Media coverage of Muslims matters, an Iowa State University psychology professor says after studying that coverage and public support for military action and restrictions against Muslims.
Craig Anderson said this of the results of his research: “The influence of negative media stories -- as well as a separate link we found between political conservatism and anti-Muslim sentiments and beliefs -- both suggest that U.S. political candidates who were willing to take very strong anti-Muslim stands would get a lot of support from the most active and vocal conservatives.”
In the press release about this work, Anderson said journalists should recognize how their coverage affects public perception and opinion. He said reporters can make a difference by actively seeking out positive stories about Muslim Americans, and when covering Islamist-related terrorist attacks, reporters could talk with Muslim Americans about their opposition to such actions.
Another scholar who has been looking at Muslims and use of media is Duke sociologist Christopher Bail, author of Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream.
What follows is from a recent interview with Bail done by a political website:
Your research examines how anti-Muslim fringe organizations use social media to edge into the mainstream. What might surprise people about the messaging and tools these groups use?
I think many people might be surprised to learn that many people who describe themselves as terrorism experts actually have relatively little expertise in the area. Some of the most popular websites on the Internet that cover issues related to Islam and terrorism (such as Jihadwatch.com) have the appearance of legitimacy but are in fact highly unreliable sources of information about these topics.
Many anti-Muslim organizations came of age during a period where public advocacy was rapidly changing because of the advent of social media. Therefore, many of these organizations have large fan bases or followers, and use sites like Facebook and Twitter to circumnavigate the gatekeepers who would usually prevent false information from appearing within the public sphere.
So in addition to immigrant Muslims negotiating their way through a culture often quite different from the one they came from, they also must be willing and able to respond to people who get their information about Islam from unreliable -- sometimes purposefully so -- sources. That can be a doubly stressful life.
A related problem is the general failure of traditional media to cover Muslim life in America. That includes the failure to cover religion generally as thoroughly as it should be covered. Bail notes this: "Because of the lack of media coverage of mainstream Muslim organizations condemning terrorism, many Americans have the incorrect impression that Muslim-Americans either condone or tacitly support violent extremism."
In the end, it's up to those of us who are consumers of media to ask for the kind of coverage we need. If editors never hear from readers, viewers or listeners, those editors can -- and often do -- assume that they're offering the right coverage.
(By the way, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., recently organized a series of messages that looked at how Muslims are finding their way in the U.S. today. It's worth a look, and you can find it here.)
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PREPARING MUSLIMS FOR THE ELECTION
It's interesting to see how others view us. Here, for instance, is a column by a former Pakistani government official, who seeks to explain religion and politics in the U.S., especially as it relates to Muslims. His conclusion: "If in November, the White House goes to a Republican, the Muslim world should be prepared to deal with a hostile United States."