Is terrorism underreported? The data tells a different story

We were planning to launch Kaleida today with a press release. Conveniently, Trump’s latest claim gave us a reason to demonstrate the power of our data and research tools instead.

This week the President of the United States accused mainstream media of insufficiently covering terrorist attacks. Kaleida’s new analytics and insight tools which we are launching today show clearly that this is not true.

How do we know the media isn’t ignoring terrorism? Let’s look at the numbers.

The most obvious example in the list of underreported attacks provided by the White House was the December attack in Berlin at the Christmas Market. There were hundreds of stories from across all major media outlets about that event. We estimate nearly 500 articles were written about it amongst the 20 sources we track at Kaleida over the course of 2 weeks, and countless others from sources we haven’t yet begun working with.

On the day of the event the New York Times wrote at least 12 stories, The Washington Post did about 18, we counted 19 from CNN, Reuters posted 21, and Fox News published 31. Stories continued rolling out for several days afterwards.

Many sources posted liveblogs and reports as information became available. Many were talking to victims. Some were following the hunt for the suspect. And others were writing about the context of the event and the state of terrorism in the world.

Facebook provides proof that people saw all this news. There were well over 1 million shares of those stories across their platform which then appeared in news feeds for the friends of all those people who shared. Most coverage averaged about 1,500 shares per article.

CNN had the biggest story on the day with 45,530 shares, and Fox News’ story about the suspect being killed in Italy earned 41,202 shares. Our records show that Fox promoted it in their top editorial slot on their home page for over 31 hours. Everyone was leading with that story.

Trump’s comments about the attack were covered, too. The Washington Post noted that the German authorities were asking people not to spread rumors in the early moments after the event. The President seemed to know who was behind the attack before the media did and made a statement saying, “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists…regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth.”

That story was promoted from the top editorial position on washingtonpost.com for an hour. CNN ran a story quoting Trump, too, “President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday the rampage in Berlin was an ‘attack on humanity.’”

Despite all that Trump’s voice in the coverage of the Berlin attack was not very loud. His voice was included in the coverage, but it’s likely that his fans didn’t hear him.

Our research shows that middle-aged men who don’t trust the news, who have right-leaning politics and lower education levels were not very interested in coverage about Trump and the Berlin attack.

We have more data about media coverage of the terror-related events on Trump’s list — the Minnesota Mall stabbings, the Ohio State shootings, the ISIS attack in Jordan, and the Tunisian beach attack.

Many of the events on Trump’s list happened before Kaleida began tracking what’s happening in the world and who is interested in what and when. However, there’s nothing in our data to suggest that the leading publishers on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum only began covering terror events in September 2016. So it’s very likely all the mainstream news orgs have been covering terror attacks in earnest during the time period in Trump’s claim.

News orgs often cover terrorism at great cost with little or no obvious commercial benefit.

Curiously, the media’s coverage of Quebec City’s terror attack by a white supremacist wasn’t on the President’s list. We tracked nearly 100 articles about that attack. And the December attack on the Russian Ambassador to Turkey in Ankara is not on the list, either. There were hundreds of articles about that attack, too.

It’s not clear why Trump believes those attacks were sufficiently covered versus the others that weren’t covered well enough. Did he want the media to look away from those attacks? Or were they omitted by mistake?

The President of the United States may have spoken from the heart before doing any thoughtful analysis.

Our data says the opposite of his claim that terrorism and terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have “gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported.”

Politifact rates Trump’s statement “Pants on Fire”:

“We found no support for the idea that the media is hushing up terrorist attacks on U.S. or European soil. The media may sometimes be cautious about assigning religious motivation to a terrorist attack when the facts are unclear or still being investigated. But that’s not the same as covering them up through lack of coverage. There is plenty of coverage of in the American media of terrorist attacks.”

We would agree with that.

Many of the assertions Trump makes about the media seem more like feelings than thoughts or insights. After seeing the data a reasonable person would come to a different conclusion.

Equally, we appreciate that people see the world through different perspectives. It’s not wrong to feel that media is failing to do the best it can do. We feel that way, too, which is why we founded Kaleida.

Our hope is that Kaleida can make our differences and our similarities much easier to see and to help us all create a healthier media ecosystem that fuels diverse perspectives. Today’s launch is a big step toward that goal.