The media is making people disproportionately fearful of Muslim terrorists despite committing fewer acts compared with non-Muslims, a study from Georgia State University showed.
An analysis of US media coverage between 2011 and 2015 found that while Muslims perpetrated fewer acts of terrorism than non-Muslims, attacks by Muslims were nonetheless written about 4.5 times more than the others.
In their study “Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?”, authors Erin M. Kearns, Allison Betus and Anthony Lemieux said that the uneven media coverage ‘reinforces cultural narratives about what and who should be feared.’
“All attacks in this study are considered terrorism by experts and should be covered as such. Yet, clearly, media do not cover these events equally … Muslims perpetrated 12.4 percent of the attacks yet received 41.4 percent of the news coverage,” the authors said in their study.
“By covering terrorist attacks by Muslims dramatically more than other incidents, media frame this type of event as more prevalent. It is no wonder that Americans are so fearful of radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Reality shows, however, that these fears are misplaced. One way to combat this is to change the public narrative on terrorism to cover attacks more evenly,” they commented.
Focusing on two sources – LexisNexis Academic and CNN.com – to measure media coverage, they found that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing received almost 20 percent of all coverage relating to US terror attacks in the five-year period.
The attack by carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, ethnic Chechens who had immigrated to the United States, killed three people.
In contrast, the 2012 killings carried out by Wade Michael Page – a white man – at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six people dead, received just 3.8 percent of coverage.
A mass shooting by Dylann Roof of nine people in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina received 7.42 percent of the coverage while a 2014 attack by Glenn Miller on a synagogue in Kansas killed three people but only received 3.27 percent of the media attention.
“When President Trump asserted that the media does not cover some terrorist attacks enough, it turns out that he was correct,” the authors said. “However, his assertion that attacks by Muslim perpetrators received less coverage is unsubstantiated.”
“Beyond just the quantity of coverage, it is also important to analyze the content of what is said. Might media be reticent to use the term ‘terrorist’ to describe some attackers? How do casualty rates report the way that media discusses attacks? When is speculation about the perpetrator’s mental health more prevalent?”