Terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims are given a disproportionately large amount of media coverage compared to those carried out by non-Muslims, research from Georgia State University has revealed.
Although Muslims commit far fewer acts of terrorism than non-Muslims, attacks by Muslims are written about 4.5 times more than other attacks.
“Whether intentional or not, US media outlets disproportionately emphasise the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims, leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat,” the researchers wrote in the Washington Post.
“Since the 11 September 2001, attacks, when most people in the United States hear the word ‘terrorism,’ they think of Muslims. But terrorism comes in many forms”.
The Georgia State University research team of Erin M Kearns, Allison Betus and Anthony Lemieux examined all 89 terrorist attacks carried out in the United States between 2011 and 2015 as listed by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD).
They found that Muslims perpetrated only 12.4% of all those attacks.
Of the rest, the GTD includes the attack by Frazier Glenn Miller, a white supremacist and former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, on a synagogue in Overland Park, Kansas; Robert Dear’s attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs; and Wade Michael Page’s attack on a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, along with many other lesser-reported attacks.
The researchers then searched for media coverage of each attack from US-based print sources in the LexisNexis Academic database of newspaper articles. Since many Americans get their news online, they also looked at coverage from CNN.com.
Each article they counted focused primarily on the act of terrorism, its perpetrators, or the victims. It had to appear in a US-based media source between the attack date and the end of 2016. They found 2,413 news articles that met their criteria.
Of the 89 attacks, 24 did not receive any media coverage from the sources they examined. The small proportion of the attacks that were by Muslims received 44% of the total news coverage. In only 5% of all the terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was both Muslim and foreign-born, but those four attacks got 32% of all the media coverage.
In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a foreign-born Muslim perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Other attacks received an average of 18.1 articles.
The researchers noted that how much media coverage a particular terrorist attack gets is influenced by a host of factors. For example, if the perpetrator is arrested, there is more coverage of the charges, hearing, trial and so on. Attacks against governmental facilities or employees receive more coverage. And more deaths and injuries also mean more media coverage.
But even when allowing for all this, attacks by a Muslim perpetrator get, on average, about four-and-a-half times more coverage.