Which countries does the NYT cover most and least?

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Greg Cochran left the following comment in a Matt Yglesias blog entry:

What you need is a map of the world in which the sizes of the countries are adjusted to the number of column-inches they get in the New York Times and the Washington Post. I think it would be illuminating.

Well, I’ve done something close enough. I only looked at the NYT, and I made a bubble chart instead of one of those distorted cartograms. Also, I used number of articles rather than column inches — but these must correlate highly. It’s not as if Tonga gets a few 10,000-word articles, while Iraq gets many 50-word articles. At any rate, let’s see what the results look like.


Here are the results for the 192 members of the United Nations. Move the mouse over an unlabeled blob to see who it is, or search for a specific country. The results cover 2000 to the present, and are standardized by dividing by the number of articles for the entire period. To ensure that the graphing algorithm would pick up order-of-magnitude differences, I multiplied the fractions — which ranged in order from 10^(-5) to 0.1 — by 10^5, so that they range in order from 1 to 10,000. Some countries I had to estimate rather than get the exact number, since their names are shared with other things, like Turkey (see Note).

The first thing you notice is a few big blobs and lots of tiny blobs, in accord with a Power Law. Rather than futz around with getting my pictures to post here, I’ll simply list the frequency distribution, where the first column is the fraction of all NYT articles devoted to some country, binned by order of magnitude:

Order—–Frequency
0.00001–0.046875
0.0001—0.354167
0.001—-0.5
0.01—–0.09375
0.1——0.005208

The one country in the 0.1 bin is the US. Everyone else is lucky to get something on the order of a percent in coverage. Still, the modal country gets mentioned on the order of once every thousand articles — not too shabby if you’re Qatar. Here is the full dataset, in case you want to download and play around with it yourself.

How do we infer the level of insanity in our foreign policy implied by these data? Looking at the countries from greatest to least emphasis, the low-ranking ones make sense — they belong to the parts of the world you’ve never heard of, and will not have reason to hear about within your lifetime, such as Tuvalu and Bhutan.

But there are some funny ones at the top. For example, it takes the top 9 to discover all 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council. The remainder of the top 9 are Germany and Japan — which at least are G8 countries — but also Iraq and Israel. Speaking of the G8, it takes the top 12 to discover them, which adds another lesser country to this elite list — Mexico (China is not G8 but is still important). Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan also rank pretty high.

This is a perfectly rational outcome — our foreign policy may obsess over these places, but by placing criteria on them like “permanent member of UN Security Council” or “member of G8,” we can see which ones don’t deserve the attention. They represent the parts of the world, like Iraq, where we’re wasting a bunch of money to squat over an over-glorified sandbox, hoping that our colonial piss will transform it into a lush oasis. Or they’re the places, like Mexico, where we’re importing a large illiterate peasant underclass from. This seems like a useful way to change our foreign policy: see who we’re obsessed with, but who don’t really matter, and cut them loose (relatively speaking).

By the way, the Many Eyes website has a global map feature, but it only allows an additive scale for bubble size, with the three smallest orders-of-magnitude collapsed into one bubble-size. So it didn’t look very good. Maybe at some point I’ll screen-capture the bubble chart, and cut and paste each bubble onto a picture of a world map, but that probably won’t happen.

Note: I used the common English names for countries — e.g., Syria rather than Syrian Arab Republic — and made the following modifications to make sure I picked up the country rather than something else by that name:

Chad: added “Africa” to search
Georgia: added “Tbilisi” — probably an undercount, but not my much
Guinea: subtracted “Equatorial Guinea,” “Guinea-Bissau,” and things like “guinea pig”
Jordan: added “Israel” — again, an undercount, but not by much
Palau: subtracted “Barcelona” and “Catalonia” (it means “palace” in Catalan)
Turkey: subtracted “Thanksgiving” — probably an overcount, but not by much
United States: searched “America,” and subtracted “Latin America,” “South America,” and “Central America”

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37 Comments

  1. Someone’s done something similar for a selection of Anglosphere and French newspapers.

  2. Oh wow… yup. Here’s the map for the New York Times.

  3. No surprise that Israel gets more coverage than Mexico. After all, Israel is only 6,000 miles away and has 1/18th Mexico’s population.

  4. United Kingdom is probably an undercount with “Britain” and “England” accounting for some missing number of articles. British politics is reasonably well-covered in the U.S. I doubt if France, with its smaller population and lack of celebrities known to Americans, really gets 20% more coverage than Britain.

  5. That’s pretty cool. I still don’t like the way cartograms look, though — you spend too much time trying to figure out which country you’re looking at. They seem to work better for comparing larger regions rather than particular countries. 
     
    For the latter, ideally you’d have a bubble chart with each bubble placed over its respective country on a normal map.

  6. Oh, I did used “Britain” — I took the names you would think of (like North Korea and South Korea), but I didn’t change some of them in the spreadsheet, I guess.

  7. The biggest surprise here for me was that Russia doesn’t get much attention, I mean it’s on a par with Italy and below Japan. I’d bet that it will get a lot more coverage in the future. 
     
    What was the time span over which you calculated these? Would it be possible to do it for the past 12 months only, say?

  8. They’re from Jan 2000 to the present — you need to look over at least several years, or else some countries won’t show up at all. The link in the second comment shows the results from 2007 only.

  9. When you read foreign-language newspapers, or English-language papers published overseas, you get different mixes. An Italian paper will have a lot more about the Mediterranean area, an Australian or Hongkong peper will have a lot more about Indonesia, a German paper will have a lot more about Eastern Europe, and so on.

  10. Re: No surprise that Israel gets more coverage than Mexico. After all, Israel is only 6,000 miles away and has 1/18th Mexico’s population. 
     
    Here’s how often people search Google for “Israel” and “Mexico,” sticking just to the state of New York: 
     
    http://www.google.com/trends?q=israel%2C+mexico&ctab=0&geo=US&geor=usa.ny&date=all&sort=0 
     
    In the New York metro area, only in Nanuet, Lynbrook, and Roslyn are people more curious about Israel than Mexico. Even Manhattan and Brooklyn show more interest in Mexico than Israel, for christ’s sake! 
     
    The exception is a spike during Israel’s July 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Otherwise, the line for Mexico is always above that for Israel. These results are more extreme if you change the region to all of the US — in this case, even the July 2006 spike in Israel doesn’t reach above the Mexico trendline.

  11. Good post in the beginning, but then you mistake the NY times coverage for the our foreign policy. The NY times has reporters in a few places, the US government has embassies/consulates/military bases/trade reps etc. in almost all of them. The State Department, for example, has all kinds of programs running in even the most obscure backwaters; they love that stuff.  
     
    You have merely proven that the New York Times is a bad tool with which to see the world.

  12. No surprise that Israel gets more coverage than Mexico. After all, Israel is only 6,000 miles away and has 1/18th Mexico’s population.  
     
    I believe that this is a perfect illustration of the cluelessness of the neocons (forget the Left).  
     
    And actually, the neoconservative base is not mainly Jewish. It is mainly Anglo-Celtic/Scots-Irish. Yes there are a number of Jewish neocons in high places, but then again this could be said for almost any political POV. I mean, even Hermann Goering was 1/4 Jewish(!)…and there were suspicions about Hitler and Goebbels having Jewish ancestry as well.  
     
    Israel gets a lot of attention because it is a War on Terror hotspot, and the War on Terror is the neocons’ big issue to the exclusion of everything else. The one area Republicans, and particularly McCain in the Presidential race, still have an advantage in is being “strong” in foreign policy.  
     
    However I think that the idea that neocons/Republican partisans are good on foreign policy is extremely foolhardy, to say the least. For example, I think McCain would needlessly get Russia and China PO’ed, which is a *very* bad idea. Russia is no threat to the U.S. unless the U.S. is belligerent towards Russia. And China really is not that much of a threat either; I think the biggest issue China has with the U.S. is anti-Chinese/anti-Asian racism and prejudice in the U.S. 
     
    I really think the best hope is for some kind of political realignment. Neither party serves the country. What is needed is a political party that is socially liberal, fiscally moderate, not adventerous on foreign affairs, not Russo-/Sino-phobic, and most importantly is restrictionist on low-skill/illegal immigration (though open to even massive high-skill immigration…better 50M new MMs per decade (model minorities, mostly Asians) than 10M new LAMs (low-achieving minorities, roughly but not exactly synonymous with NAMs [non-Asian minorities]).

  13. I understand how one might have preferences over social policy, but how is social liberalism (or conservatism, for that matter) “needed”? I don’t think you can make a case for it like you can the others.

  14. “They represent the parts of the world, like Iraq, where we’re wasting a bunch of money to squat over an over-glorified sandbox, hoping that our colonial piss will transform it into a lush oasis.” 
     
    You really aren’t a very good geostrategic thinker — however terrible the occupation of Iraq has been (and I agree it’s been horribly mismanaged), in the long-term it may well be seen as a very smart move by the Bush admin. because it was able to secure relatively stable access to abundant oil supplies for America in the next few decades until alternatives to oil/gasoline are invented. 
     
    You do realize that America’s economy would grind to an absolute halt without a steady supply of oil, don’t you? And that the economy (i.e., money) trumps national sovereignty, human rights, ideologies both right and left, religion, and ALL other issues? 
     
    Think about it… 
     
    (The invasion and toppling of Iraq also had the added bonus of removing Saddam from power, who was an enemy of the Bush family and the Israelis – not to mention an enemy of “free market capitalism” [the Baath Party was a socialist and secular party - it was technically called the "Arab Socialist Baath Party"...and it's now banned in Iraq]).

  15. Another way of doing it would be to have the size of the bubbles represent the ratio between the number of column-inches and the population of the relevant country. In fact, that was what I thought you were going to do, but you don’t seem to have. 
     
    A problem with using bubbles is that it is not clear if it is the area of the “bubbles” that is the measure, or the apparent volume – since bubbles are three-dimensional in the real world. This is a classic representational problem, discussed in books like How to Lie With Statistics. 
     
    It would be interesting to do the same thing for a magazine like The Economist, which aims to cover the entire world in an even-handed way. 
     
    Julian

  16. There are lots of social liberals who do not want mass Third World immigration. There are *lots* of people who’d vote for an anti-immigration candidate if it didn’t usually also mean voting for someone who thinks gay marriage is a serious threat to Western civilization. If you want their votes, you do need social liberalism. 
     
    This would be pretty hard in the US with the two-party system, but in Europe there have been occasional flare ups like Fortuyn and that program is always a real vote-winner.

  17. but then you mistake the NY times coverage for the our foreign policy. The NY times has reporters in a few places, the US government has embassies/consulates/military bases/trade reps etc. in almost all of them. 
     
    So you’re saying that our intervention and diplomacy efforts are uniformly distributed across all the countries we have embassies in? Wrong, of course. To take one obvious example: 
     
    http://www.fas.org/asmp/profiles/aid/fy2006/CBJAccountsum.pdf 
     
    You really aren’t a very good geostrategic thinker
     
     
    I think anyone who uses the word geostrategic is not a good geostrategic thinker either. Does the phrase “Blood for no oil” ring a bell? And who cares who’s an enemy of Israel and free market capitalism? 
     
    The only reason Israel has something like a democracy and a free market economy is because they have a large fraction of Europeans — Ashkenazi Jews. Without sufficient *human* raw materials, institutions don’t matter, and so the Middle East is incapable of democracy or a free market in the near future — give them 500 or so years for institutional change to cause genetic change, and the people may be ready for it. It took Europeans awhile to become ready for these things too, you know. 
     
    Another way of doing it would be to have the size of the bubbles represent the ratio between the number of column-inches and the population of the relevant country. 
     
    I’m hesitant about doing a per capita rate here since it’s not clear that “obsession with a country” is something that’s distributed among its population, like a disease or wealth might be. For example, we typically focus on the high-ranking government officials, elite businessmen, and the army. So I don’t think the target of our obsession varies so much across countries.

  18. I think social and fiscal sanity go hand in hand. Relative economic freedom, excluding the truly wealthy (who are pretty economically free unless they are completely cleaned out)*, is pretty useless if smoking pot=high liklihood of jail time/job loss** or sex=uncontrollable possiblity of children***. I mean I would definitely not want to live under fundamentalist Islamic rule even if I could keep every cent I earned. 
     
    *I hardly see why taking home “only” $800K out of $2M vs $1.5M out of $2M, much less taking home “only” $3M out of $20M is onerous, compared to say only taking home $50K out of $200K vs $140K out of $200K which would be atrocious especially in high cost of living areas. NOTE: These are all based on single incomes; married couples should always have the option of filing as single with the exact same brackets as singles filing as single. 
     
    **I would also like to add that the DEA is doubly a criminal organization–first directly in its activities, and secondly in how it promotes a violent gangster-controlled drug trade. I certainly don’t want these people anywhere near my doctor or pharmacy, much less to gain control over alcohol, tobacco, or “abuse-able” OTC drugs. I guess the ATF already has the latter function to an extent, but their authority is not nearly as broad as the DEA’s; they cannot arrest, raid, or dispossess people for simple possession of alcohol, tobacco, OTC drugs, or firearms for that matter. 
     
    ***A government or agency that enforces laws against birth control, or even abortion in the cases of rape, incest, and severe disabilty is also grossly criminal.

  19. So you’re saying that our intervention and diplomacy efforts are uniformly distributed across all the countries we have embassies in? 
     
    No, I am saying the coverage of the New York times is a poor indicator of where our foreign policy efforts are. The New York Times is a tiny organization compared to the military, state department, commerce department, CDC, state governments etc. These all count.

  20. During the time we’ve occupied Iraq, we have not gotten any kind of discount on Iraqi oil. I think we’re going to leave Iraq , and I doubt if we’ll get any discount on or special access to oil then, either.

  21. I suggest that another useful way of presenting the data would be to have the size of the bubbles represent the ratio between the amount of coverage for a nation and its population. China’s bubble for example would be much smaller. 
     
    It would be interesting to do a similar plot for articles in The Economist and other magazines that make a point of providing worldwide coverage.

  22. Jason, 
     
    What year is that map from? It’s my impression (unscientific) that Israel gets much less coverage in the last two years than it did before. I wonder why.  
     
    Thanks as usual to Steve Sailer for pointing out the little known fact that the Times over-covers Israel.

  23. gcochran, I am lead to believe that it is worse than what you say. That, through meddling by Democratic politicians, Iraq signed oil deals with China rather than US oil companies. 
     
    Perhaps I am wrong.

  24. In terms of statistical graphics this information is best presented in a histogram (or table) ranked by frequency. Otherwise you need to search around to find the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. by cites.  
     
    The 2D representation would primarily be appropriate if you were to do a cartogram and/or if you were to superimpose the bubbles upon the countries. Even then I would use coloring rather than bubbles because (as someone pointed out above) the scaling of the bubbles leads to visual distortion.

  25. The real outlier without a completely rational US self interest explanation is obviously Israel. 
     
    The rejoinder is that it’s obviously due to the ethnic interest of an important group within the US. Ireland rates higher than it might otherwise for similar reasons. 
     
    That’s undoubtedly true except that Jews make up less than 3% of the population.  
     
    So ok we’re talking about influence far outsized compared to population percentage, but real nonetheless. 
     
    Yup. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  26. “Does the phrase “Blood for no oil” ring a bell?”  
     
    Of course it does — and that is what the Iraq War was/is, “blood” (war) for oil…a way for America to shed some blood in order to secure the resource which keeps its economy and military afloat and head of all others. Again, without abundant oil America would grind to an absolute halt — all top U.S. government officials know this and worry (even obsess) about it constantly. This obsession and worry is kept largely behind the scenes to avoid causing panic in the public arena because most people don’t realize how dire and complex the energy situation is in America. 
     
    “the Middle East is incapable of democracy or a free market in the near future.” 
     
    Who cares? Democracy and the “free market” are highly overrated and even false concepts in my opinion, and have been for at least the last 100 years in most Western countries who have embraced them. Democracy and the “free market” meant something deacades ago, and they may still on a more local levels, but geostrategically these concepts are outmoded in the extreme. It’s all about centralization and control now. 
     
    “During the time we’ve occupied Iraq, we have not gotten any kind of discount on Iraqi oil. I think we’re going to leave Iraq , and I doubt if we’ll get any discount on or special access to oil then, either.” 
     
    We haven’t received discounts, correct…but by our armed presence we have obviously secured steady/special access to Iraq’s oil, and this is what counts. The majority of U.S. soldiers will leave Iraq as you say, but a decent amount will definitely stay behind for decades if necessary to guard America’s access to this steady and reasonably secure supply of oil/energy because, again, without this oil America’s economy would utterly collapse.

  27. The rejoinder is that it’s obviously due to the ethnic interest of an important group within the US (…) That’s undoubtedly true except that Jews make up less than 3% of the population.  
     
    You’re thinking of the wrong “ethnic group”. Israel is nominally Jewish, but it is first and foremost a small droplet of White, Western people in an ocean of “Others”. This leads Americans to identify strongly with Israelis. That, and the whole “Holy Land” thing. 
     
    If the Ethiopian Jews were stuck in a long-drawn colonial war in the Horn of Africa, I’m pretty certain that America would be much more level-headed about it.

  28. “We haven’t received discounts, correct…but by our armed presence we have obviously secured steady/special access to Iraq’s oil” 
     
    It all goes onto the world market. If someone else buys a million barrels of Iraqi oil, that frees up a million barrels of oil somewhere else.  
     
    We _decreased_ Iraqi oil exports by invading: only recently have those exports reached pre-invasion levels. As far as oil goes, we have gained nothing.

  29. No, toto; cf. the lack of support for and interest in the Afrikaaners in South Africa or the Europeans in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. And who knows or cares in the US about the Russians in Chechnya?

  30. For some reason, people are obsessed with Jews and Israel. Commenters here think it is a good thing for the Jews, but the opposite is true. On the few occasions I open The Economist and there is nothing about us, I feel relief.

  31. “Of course it does — and that is what the Iraq War was/is, “blood” (war) for oil…” 
     
    See I would have thought that Saddam would have been willing to sell the oil anyway, were he allowed to.

  32. What happened to Taiwan?

  33. What I found interesting and sad is that Italy has a larger circle than India. 
     
    You can argue all you want about the accuracy of the chart, but it says something about the USA when we don’t seem to care about a country with 1.3G people.

  34. What happened to Taiwan? 
     
    Members only! (The chart is limited to members of the UN.)

  35. “parts of the world you’ve never heard of, and will not have reason to hear about within your lifetime, such as Tuvalu and Bhutan” 
     
    Are you serious or not with this comment? I’d have thought that anyone with even minimal knowledge of geography and/or international affairs would have heard of both but perhaps not from an American perspective.

  36. It sure seems like you confuse “really matter[s]” with “I think people should care about”. 
     
    (And shouldn’t the US circle be much much larger, since all coverage of domestic politics should count; but most state-level mentions won’t include “America”. 
     
    And that assumes, dubiously, that the only thing that counts is political coverage. 
     
    Which is added to the as-already-mentioned-by-others dubious assumption that the Times is a mirror for US anything, let alone foreign policy.) 
     
    Israel could be said by others to “really matter” more than Mexico in terms of news coverage because Israel is geopolitically important, both because it’s the only stable democracy in the Middle East* and a reliable ally, and because the Middle East is very important to the United States. 
     
    (* Iraq’s too new to be stable – though the prognosis is good – and Turkey tends to not be counted as “Middle East” despite being very close by.) 
     
    Israel’s state and its relation with the Palestinian masses supported by its (openly or less openly hostile) neighbors matter; warfare or open conflict there has repercussions in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabi, and Iran. 
     
    Mexico? Not so much. 
     
    Mexico is also very important to the United States, but it’s in a much stabler state; it’s not likely to be the focus of a war, or a lighting rod for radical Islamists who want to kill Americans. 
     
    Thus it’s no surprise (even glossing over the large number of Jews in NYC and thus the local paper‘s desire to cater to the interests of its paying customers – the Times is first and foremost a New York City paper; about 50% of copies are sold in the NYC area, and about 12% of New Yorkers are of Jewish descent) that the Times covers Israel more than Mexico.  
     
    Mexico is boring in comparison. The only real unrest there is in Chiapas, and it’s hard to get good reporting out from there, as opposed to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Mexico has crime and corruption, but they’re also boring outside of Mexico or the border states.

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