Not Surprising, And Yet....
"This paper studies the influence of mass media on U.S. government response
to approximately 5,000 natural disasters occurring between 1968 and 2002.
These disasters took nearly 63,000 lives and affected 125 million people per
year. We show that U. S. relief depends on whether the disaster occurs at
the same time as other newsworthy events, such as the Olympic Games, which
are obviously unrelated to need. We argue that the only plausible
explanation of this is that relief decisions are driven by news coverage of
disasters and that the other newsworthy material crowds out this news
coverage...News biases relief in favor of certain disaster types and
regions: For every person killed in a volcano disaster, 40,000 people must
die in a drought to reach the same probability of media coverage. Similarly,
it requires forty times as many killed in an African disaster to achieve the
same expected media coverage as for a disaster in Eastern Europe of similar
type and magnitude...to have the same chance of receiving relief, the
disaster occurring during the highest news pressure must have six times as
many casualties as the disaster occurring when news pressure is at its
lowest, all else equal. Similarly, a disaster occurring during the Olympics
must have three times as many casualties as a disaster on an ordinary day to
have the same chance of receiving relief." [News Floods, News Droughts, and U.S. Disaster Relief, (Thomas Eisensee and David Stromberg), Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(2), 2007.]
From the paper:
In May 1999, a storm struck India, reportedly killing 278 people and affecting
40,000. On the same day, a 15-year-old sophomore shot and wounded six classmates at the Heritage High School in suburban Atlanta. The two events competed for news time. Since this was just a month after the Columbine high school tragedy, the events at the Heritage High School were extensively covered by the U.S. television network news, while the Indian storm was not covered. About one year earlier, a storm of similar size struck India (killing 250 and affecting 40,000 people). At that time, there was less other breaking news around, and the storm was covered by the television network news. Two days later, the U.S. Ambassador in India, Richard F. Celeste, declared this storm a disaster, and its victims consequently received U.S. relief. He did not issue a disaster declaration for the first mentioned storm and its victims received no U.S. government relief.
Question: Is this supply driven, or demand driven? As Russ Roberts at CH noted, Adam Smith's thoughts on this are instructive.
(Nod to KL, who covers everything)