Study Finds Negative Portrayals of Muslims Get More Media Attention

Since 9/11, negative messages about Muslims have received more media attention than positive ones, new research finds.

By Jorge Rivas Nov 29, 2012

Organizations using fear and anger to spread negative messages about Muslims have moved from the fringes of public discourse into the mainstream media since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to new research by a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Christopher Bail, an assistant professor of sociology in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, used plagiarism detection software to track the influence of 1,084 press releases about Muslims from 120 organizations on more than 50,000 television transcripts and newspaper articles produced from 2001 to 2008. Bail analyzed articles from the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Times, as well as stories from CBS, CNN and Fox’s television broadcast. "I found that organizations with negative messages about Muslims captivated the mass media after the Sept. 11 attacks, even though the vast majority of civil society organizations depict Muslims as peaceful, contributing members of American society," said Bail in a statement. "As a result, public condemnations of terrorism by Muslims have received little media attention, but organizations spreading negative messages continue to stoke public fears that Muslims are secretly plotting to overthrow the U.S. government." His study titled, "The Fringe Effect: Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse about Islam since the September 11th Attacks," appears in the December issue of the American Sociological Review. [You can also download a PDF version of the study on Bail’s website.](