Research shows news overrepresents Muslims as perpetrators of domestic terrorism

Posted at 11:50 AM, Jan 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-09 11:50:35-05

Viewers of national television news see far more images of Muslims as domestic terrorists and Latinos as immigrant lawbreakers than is actually the case in statistics, according to a recently published study by a communications professor at the University of Illinois.

The study, published online last month by the Journal of Communication, sampled 146 episodes of news programs focused on breaking news carried by major broadcast and cable networks between 2008 and 2012.  Ninety of the programs included crime stories.

Travis Dixon, who led the research while a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, found that among those described as domestic terrorists in the news reports, 81 percent were identifiable as Muslims. Yet in FBI reports from those years, only 6 percent of domestic terror suspects were Muslim.

And 99 percent of those described as having been arrested as undocumented immigrants were Latinos, while official reports indicate the actual number is 75 percent.

The results show “the entire way we conceive of these policies is through a particular kind of ethnic lens.”

Dixon, who in an earlier study of network news in 2003 found that African-Americans were overrepresented as crime perpetrators, reported that situation was much different in the new analysis.

In the news report, African-Americans made up 19 percent of violent perpetrators shown in news accounts, while federal crime statistics show they made up 39 percent of those arrested during the study period. And African-Americans were shown as homicide victims in 22 percent of the news reports, when statistics showed they make up 48 percent of victims.

Depiction of whites as crime perpetrators nearly matched crime stats – 57 percent on news shows, 59 percent of arrests. But whites were overrepresented as homicide victims in the broadcasts, 47 percent of victims, compared to 36 percent in FBI crime reports.

Dixon said the trends may be explained in part because African-Americans are often not part of many types of national news reports, or that the perceived threat of crime and thus coverage of crime, diminished overall during that time, while concern over issues like terrorism and immigration remained high.

[Also by Lee Bowman: State depart-funded research seeks perfect rock]

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