The contrast in attitudes toward refugees from Ukraine in 2022 compared to those from Syria in 2015 is stark and notable. While a range of factors shape this difference, the media’s portrayal of Muslims and Islam undoubtedly plays a role. Scholars have demonstrated how widespread negative coverage of Muslims affects both attitudes and policy preferences. To counter this dynamic, we propose that media outlets and citizens “tone-check” stories that touch on Muslims, much in the way they “fact-check” to ensure accurate reporting.
In Covering Muslims: American Newspapers in Comparative Perspective (Oxford University Press, 2022), we analyze over 1 million US newspaper articles from 17 national, regional, and tabloid newspapers from 1996 to 2016. We use a validated sentiment analysis method that checks words in these stories against those in eight separate dictionaries of positive and negative words. We benchmark all scores against a random sample of over 48,000 US newspaper articles, which allows us to directly compare the tone of stories mentioning Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, African Americans, Latinos, Mormons, and atheists.
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