Media Coverage of Muslims More Negative Than Other Minority Groups, Study Finds

News coverage of Muslims in the U.S. is far more negative than that of other minority groups, according to a new study.

The Media Portrayals of Minorities Project Lab at Vermont's Middlebury College analyzed 26,626 articles from 2018 that mentioned African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Jews and Muslims. The articles selected were published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

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There are an estimated 7 million Muslims living in the United States. Getty Images

Researchers scored each article on how positive or negative it was in tone, then compared the average result for each group to the average U.S. newspaper story. Any score above 0.5 or below -.05 denoted clearly positive or negative connotations respectively.

Coverage of Muslims was rated an average of -.092, compared to -0.13 for Latinos and +0.17 for Asian Americans.

Report on Media Portrayals
The average results on tone for various minorities, according to the Report on Media Portrayals. Media Portrayals of Minorities Project

About 9,000 of the stories mentioned Islam or Muslims, representing more than a third of all the articles analyzed. African Americans were the second-most-covered minority, with 6,500 articles. Jews were mentioned in nearly 6,000 articles with what researchers described as an average tone of neutral.

Reporting of foreign conflicts or Islamists groups was a major source of negativity for articles about Muslims. About 92 percent of the Muslim articles referred to a foreign location. Some 10 percent of those stories exclusively included foreign locations, compared to an average of about 2 percent for the other groups.

"Even if you take all of those articles out of your equation, stories about Muslims are still more negative than stories about any other group," lab director Erik Bleich told Religion News Service. Bleich said the average tone of Muslim articles has become less negative over the past five years, which he linked to less frequent coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis and the Islamic State.

But both topics were still each mentioned in more than 30 percent of articles last year.

Overall, stories about culture and education are substantially more positive than pieces on politics or law and order. But according to Bleich, coverage of Muslims was the least likely to be about culture or education, and most likely to focus on politics and crime.

"By giving relatively less attention to other aspects of Muslim life that are shared by all identity groups— culture, education, domestic politics —newspapers may make it harder for readers to see Muslims as part of mainstream American society," the report said.

Researchers at Bleich's lab found only 2 percent of articles on Muslims mentioned Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiment, with 3 percent explicitly noting anti-Muslim hate crimes. That compares to the 17 percent of Jewish articles that mentioned anti-Semitism.

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There are more than 2,000 mosques in the United States, a quarter of which are in New York and California. Getty Images

According to a Pew Research survey from May, 82 percent of American adults believe Muslims are subjected to some discrimination in the U.S., with 56 percent believing they are discriminated against a great deal. In another Pew survey, 63 percent of respondents believed being Muslim hurt one's ability to advance in American society.

And while 60 percent of Americans known Ramadan is an Islamic holy month, less than a quarter knew how many Muslims there are in America.

The lab previously surveyed of newspapers in the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and Australia between 1996 and 2016, finding not a single month in which the average tone of articles about Muslims was positive.

Another study led by Bleich examined articles published in The New York Times and The Guardian between 1985 and 2014, found that headlines about Muslims were more negative than those about Jews or Catholics.

Media Portrayals of Minorities Project
A look at the tone of articles about Islam, Judaism and Christianity in The New York Times and the Guardian newspaper over the past 35 years. Media Portrayals of Minorities Project
Media Coverage of Muslims More Negative Than Other Minority Groups, Study Finds | News