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The "Elite Eight" of Extremism in the News

Some activists say media sources often promote stereotypes between extremism and Islam. (Pixabay)
Some activists say media sources often promote stereotypes between extremism and Islam. (Pixabay)
March 25, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - While some Iowans focus on March Madness with the Cyclones playing tonight, a social justice group is drawing attention to an "Elite Eight" of a much more serious nature.

Given the attention garnered by violent extremism in recent months, the American Friends Service Committee took a look at the way it's being portrayed in the news.

AFSC Communications Research Director Beth Hallowell says media coverage can unintentionally create the false impression that Muslim terrorism, especially in the U.S., is more prevalent that it actually is.

"Islam is mentioned in context to violent extremism coverage over 90 percent of the time," she says. "Part of the reason this was so disturbing to us is we saw articles that even covered Islam when religion was not at stake or was spurious to the article."

The group studied over 600 articles from major U.S. media outlets and compiled an "Elite Eight" list of the most-quoted sources about extremism in the news.

Hallowell says another media outlet or journalist was the most-quoted source in the articles, followed by a local official, and then a local resident.

When there are acts of extreme violence, she says too often the media coverage favors the response to the act, instead of focusing on solutions that promote peace.

"The media have a huge role to play in bringing facts to light and also in shaping national public discourse," says Hallowell. "And our national discourse is at an all-time low when it comes to violence, race, religion and so forth."

AFSC says one of its goals is to break down these stereotypes by encouraging advocates and journalists to work together to examine the root causes of violence, so extremism can be covered in a more factual, unbiased way.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IA