Muslims and the American Press
Islam and Muslims have become American media mainstays in the decade and a half since the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Hardly a week goes by without news of some breaking event in the Muslim world, and with it reams of explanations of Islam and Muslims for Americans. In spite of the air time and column-inches devoted to Islam and Islamic themes, however, the performance of the mainstream American press in the coverage of Islam, Muslims, and events in the Muslim world has been little short of dismal.1
In order to understand why, it is important to answer several questions. How do the media cover Islam? What factors shape this coverage? If the performance to date has been lackluster, how can media coverage of Muslims be improved, and are these improvements likely to be made? When analyzing coverage of Muslims in the American press and the effects of that coverage on the Muslim community, it is important to keep in mind that “media” is a plural noun and remember that the media are not monolithic dispensers of information but rather a diverse array of outlets encompassing newspapers, magazines, journals, radio and television stations and networks, cable outlets, and such new technology as on-line information services. Given that diversity, it is neither useful nor illuminating to think in terms of conspiracy theories. This approach does have its adherents among critics, but ultimately it conceals much more than it reveals.
Nevertheless, the number of sources for reporting on the Middle East and the Muslim world is limited, and there is a great deal of overlap among media outlets. The three major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), in addition to the Cable News Network (CNN), maintain their own Middle East correspondents and special-assignment foreign correspondents. The American “newspapers of record,” the New York Times, the Washington Post, the