This paper uses a new dataset on US media coverage of developing countries to test the hypothesis that the media are an important determinant of US foreign aid flows, all else equal. Controlling for several other determinants of foreign aid distribution it examines whether or not the coverage in major US newspapers and television sources influenced the amount of official development assistance a country receives from the US from 1970-1994. It finds that when a natural disaster, epidemic, or war in a developing country is mentioned in a major US media source five times during a typical five-year period —or an average of once a year—that country receives roughly one percent more in US aid per capita over the course of the period than it would otherwise receive. This is the average effect across countries and over time, and by no means must hold true for any given country at any given time. For some countries, even a small amount of media coverage could be worth millions in aid. This result has direct implications for the cost effectiveness of media relations activities by both nongovernmental and governmental organizations interested in affecting aid levels.
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