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US News Priorities: Obamacare vs the Philippines

Americans wanted to watch news about the Philippines as much as they wanted to know about Obamacare, but the partisan news networks did not deliver.

Obamacare vs Philippines

New changes to President Obama’s healthcare plan were announced while the Philippines and international community were scrambling in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Coverage of the two stories varied wildly between the major media outlets in the US. CNN and Al Jazeera America favored covering the Philippines, while Fox News and MSNBC focused heavily on the healthcare plan changes.

The typhoon aftermath has garnered far less interest in Americans as compared to events like the Haiti earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami. It comes at no surprise that donations also fall well below that of other recent disasters. Evidence from Haiti shows that giving can continue after the first week following the disaster, so there is promise that more people will donate to relief work in the coming weeks, but two-thirds of those surveyed said they do not plan on giving, much higher than other instances.

The Pew Research Center sampled at one hour of midday and three hours of prime-time programming each day between November 11th and 15th. An opinion poll from the same time found that the number of Americans who said they were closely following Obamacare (37%) were roughly the same as those following the Philippines (32%).

However, it is Fox News Channel that leads the way in viewers and MSNBC is not that far behind CNN. Despite the fact that nearly one in three Americans say they were following the Philippines story closely, it is likely that they did not get very much coverage when they were watching the likes of Fox News.

What does this mean? It flies a little bit in the face that people don’t care about the rest of the world. A natural disaster is an extraordinary event and news story, but it does garner public interest. The fact that millions of people affected by a typhoon that left thousands dead is considered less important than the roll out of a healthcare bill, is also not too promising. However, there is an opportunity to seize the moment and deliver clear reporting about a part of the world that rarely gets any attention.

As an aside, Al Jazeera America is not doing so hot.

The New York Post reported last week that an average of 13,000 people watch the Qatari-backed network each day. CNN grabs 174,000 and FNC leads with 353,000. The balance of Philippines and US reporting is rather nice to see. Better yet, only 41% of its broadcast is commentary/opinion. Its rivals are skewed significantly with 72% opinion on CNN, 86% on MSNBC and 97% on the Fox News Channel. That may be part of why it is behind, but it is good to see a news organization committed to news reporting.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]