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Too Little Coverage Of The Mumbai Bombings?

(Getty Images/Indranil Mukherjee)
Following last week's bombings in Mumbai, (formerly known as Bombay) chronicles of the event have inevitably drummed up references to two past events that bear similarities, the bombings in Madrid in March 2004 and the London bombings in July 2005. Bob Schieffer introduced the "Evening News'" first story on Mumbai on the day it occurred, July 11: "Two years ago, terrorists struck rail lines in Madrid, Spain. Just a year ago, it was the subways of London. Today, the target was a commuter rail line in Mumbai, India." But why is media coverage of the events in Mumbai not on par with the level of attention that the Madrid and London bombings received?

Global Voices noted one blogger's reaction to media coverage the day after the bombings: "I was incredulous about the response to the event by the American mainstream media! They passed it off as a footnote at best, and then got on with more 'serious' matters!"On the evening of July 11, all three evening newscasts included stories about the Mumbai bombings, followed by more coverage the next day on their morning news programs. After that, however, coverage was less prominent – mostly a few brief voice-overs.

A Nexis search for stories about the Mumbai blasts on CBS News from July 11 through yesterday, for example, reveals a total of 11 mentions of the story. A search of stories about the London bombings from July 7, 2005 through July 12, 2005 – about the same period of time -- reveals a total of 105 mentions of that story – a pretty substantial difference in coverage.

So, why the disparity? Bill Owens, senior broadcast producer for the "Evening News," who last week was filling in for Executive Producer Rome Hartman, explained the nature of the decision-making about coverage of the Mumbai bombings.

There were essentially two major factors that dictated why the Mumbai disaster didn't get as much coverage as the events in London or Madrid, said Owens. To begin with, "we didn't have the presence on the ground [in India] that we have in London," he said. "From where we are, it takes about a day to get [to Mumbai] so we weren't in a position to cover it as a 'day of' story." On July 11, correspondent Richard Roth covered the story from London "with editorial assistance" from reporters in other bureaus, who passed on guidance from FBI and CIA sources "to figure out the facts on the ground as best we could."

The other element of the Mumbai story that contributed to it being less covered than London or Madrid was that "it's a regional conflict," said Owens, who said that he's long been interested in the topic and pitched stories related to it during his tenure at "60 Minutes." "It's been long understood that this is a regional conflict – an important and a vicious one – but it still isn't part of the larger network of terror with roots in Europe and elsewhere."

In that sense, it seems the story is somewhat less relevant to Americans than the London or Madrid bombings were. Former FBI agent and CBS News terrorism analyst Christopher Whitcomb noted in an

the day after the bombings, "I think this is much more likely to be a geographically confined conflict than something that really threatens the West."