The American public’s opinion of Islam has worsened significantly since 2005 and FBI statistics show that anti-Muslim hate crimes still remain at high levels, making it more important now than ever for media outlets to strive toward journalistic ideals of providing information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner, which helps the American public be well informed to make decisions regarding their lives, and their local and national communities. The best news coverage allows readers to form their conclusions based on factual information, compelling stories and appropriate context.
This report is organized in a user-friendly manner with important observations highlighted throughout the report for readers to quickly find important ‘takeaways’ from each section. Toward the end of this report, on pages 53 & 54, you will find our overall recommendations to The Seattle Times executives, editors and reporters.
In each section of this report, we clearly document trends we observed in our analysis of The Seattle Times’ reporting in 2012. We provide recommendations based on the findings in that section, to help provide research-based lessons in reporting on Islam and Muslims.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations
We are encouraged by the number of Representative articles and urge The Seattle Times to expand on these examples of representative reporting. These stories serve to realistically portray mainstream Muslim thought and Muslims’ lives.
We found a small number of Informative articles that provide appropriate, deep context around complex issues. We recommend The Seattle Times provide more articles providing historical, cultural, political context to complex issues.
We flagged a number of articles for Labeling Disparities. We provided case studies to illustrate the apparently subjective use of labels such as “terrorism” and its variants. In coverage of the 2011 killings in Arizona in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured, we did not even once find ‘terror(ism)’ or ‘terrorist’ in the coverage, as compared to coverage of comparable attacks by Muslim persons where this label was heavily used. We also noted disparities in contextualization of attackers’ backgrounds in a number of cases and noted that several mitigating factors were introduced in backgrounds of mass killers who were non-Muslim while there was a pattern of heavy focus on ethnic and religious backgrounds when killers were Muslim. We recommend The Seattle Times be more accurate in its labeling and contextualization. To avoid perpetuating false stereotypes and unintentionally fueling prejudice and hate, reporters must accurately describe the background and reasoning for violent extremism.
We found over 500 mentions of words such as “Islamist”, “jihadist” and their variants. Imprecise terminology can fuel prejudice and hate in readers’ minds and becomes an obstacle in their understanding of issues. We recommend The Seattle Times use accurate, fact-based descriptions and cease using labels such as ‘Jihadist’, ‘Islamist’ and their variants, to avoid misleading readers into associating Islam and Muslims with violence, and to provide readers with an accurate, fact-based understanding of issues. We found a limited number of articles that we flagged under Inflammatory and False Information. In one, the author described Islam as a “primitive, misogynist religion”. We noted that a similarly defamatory attack on a minority religion, such as Judaism, or a culture, such as African American culture, would not be considered fit to print. We recommend that The Seattle Times editors exercise care in distinguishing between opposing viewpoints and hostile, defamatory rhetoric, which can grossly misinform the public, and fuel prejudice and hate.
The following are our overall recommendations, based on our findings in this report, in addition to those specific recommendations provided at the end of many sections of this report. With these, our goal is to empower journalists in providing readers, viewers and listeners with information that will help them gain an accurate, representative and factbased understanding of events involving Islam and Muslims and of Muslims’ lives. recommendations to journalists and media outlets.
Recommendations to Journalists and Media Outlets
- There continues to be a need for columnists to distinguish between opposing viewpoints on Islam and Muslims and defamatory rhetoric that fuels prejudice and discrimination. While defamatory comments may be newsworthy and in some cases express the writers’ sincere opinions, they should no longer be used simply to provide a ‘balance’ in opinions.
- In an era with American Muslims’ lives increasingly intersect with mainstream media coverage of family, faith, the economy, health care, politics, sports, entertainment and many other issues, we at CAIR-WA, and CAIR chapters nationwide, are committed to providing timely and accurate resources for journalists.
- Unfortunately, anti-Muslim individuals and organizations continue to see their incendiary rhetoric and inaccurate, sensationalistic distortions of Islamic teachings and Muslims’ lives legitimized through stories, features and profiles. Such inclusion, despite the best efforts of reporters striving for fair and accurate coverage, devalues the quality of journalism and results in readers receiving a distorted, unrepresentative image of Islam and Muslims.
- The Seattle Times, as a customer of other media outlets and buyer of syndicated articles, should work with larger news organizations to improve their coverage of Muslims in order to serve their constituency with helpful, informative journalism.
- The Seattle Times should use accurate, fact-based descriptions and cease using labels such as ‘Jihad’ or ‘Jihadist’ and other variants, to avoid giving extremists legitimacy, avoid misleading readers into associating Islam and Muslims with violence, which can fuel prejudice and hate, and to provide readers with an accurate, representative fact-based understanding of issues.
Recommendations for Ally Individuals and Organizations
- We encourage organizations throughout the country to use this report to track and monitor the news in their respective regions.
- We also find that a report covering national newspapers would be extremely helpful, given the nature of the newspaper business today.
- We encourage active citizens to use this report to engage with their local media to provide realistic and representative coverage of Muslims in the press.
Write letters to the editor to:
- Emphasize and praise excellent reporting and coverage
- Note an error; suggest a correction
- Highlight weak coverage of an important issue
Comment on online articles to:
- Provide links to in-depth and factually correct articles on the web