TV drove viewers to Internet to explore Obama-Muslim rumours

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Washington, Sep 28 (ANI): A new study has shown that online searches about the Obama-Muslim rumour spiked Americans' interest on days when the topic was heavily covered on national television networks, and that searches declined on days when there was less coverage.

"With all the attention given to blogs and online news, some people have suggested that the mainstream media's role has diminished in our society," said Brian Weeks, lead author of the study, and currently a doctoral student in communication at Ohio State University.

"But we found that the mainstream media, especially television, still helps place issues on the public's agenda."

Newspapers did not have as much of an effect as did television - possibly because most newspaper articles effectively dispelled the rumor, making online searches unnecessary, Weeks said.

Weeks conducted the study as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. His co-author is Brian Southwell, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota.

The researchers studied how the media drives public interest by examining one of the most talked-about rumors of the 2008 presidential election - the rumor that Obama was secretly a Muslim. Although the rumor was quickly disproven, it still generated significant interest and even belief. In fact, less than a month before the election, the Pew Research Center found that 12 percent of the public believed Obama was indeed a Muslim.

In this study, the researchers looked at media coverage of the rumor from June 1, 2008 through Election Day, November 4.

They examined coverage on seven major television networks - ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NBC and PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer. They also examined coverage of the rumor in more than 25 newspapers around the country, including USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The researchers employed a relatively new approach to determine how often Americans were using the Web to search for information about the rumor. They used Google Trends, a service of the online search company Google, which can be used to track how often particular search terms are entered into the search site.

Results showed that Google searches about the rumor increased significantly on days that television coverage rose. On the day after significant television coverage, searches declined, and by the fourth day after the report there was no association between the coverage and online searches.

The study appears in the September 2010 issue of the journal Massommunication and Society. (ANI)

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