Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Erik Bleich and A. Maurits van der Veen's "Covering Muslims"

Erik Bleich is Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science at Middlebury College. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of several books, including The Freedom to Be Racist? How the United States and Europe Struggle to Preserve Freedom and Combat Racism (2011). A. Maurits van der Veen is Associate Professor of Government at William & Mary. He is the author of Ideas, Interests and Foreign Aid (2011), which examines the framing of spending on foreign populations by European politicians.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Covering Muslims: American Newspapers in Comparative Perspective, and reported the following:
Flipping through our book and landing on page 99, a reader will find four mini-figures and no text. While this is (thankfully) very unusual compared to the rest of our book, this page represents core elements of our project in important ways. Like a heart monitor, these four figures show the pace of articles mentioning Muslims or Islam published every day from 1996 through 2016 in the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia. The rate is uniformly low through September 11, 2001, at which point it spikes three or four-fold. It subsides within a few months of that momentous day, but never recedes to its pre-9/11 level.

Page 99 thus encapsulates one part of a much larger story: Since 9/11, coverage of Muslims and Islam has become a much more prominent part of national media discussions in the United States and around the world. It also conveys the data-forward nature of our book. Many authors have written on media portrayals of Muslims, but our goal in this book was to analyze literally millions of articles using big data approaches. We use these techniques to compare coverage across countries on page 99; in other chapters we look more closely at US coverage of Muslims in relation to groups as diverse as Catholics, Jews, Hindus, African Americans, Latinos, Mormons, and atheists. The Ford Madox Ford-inspired Page 99 Test thus reveals a key element of our book, but leaves out many equally important aspects of this comparative project.

Our data-centric perspective shows more clearly than any previous study the extreme negativity of Muslim articles in the US and foreign media. We also demonstrate just how consequential this is through an experiment. We ask survey respondents to rate articles with different tone scores. This revealed that readers can indeed tell that coverage of Muslims is more negative than the average US newspaper article. Stories in the United States and in other developed democracies are so negative, in fact, that we urge readers to “tone-check” the media—in other words, to develop the habit of asking as you read them whether stories are more negative than they need to be. News consumers can thus counteract reflexive negativity through a conscious skepticism about the tone of coverage. Tone-checking helps challenge Islamophobia and other forms of subconscious bias that are reinforced by the words we read every day in the media.
Learn more about Covering Muslims at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Erik Bleich's The Freedom to Be Racist?.

--Marshal Zeringue