync. Media is heavily focused on the 2008 presidential race, devoting nearly 40% of its total coverage to this topic in mid-May. During the same period of time, however, one out of three (31%) Americans said gas prices were their greatest news interest, followed by information about the recent earthquakes in China (22%).

As Pew notes, obsession with politics is most pronounced on the cable side of the media business:

There were dramatic differences in coverage across media sectors last week. Cable TV news focused on the campaign almost to the exclusion of other top news stories. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's (PEJ) News Coverage Index, national cable TV news outlets devoted 74% of their coverage last week to the campaign and only 4% to the Chinese earthquake. By contrast, network TV news and national newspapers split their coverage about equally between these two stories.

Moreover, the recent heavy focus on politics among cable outlets is not a new phenomenon:

Throughout the year, cable news has consistently devoted more coverage to the presidential campaign than have other news sources. And cable news coverage of the campaign has typically exceeded the public's interest in the election.

And, while cable news coverage of the presidential campaign has increased in the past month, according to Pew, public interest in the campaign is well off its high:

Interest in the campaign declined from 30% the previous week, and is down substantially from earlier in the campaign. In mid-February (Feb. 11-17), 46% cited the presidential campaign as their top news story, more than double the percentage last week.

Yet despite the surplus of political coverage, a news deficit still exists when it comes to Republicans, unless of course it's about the McCain campaign's relationship to lobbyists. Despite some important speeches from the presumptive nominee about his plans as president, Pew reports this:

John McCain continues to lag behind Obama and Clinton in terms of media coverage and public visibility. While news coverage of McCain was up significantly last week, only a small minority of Americans (17%) heard a lot about McCain's speech outlining his plans for his presidency, including his prediction that most American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 2013. Some 45% heard a little about the speech and 37% heard nothing at all. Only 22% of Republicans heard a lot about the speech.

I suppose this all makes sense. After all, if Keith Olberman actually had to explain the intricacies of why gas price have gone up -- instead of taking cheap shots at President Bush or smothering Barack Omama with political wet kisses -- he might have to do some homework.