With hate crimes against Muslims on the rise and an administration that frequently makes anti-Muslim statements on its way in, cable news shows must work harder to include Muslim experts, advocates, and community leaders in order to provide a good reflection of the diversity and authenticity of American Muslim experiences.
According to FBI statistics, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been on the rise for several years, shooting up 67 percent between 2014 and 2015 “from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015,” their highest since the year of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Though FBI hate crime statistics for 2016 won’t be released until the end of 2017, according to a joint study by CAIR and ThinkProgress, there have been 111 reported anti-Muslim incidents in America since the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, 53 of them in the month of December 2015 alone.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which tracked the connection between political rhetoric and anti-Muslim attacks during the the presidential campaign season, found that there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence in the one year period after the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015. And since Trump’s election less than two months ago, there have been at least 150 reported hate incidents, 29 of which were inspired by anti-Muslim sentiment, according to a ThinkProgress analysis that “focuses on moments of more targeted harassment and hatred.”
Despite the undeniable upward trend of violence against American Muslims, right-wing media have consistently dismissed this trend and cast doubt on the discrimination American Muslims face. On December 7, 2015, the same day Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Fox’s The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Jesse Watters used the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's call for tolerance toward Muslims by denying the existence of discrimination against people of that faith. Watters asserted, “Let me know if you see any Muslim backlash, I haven't seen a lot of it,” with Guilfoyle adding, “I mean, who's vilifying any of the Muslims. Who's doing that?” The next day, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Muslim hate crimes [are] not as big an issue as the White House would make you to believe,” and The O’Reilly Factor host Bill O’Reilly asserted, “there really isn't any evidence that Muslims are being mistreated in the USA.”
Of course, none of these Fox figures are Muslim, and neither of these segments featured Muslim guests. Their coverage is indicative of a larger problem: When cable news shows fail to invite Muslims to speak about their concerns, misinformed attacks are left unchecked and unchallenged and are repeated until viewers simply accept them as fact.
A Look Back At 2016
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting
The day after 49 people were killed at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, despite major print and online news stories about the outpouring of Muslim support for the shooting victims, positive portrayals of Muslims on cable news shows were almost non-existent. A Media Matters study of what voices were heard on cable news the day after the Orlando shooting found only 5 percent of guests on Fox News and MSNBC were Muslim, as well as only 7 percent of guests on CNN. What’s more, the three Muslim guests featured on Fox News did not adequately represent the Muslim American population; Maajid Nawaz is identified by Fox as a “former Islamic extremist,” Zuhdi Jasser has been described by the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as “the de facto Muslim for anti-Muslim political leaders,” and Qanta Ahmed has warned that “it’s time for the United States, western democracies, Britain, France, to admit that we are under siege by an ideology called Islamism.”
Three days later, Fox’s Megyn Kelly invited anti-Muslim hate group leader Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” onto her show to discuss the shooting. Fox’s post-Orlando coverage followed a familiar pattern of stereotyping, fear-mongering, and misplaced blame. Other Fox guests and contributors exploited the attack in order to call for mosque surveillance and a new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Fox isn’t the only network that needs to improve inclusion of Muslim voices in important dialogues. On MSNBC, Maajid Nawaz, who was identified as a “former Islamist revolutionary member,” accounted for two out of four Muslim guest appearances. (He was also the same guest featured on Fox.) CNN featured the most diverse and numerous array of Muslim guests, but still only comprised 7 percent of guests on CNN that day.
Trump’s Attacks On A Gold Star Family
Another recent example of a major news story that impacted the Muslim community but didn’t ask them how was Trump’s attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family. On July 31, Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan penned an op-ed for The Washington Post debunking Trump’s July 30 claim that “maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say” about her son Humayun, an Army captain who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Trump’s attack, which played on the stereotype that Muslim women are expected to be subservient to their husbands, garnered sustained national attention, but on the morning shows of two major cable news networks, MSNBC and Fox, Muslim guests were barely featured. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, of 13 guests to discuss Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, only two were Muslim, the Khans themselves. On Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which covered the story significantly less, only one of three guests invited to discuss the Khan story was Muslim, and the one Muslim guest was Jasser. CNN’s coverage of the attacks on the Khan family was markedly more representative of Muslims. Out of 17 guests invited onto its morning show New Day, eight (including Khizr and Ghazala Khan) were Muslim. While this is a major improvement over MSNBC’s and Fox’s coverage of the story, only one guest other than Ghazala Khan was a female Muslim, despite the sexist nature of Trump’s anti-Muslim attack.
Post-Election Media Environment
Politicians engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric picked up in 2015, but no presidential candidate weaponized that brand of hate to the degree Donald Trump has. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, said he would implement a registry and tracking system of American Muslims, and claimed that “Islam hates us.” Despite the unusual level of anti-Muslim sentiment coming from the president-elect, in the month following Trump’s election only 21 percent of evening cable news segments on issues affecting Muslims or, more specifically, segments on his anti-Muslim policy proposals and cabinet picks featured Muslim guests. Muslims are understandably outraged about Trump’s cabinet picks, and while discussion of those picks has dominated cable news shows during the transition, we aren’t hearing from Muslims on the primetime news shows.
Why This Matters
Media representation of Muslims has measurable effects on Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam. A December 2015 University of Michigan experimental study on exposure to Muslims in media found that “exposing participants to negative Muslim media footage, relative to neutral or no-video footage, increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, increased support for harsh civil restrictions of American Muslims, and increased support for military action in Muslim countries.” Fortunately, the opposite is also true -- media representations of Muslims in a positive context can produce the opposite effect. Moreover, the majority of Americans that personally know Muslims hold favorable views of them, a finding that holds across the political spectrum. But only 38 percent of Americans say that they know someone who is Muslim. Taken together, these findings make the case for increased representation of Muslims in news media -- since most Americans have limited interactions with Muslims, it’s incumbent that media help to get their perspectives across authentically.
Unfortunately,TV news has done an abysmal job of this. A 2007-2013 study on Muslims in the media found that primetime TV news coverage of Muslims has gotten increasingly worse -- in 2013, over 80 percent of media portrayals of Muslims in U.S. broadcast news shows were negative. This kind of coverage has lasting impacts on attitudes about Muslims. Fifty-five percent of Americans hold either a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, and over half of Americans believe that Muslim immigrants increase the risk of terror attacks in the United States.
Despite the false but persistent narrative of Muslims as violent aggressors, American Muslims face more discrimination than nearly every other demographic in the United States, and it dominates their day-to-day existence. A 2011 Pew study with Muslim American participants (the most recent to date) found that the six biggest problems facing Muslims in the United States were negative views of their community, discrimination, ignorance about their religion, cultural problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, negative media portrayals, and acceptance by society. Given this reality, it is even more important that American Muslims are invited into the national news media to inform non-Muslims and raise awareness about issues faced by members of the United States’ estimated 3.3 million Muslim population.
In the face of what has been called a “post-truth presidency,” being informed is more important than ever. That starts with representing the diverse demographics, perspectives, and opinions of Americans fairly and authentically. In 2016, TV news media viewers saw glimpses of media outlets’ understanding of the need to represent Muslims. Next year, these cable news producers need to constantly be asking themselves: Who does this story affect? What can we ask them? How can we learn from them? Asking Muslims, “What is life like in Trump’s America?” is a good place to start.
For coverage of the Khan family story, Media Matters used iQ media to review the August 1, 2016, editions of morning news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News -- CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends -- between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. for segments and panel discussions dedicated to the Khan story. We excluded network hosts and reporters in our count of show guests. For coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting, segments featuring Muslim guests were reviewed in iQ media to determine their identity. For post-election cable news coverage of issues affecting American Muslims, Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Islam," “Muslim,” “Middle East,” and “registry” in show editions of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from the hours of 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. aired between November 14 and December 14, 2016. Fox News’ The Five, a primarily panel-based show which rarely has guests, was excluded. Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, which airs on MSNBC, was also excluded because transcripts are not available in Nexis.
Segments included are defined by either a panel discussion or an interview where the stated topic of the segment is Islam, Muslims in the United States, or policies and/or presidential cabinet appointments affecting Muslims. We identified a guest’s religion by one or more of the following details: the host’s spoken introduction, onscreen text or graphics produced by the network, self-identification, or consultation of publicly available online biographies.