CAIRO – A new study has found that US mainstream media outlets are dominated by anti-Islam groups to shape the distorted public discourse about the Islamic faith since the 9/11 attacks.
“Anti-Muslim fringe organizations dominated the mass media via displays of fear and anger,” Christopher Bail, assistant professor of sociology at University of North Carolina, told Wired magazine.
“Institutional amplification of this emotional energy, I argue, created a gravitational pull or ‘fringe effect’ that realigned inter-organizational networks and altered the contours of mainstream discourse itself.”
Bail has conducted a study into the influence of fringe groups on the US media coverage of Muslims and their faith.
He used “anti-plagiarism” software to pick up damning similarities between the releases and stories from news outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Times, CBS News, CNN and Fox News Channel.
The assistant professor surveyed more than “1,084 press releases about Muslims produced by 120 civil society organizations to 50,407 newspaper articles and television transcripts” during the seven crucial years after 9/11, between 2001 and 2008.
“The vast majority of organizations competing to shape public discourse about Islam after the September 11 attacks delivered pro-Muslim messages,” he said.
“Yet my study shows that journalists were so captivated by a small group of fringe organizations that they came to be perceived as mainstream.”
Bail’s document, published in the American Sociological Review, is part of a wider study into the influence of fringe groups on the media.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, US Muslims, estimated between 6-8 million, have complained of discrimination and stereotypes because of their Islamic attires or identities.
In August 2011, a US report was issued depicting a group of foundations, think tanks and bloggers as the main players behind the 10-year-old campaign to promote fear of Islam and Muslims in the US.
Titled ‘Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America’, the report was issued by CAP, a think tank which is close to the administration of President Barack Obama.
The 130-page report identifies seven foundations that have quietly provided a total of more than 42 million dollars to key individuals and organizations that have spearheaded the nation-wide anti-Muslim effort between 2001 and 2009.
The study found that dominant Muslim groups were sidelined from the mainstream media, focusing only on extremist views.
“We learned the American media almost completely ignored public condemnations of terrorist events by prominent Muslim organizations in the United States,” Bail said.
“Inattention to these condemnations, combined with the emotional warnings of anti-fringe organizations, has created a very distorted representation of the community of advocacy organizations, think tanks, and religious groups competing to shape the representation of Islam in the American public sphere.”
Bail opines that some organizations were successful in spreading negative warnings about Islam, including the Center for Security Policy and the Middle East Forum through projects such as “Islamist Watch” and Stop the Islamization of America.
“The only major US Muslim organization that has achieved a high level of media influence is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is now working to rebuff the recent rise in anti-Muslim messages within the American public sphere,” he said.
The assistant professor says that the impact of the anti-Islam media was evident in the government, where few Muslims are included in the policy process.
“Muslim-American organizations have not been adequately represented within our policy process,” he said.
“For example, only one large Muslim-American organization was invited to participate in recent Senate and Congress.”
Despite the dire picture, Bail believes that tolerance will win out at last.
“I do not think it is too late,” Bail said.
“Religious tolerance is deeply embedded within our national character. Muslims have been a positive force in United States history since the 19th century.
“Yet although my study shows this event enabled the meteoric rise of anti-Muslim fringe groups, it has also strengthened inter-faith coalitions working to invert the violent stigma attached to Islam.”