The U.S. Media’s Decreasing Coverage of Puerto Rico’s Recovery Efforts

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló is requesting the U.S. Congress for a disaster relief package of $94.4 billion to reconstruct the island’s infrastructure and more than 400,000 houses destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. If history is prologue, Puerto Rican officials will have to get ready to fight back fiscal conservatives who will arduously work to trim the request by several billions of dollars.

Although Puerto Rico has many allies in Congress, they are not powerful enough to take on the Republican establishment. One way to pressure Congress to support the island’s financial needs is to rally the American public to their side. If a majority of Americans called on their congressional delegation to support Puerto Rico’s request, there is a good chance that the Republican leadership will soften its opposition. But the success of this strategy is linked to the U.S. media’s coverage of the island’s struggles, which has decreased since President Donald Trump’s controversial visit to Puerto Rico in early October.

The three graphs below demonstrate the U.S. media’s waning interest in Puerto Rico’s recovery. The first graph looks at the U.S. online media environment, which includes newspapers such as The New York Times, online news publications like the The Daily Beast and popular political blogs like The Daily Kos or The Blaze. I used Media Cloud’s open source platform to search the number of sentences that make a reference to Puerto Rico in news stories from September 1 to November 10, 2017. Media Cloud connected these sentences to 32,314 articles. As noted above, the online news media’s interest in Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts was strongest in early October before and after President Trump’s visit to the island.

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The next two graphs captures the national news networks’ and the affiliate networks’ coverage of Puerto Rico from September 1 to November 10, 2017. To collect this data, I searched the content of the Television News Archive, using GDELT’s Television Explorer search engine. The graphs calculates the number of mentions Puerto Rico earned each day.

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Similar to the nation’s online media, TV news networks’ coverage of Puerto Rico has waned since early October.

Will Governor Rosselló’s request of $94.4 billion win over enough Congressional support? It is too early to say. One way to pressure Congress to act is by calling on Americans to support Puerto Rico’s financial needs. But this will require the U.S. media to devote more attention to the island’s current challenges and its future opportunities. What do you think? Is Puerto Rico asking for too much money? Will Republicans support the Governor’s request or will they cut the package by several billions of dollars? Will the Trump administration support this request and its price tag?

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Puerto Rico’s Veteran Population

How many veterans live in Puerto Rico? How does this population compare to the United States’ overall veterans population?

Before I start this analysis, we need to keep in mind Harry Franqui-Rivera’s research on Puerto Rican veterans. His work demonstrates that a great number of island-born Puerto Ricans who enlisted in the military did not settle in Puerto Rico following the end of their military careers. Thus, the numbers of veterans in the island does not equate the number of island-born Puerto Ricans who have served in the U.S. military.

Indeed, Franqui-Rivera’s works shows that Puerto Ricans’ military service has helped many island-born Puerto Ricans resettle in the U.S. mainland. In a recent essay, he explains that the island’s current economic woes have accelerated this process.

In this post, I will be using the U.S. Census’s 2015 American Community Survey for Puerto Rico and the United States to compare both populations. It is worth noting that some of the veterans living in Puerto Rico may not be island-born Puerto Ricans.

According to the 2015 estimates, the United States’ veteran population was 18,830,450 and Puerto Rico’s was 95,342, representing 0.5% of the total. While 8.4% of all veterans were women, in the island the figure is lower by 3.2%.

In line with Franqui-Rivera’s findings, and as illustrated in the graph below, 57% of Puerto Rico’s veterans are 64 years or older.

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The fact that many of the island-born veterans reside in the U.S. mainland can be demonstrated by the next graph, which breaks down veterans’ military service by war periods.

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Given Puerto Rico’s economic troubles, it is not surprising that the island’s veteran population is on average worse off economically than veterans in the United States. chart (47)

If we look at veterans’ educational attainment, the story is a a bit mixed. More than 40% of Puerto Rico’s veterans did not attend post-secondary education programs. But, on average the number of veterans with a college degree is higher in Puerto Rico than in the United States.

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One surprising finding in the 2015 estimates is the number of veterans who have been classified as disabled. The average number of disabled veterans is higher in Puerto Rico than in the total U.S. veteran population.

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What explains this difference? I am not exactly sure and it is an issue that deserves closer attention. However, one plausible explanation is that the Department of Veterans Affairs may be providing many of these disabled veterans some sort of financial compensation which insulates them from the island’s economic troubles.  In this manner, we can hypothesize that most island-born veterans would like to return to Puerto Rico once they end their years of military service, but given the island’s economic troubles they are force to relocate to the U.S. mainland.

A Year Ago: The 2016 Gubernatorial Elections

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A year ago today, Ricardo Rosselló won Puerto Rico’s gubernatorial race with only 42% of the vote. This was the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista’s worst performance since its founding in 1967. The same can be said of the pro-commonwealth Partido Popular Democrático, which had never earned less than 40.7% of the vote.

These political parties’ poor performance can be explained by Puerto Ricans’ growing frustration with the island’s politics, the status question and Puerto Rico’s weak economy. These attitudes convinced many voters to support Alexandra Lúgaro’s or Manuel Cidre’s independent candidacies. The pie chart shows that together they earned around 17% of the vote, though Lúgaro’s 11%  helped her secure a third place finish. To put this in a historical context, the other time a fringe party gained more than 10% of the vote was in 1968 when Roberto Sánchez Vilella’s Partido del Pueblo won 11.7%.

Another reason why the PNP and the PPD did so poorly was their inability to inspire or mobilize Puerto Rican voters. Only 55% of eligible voters participated in the electoral process. Indeed, the voter turnout rate for the 2016 general elections was the lowest in Puerto Rico’s post-1952 history as illustrated in the graph below.

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Why did the island’s main political parties do so poorly? Why did 17% of voters support the candidacy of independent candidates even though they had little chances of winning the election? Why did so many Puerto Ricans decide not to cast a ballot?

Will these trends continue? In some ways the results of the 2017 status plebiscite confirm Puerto Ricans’ negative attitudes against the main political parties and their leaders. But will Hurricane Maria’s impact lead to a political realignment? Will the PPD find its voice? Will the PNP continue to push for statehood, when so many Puerto Ricans are growing weary of the federal government’s slow response to the island’s humanitarian catastrophe?

CBS Correspondent David Begnaud’s Tweets: 34 Days After Hurricane Maria

For Puerto Ricans living in the mainland or in the island, CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud has become a household name. Only a few journalists covered Hurricane Maria’s devastation a few hours after the storm swept through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. And Begnaud’s reporting helped many people around the world appreciate the magnitude of the destruction and the unfolding humanitarian crisis. 

What has made Begnaud’s style of journalism different from his colleagues? On top of his news stories for CBS News, Begnaud has used to great effect his Twitter and Facebook accounts to explain the island’s challenges. Many of his tweets or posts include video interviews of federal and Puerto Rican officials shot with his iPhone and photos of the island’s devastation. 

An article on Begnaud’s work, published in The Daily Advertiser, notes that his “Facebook page jumped from 10,000 followers to 315,000 followers in just under one month.” Similarly, on September 1, 2017, Begnaud had around 10,400 Twitter followers, growing to over 75,000 followers this week. In addition, Google Trends data show that during this time period Google users in the United States became more interested in his reporting as well.

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In this post, I want to conduct a quick analysis of Begnaud’s Twitter activity. Using TwitteR, a package created by Jeff Gentry for the R programming language, I downloaded his tweets from September 19 to October 24, 2017, totaling 413 tweets.

The graph below shows how many tweets Begnaud has posted per day.

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In Twitter, users can interact with others users in three different ways. They can respond to a particular tweet by making a comment, they can “reTweet” a tweet or they can “favorite” it. For a journalist, reTweets are a valuable commodity as users who reTweet a tweet are sharing this tweet with their followers. Thus, reTweets help tweets go viral.

The graph below shows a timeline of all the “favorites” Begnaud’s tweets earned during the time period.

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Two tweets standout. On September 26, he posted the following tweet, which was favorited 34,933 times: “About 44% of the population in Puerto Rico is without drinking water, according to the Department of Defense. It’s 90 degrees today.

A day later he tweeted: “Maddening. 3,000 shipping containers packed with food water & medicene [sic] have been sitting at the port in Puerto Rico since Saturday. This post was favorited 36,142 times.

The next graph help us visualize all the reTweets.

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Not surprisingly, the most reTweeted tweets are also the most “favorited” . The tweet of September 27, 2017 was covered by other media outlets around the world. On this day, Begnaud had 21,700 followers. By October 4, after President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico, he had 49,800 followers.

Begnaud’s reporting has covered many issues, such as FEMA’s and the Puerto Rican government’s efforts to restore power and water to the island’s residents. He has also reported on Puerto Ricans’ frustrations gaining access to the USNS Comfort, the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship which has been docked in San Juan harbor since on October 3, 2017. Begnaud’s tweets have also made references to Governor Ricardo Rossello, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and President Trump. The following pie chart helps us visualize the total amount of tweets that mention each topic or individual. 

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How are Begnaud’s tweets different from his Facebook’s posts? I will conduct this analysis at later date. But for now it is worth noting that his use of Twitter as a journalism tool has helped him raise awareness of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. His tweets and Facebook posts have helped government officials understand Puerto Ricans’ frustrations. Begnaud has also been able to use these social media platforms to make the decision-making process more transparent and to hold accountable federal and Puerto Rican government officials for their post-Maria recovery strategies. It is no wonder that so many people in and outside the island have started online petitions asking for Begnaud to be considered for an Emmy or a Pulitzer for his reporting.

Are you familiar with Begnaud’s reporting? What do you think of his work? Feel free to share your views.

Did Ricardo Rosselló Earn More Mentions than Carmen Yulín Cruz in U.S. Online News After Hurricane Maria?

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, has become the strongest critic of the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. Her growing popularity among Democrats in the United States has overshadowed Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló. In an earlier post, I used Google Trends data to show that many Google users in the United States started to search for more information on Cruz after her first Twitter battle with President Trump.

While Rosselló has earned more mentions in U.S. TV news organizations’ reporting of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, the San Juan mayor did receive more mentions in the cable news channels, especially in CNN and MSNBC.

In this post, we look at U.S. Online News coverage of the island’s recovery efforts and how many sentences include references to either Rosselló or Cruz. In this short analysis, I used MediaCloud,  an open source platform created by a team of researchers at Harvard University and MIT to study “media ecosystems”, to search its collection of U.S. Online News for articles printed between September 18 and October 30, 2017 that mentioned either politician. So, who earned the most mentions?

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Given the Google Trends data, this is not a surprising finding. While Rosselló did receive more mentions in the U.S. TV News coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts, it is important to note that she earned 47% of all the mentions and that his mentions were inflated by PBS News’ reporting.

If we look at a timeline of the media organizations in MediaCloud’s U.S. On-Line News Collection, we see a similar pattern to the trends we discussed in the previous posts.

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The number of sentences that mentioned Cruz increased dramatically during her Twitter feud in late September with Trump. Different from the trend-lines examined in the previous two posts, sentences mentioning the San Juan Mayor outnumber those mentioning Rosselló for most of the time period.

In the previous trend-lines, we see that Rosselló’s numbers increase after his meeting with President Trump at the White House on October 19. By the end of October, Rosselló’s earns more mentions and this associated with his criticisms of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid and his decision to cancel the contract with Whitefish Energy, which Cruz, among many politicians in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, had criticized.

With these findings, we can conclude that Cruz has become a rising start in the United States. Her standing in Puerto Rico is more difficult to measure. Unfortunately, the tools we used to measure Cruz’s or Rosselló’s influence in the U.S. media environment does not apply to Puerto Rico. The Google Trends data for Google users in Puerto Rico does show that interest in Rosselló is still very strong. But we need to use these results with caution as many Puerto Ricans lack access to the Internet.

In the future, I will look at how Puerto Ricans perceive both Rosselló and Cruz, by comparing and contrasting Facebook users’ or Twitter users’ opinions of both politicians to a particular issue or event we can deduce their overall standing in the islands’ political system.