The three major U.S. cable news channels rarely invited Muslim guests on air to talk about President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, a new report shows.
On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order that indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S., shuts down the whole refugee program for 120 days and bars all immigrants and visitors from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen ― all Muslim-majority countries ― from entering the U.S.
From Jan. 30 through Feb. 3 ― while heartbreaking stories surfaced of border officials detaining and deporting people or stranding them at airports overseas ― CNN, Fox News and MSNBC invited just 12 Muslims as on-air guests during primetime hours, according to the report from the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters.
CNN hosted seven Muslim guests, MSNBC hosted two, and Fox News hosted five (all during a single episode of “The First 100 Days”). Two of the guests appeared on programs twice, meaning there were 14 total guest appearances by 12 Muslims.
Those 14 guest appearances represented a small fraction of the 176 guest appearances on the news networks from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on those five nights, when Trump’s Muslim ban dominated the national conversation.
“This failure fits into a larger media pattern of ignoring Muslims when discussing issues that are particularly impactful to them, while at the same time painting false portraits based on stereotypes,” Media Matters wrote in its report.
“Given how few Americans actually know a Muslim person ― and that the religion is already incredibly vilified ― cable news would do better to follow the precedent set by print media and highlight personal stories from Muslims who have been impacted by the ban.”
While the White House has denied that Trump’s order amounts to a “Muslim ban,” Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that Trump asked him to find “the right way” to “legally” implement a “Muslim ban.”
During his campaign, Trump called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit cited Trump’s previous remarks in its decision to uphold a lower court’s temporarily halt to his order. The unanimous three-judge panel said lawsuits against the ban raised “significant constitutional questions” as to whether Trump’s order intentionally discriminated against Muslims.
While Trump claims he signed the order in the name of national security, there have been no fatal terror attacks on U.S. soil by immigrants from the seven banned countries.
Yet in the days after the order was issued, CNN featured guest Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies ― listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, as part of “the nativist lobby” ― who made the unsubstantiated claim that “there are plenty of people with Iraqi nationality who want to commit terrorist acts in the United States.”
This, Media Matters said, was an example of a segment “that could have used a Muslim guest to add perspective and personal experience to the conversation.”
MSNBC declined to comment on the Media Matters report. CNN and Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
The report is the latest study of how the media ― and cable news, in particular ― negatively portrays Muslims while excluding their voices.
A report this week from the media criticism organization Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting noted how the media reserves the label of “terrorism” almost exclusively for acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims, while often ignoring acts of violence committed by non-Muslims:
“White supremacist Alexandre Bissonnette’s January 30 attack on a Quebec mosque was not generally described as “terrorism” by the press, and despite killing six times more people than the October 2014 attack on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill by Muslim Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, it received only one-sixth as much coverage by US media.”
Such negative coverage has real consequences.
Nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t have a favorable view of Muslims, according to a University of Maryland poll. Fifty-six percent think Islam isn’t compatible with American values, according to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute ― a sentiment also embraced by Trump’s aides and top advisers.
Though the U.S. Constitution clearly says otherwise, 26 percent of Americans think it should be illegal to practice Islam in the U.S., according to a 2015 survey from Public Policy Polling. Another 21 percent said they weren’t sure if the religion should be illegal here.
Americans also tend to overestimate how many Muslims are actually living in the U.S. A recent survey from the U.K. research company Ipsos Mori revealed that Americans think there are 54 million Muslims in America, when in fact there are about 3 million. Experts believe this misperception is due largely to Islamophobia.
“We are pre-programmed evolutionarily to focus on negative information,” Bobby Duffy, the managing director at Ipsos Mori’s Social Research Institute, told The Huffington Post recently. “Negative information is more urgent information. Negative discussions take up more of our mental space and lead us to overestimate things.”
Those negative discussions can also lead to violence.
A 2010 academic study from the University of Exeter’s Centre for the Study of Islam found that anti-Muslim media coverage had led directly to a rise in hate crimes against London’s Muslim population.
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