'Google News' or 'Obama News'? (updated)

Paul Shlichta
I hope this was an accident, a fluke that can be rationally explained. If not, then our news is being censored beyond the wildest excesses of the Soviet Union. And Google, which has already stooped to co-operating with China in similar censorship, may be a co-conspirator.

On Saturday, September 12, 2009, President Barack Obama spoke before about 15, 000 people at a healthcare rally in Minneapolis. A few hours earlier, a crowd of between 70,000 and 1,200,000 citizens gathered in Washington, DC to protest excessive federal spending and intervention. I think we can safely conclude that any Tibetan monk or Zulu, blissfully unaware of American politics, would nonetheless conclude that the second event was at least as newsworthy as the first.

They'd be wrong. Between 2:00 and 4:00 PM PDT of that day, I monitored the Google News website, which in recent years has acquired some of the aura of omniscient impartiality that the New York Times once enjoyed. As of 3 PM, here's how the two stories were treated:

"Obama Takes to the Road to Promote Healthcare Reform": 14,488 news articles

"Tea Party Protesters March on Washington": 126 news articles

The first story remained at the top of the main page throughout. The second appeared on the main page from about 2:00 to 2:30 and then disappeared into the recesses of the "More Stories - U.S." page. Then it reappeared in the lower reaches of the main page at 3:45, as if the omission had caused some protest or embarrassment. As of 4 PM, Obama's speech was still on top with 15,891 news articles cited and the DC rally had again disappeared, after having peaked at 130 cited articles.

Am I being fussy or is there something strange about this hundred-to-one ratio of coverage? At the bottom of the Google News page, it says, "The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program." I wouldn't dare to disbelieve them but perhaps there's a glitch in their program. Or perhaps it's been hacked. Or perhaps they mixed up their US and Chinese programs.

Or perhaps Google is blameless. Perhaps that really was a fair sampling of news articles and the 100:1 ratio is an index of media bias. Or perhaps someone very influential managed to suppress the story about the DC rally.

In any case, I think an explanation is required. And I hope that some brave congressman will get up, on the Senate or House floor, and demand an explanation.

Update: Reader Robert notes the following:

From the United States:



From China:



Computer program or not, Google censors their results to an enormous extent.  Could it be happening here?  Yes.

 


I hope this was an accident, a fluke that can be rationally explained. If not, then our news is being censored beyond the wildest excesses of the Soviet Union. And Google, which has already stooped to co-operating with China in similar censorship, may be a co-conspirator.

On Saturday, September 12, 2009, President Barack Obama spoke before about 15, 000 people at a healthcare rally in Minneapolis. A few hours earlier, a crowd of between 70,000 and 1,200,000 citizens gathered in Washington, DC to protest excessive federal spending and intervention. I think we can safely conclude that any Tibetan monk or Zulu, blissfully unaware of American politics, would nonetheless conclude that the second event was at least as newsworthy as the first.

They'd be wrong. Between 2:00 and 4:00 PM PDT of that day, I monitored the Google News website, which in recent years has acquired some of the aura of omniscient impartiality that the New York Times once enjoyed. As of 3 PM, here's how the two stories were treated:

"Obama Takes to the Road to Promote Healthcare Reform": 14,488 news articles

"Tea Party Protesters March on Washington": 126 news articles

The first story remained at the top of the main page throughout. The second appeared on the main page from about 2:00 to 2:30 and then disappeared into the recesses of the "More Stories - U.S." page. Then it reappeared in the lower reaches of the main page at 3:45, as if the omission had caused some protest or embarrassment. As of 4 PM, Obama's speech was still on top with 15,891 news articles cited and the DC rally had again disappeared, after having peaked at 130 cited articles.

Am I being fussy or is there something strange about this hundred-to-one ratio of coverage? At the bottom of the Google News page, it says, "The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program." I wouldn't dare to disbelieve them but perhaps there's a glitch in their program. Or perhaps it's been hacked. Or perhaps they mixed up their US and Chinese programs.

Or perhaps Google is blameless. Perhaps that really was a fair sampling of news articles and the 100:1 ratio is an index of media bias. Or perhaps someone very influential managed to suppress the story about the DC rally.

In any case, I think an explanation is required. And I hope that some brave congressman will get up, on the Senate or House floor, and demand an explanation.

Update: Reader Robert notes the following:

From the United States:



From China:



Computer program or not, Google censors their results to an enormous extent.  Could it be happening here?  Yes.