religious minorities

Covering Muslims

We present the first systematic, large-scale analysis of American newspaper coverage of Muslims. By comparing it over time with reporting on other groups and issues as well as coverage of the subject in other countries, we demonstrate conclusively how negative American newspapers have been in their treatment of Muslims across the two-decade period between 1996 and 2016, both in an absolute sense and compared to a range of other groups. The same pattern holds in other countries, such as Australia, Canada, and the UK. While 9/11 did not make coverage more negative in the long run, it did dramatically increase the prevalence of references to terrorism and extremism.

Atheism in US and UK Newspapers

We analyze coverage of atheism and atheists in American and British newspapers using computational text analysis techniques, including sentiment analysis and topic modeling. In particular, we show that greater negativity is associated with atheism as a concept than with atheists as individuals. Our findings add a new dimension to scholarship on differences between individual-targeted and group-targeted tolerance in public attitudes, establishing for the first time that media coverage mirrors such differences.

Media portrayals of Muslims

Are Muslims portrayed more negatively than other religious groups? If so, what factors are associated with this negativity? We apply computer-assisted, lexicon-based coding to over 850,000 articles that mention Muslims, Hindus, Jews, or Catholics in 17 national and regional US newspapers over the 20-year period of 1996– 2015 and compare them to a representative baseline of articles. We show that the average tone of articles about Muslims is considerably more negative than both this baseline and compared to articles about the other groups. The negative tone is most strongly associated with stories about extremism and events in foreign settings. However, even controlling for a wide range of factors does not eliminate the negativity in stories mentioning Muslims. We discuss the implications of these findings for media objectivity and for public attitudes and policy preferences with respect to Muslims and other social groups.

Media coverage of Muslim devotion

Scholars have identified Muslims’ religiosity and faith practices, often believed to be more intense than those of other religious groups, as a point of friction in liberal democracies. We use computer-assisted methods of lexical sentiment analysis and collocation analysis to assess more than 800,000 articles between 1996 and 2016 in a range of British, American, Canadian, and Australian newspapers. We couple this approach with human coding of 100 randomly selected articles to investigate the tone of devotion-related themes when linked to Islam and Muslims. We show that articles touching on devotion are not as negative as articles about other aspects of Islam—and indeed that they are not negative at all, on average, when focused on a key subset of devotion-related articles. We thus offer a new perspective on the perception of Islamic religiosity in Western societies. Our findings also suggest that if newspapers strive to provide a more balanced portrayal of Muslims and Islam within their pages, they may seek opportunities to include more frequent mentions of Muslim devotion.