While the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by U.S. military forces attracted a near-record amount of news coverage, public interest in the story has been comparatively modest.
Just more than four-in-ten (42%) say they followed news about the al Qaeda leader's killing more closely than any other news last week. One-in-five (20%) followed news about severe weather and flooding in the South and Midwest most closely. Bin Laden's death is clearly the week's top story, but it is not the top story for 2011. In mid-March, far more (57%) said they followed the Japan earthquake and nuclear disaster most closely.
Fully 69% of news coverage for the week was devoted to bin Laden's killing, according to a separate analysis by Pew Research's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Since PEJ began tracking news coverage in early 2007, only one story has approached the level of coverage bin Laden's death received: In late August 2008, the media devoted just less than 69% to the presidential campaign during the week in which Democrats nominated Barack Obama and John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
The latest weekly News Interest Index survey, conducted May 5-8 among 1,003 adults, also finds that substantially more think that the killing of bin Laden received too much rather than too little news coverage (43% vs. 9%). About four-in-ten (42%) say the amount of coverage has been about right.