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How the media should cover violent extremism

Stack of newspapers
Learn to sort out legitimate news from the false and misleading stories that circulate online. Photo: AFSC

How journalists cover violent extremism is all over the news this week. It's an important question, since how media covers violence has a huge impact on our national conversation about race, religion, and violence.

AFSC's research shows that what we actually need to change is the way the media covers violent extremism, not how often or how much journalists cover this issue.

Over three months in 2015, AFSC looked at 600+ news articles and transcripts from 20 outlets. Our findings show that media actually focus on violence while downplaying the importance of nonviolent solutions to conflict. Fortunately, we also found examples of excellent reporting on this topic that can serve as models for how to cover this issue in the future.

Here's a round-up of the worst—and best—coverage of violent extremism:

  • The outlets we sampled in our study covered U.S. military interventions 199 times—more than diplomacy and humanitarian interventions combined. In addition, we're pretty sure that diplomacy would not have received even the small amount of coverage that it did if our sampling frame hadn't overlapped with the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Four media outlets did not cover nonviolent solutions to conflict at all. Not even once. In three months.

Four outlets did not cover nonviolence at all - not even once.
 

  • Islam is covered in the context of violent extremism 475 times, almost seven times more often than Christianity and almost 23 times more often than Judaism. We just can't get over that finding. Religious rhetoric might be used as a weapon in some cases, but that wasn't the main thrust of this coverage.
  • 187 news items quoted another media outlet as a source, making "other media" the most common source in this coverage. Please, journalists, pick up the phone and call someone else for a quote.
  • On the bright side, the inside the Beltway outlets from our sample did cover nonviolent interventions, including diplomacy, about a third of the time. Politico covered diplomacy in nearly half of the articles we sampled!
  • Another ray of sunshine: Artists, activists, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were quoted in nearly a third of the coverage we sampled—and NGOs were the fifth-most quoted source. Not bad!

 

Want to learn more? Check out our report or the video we made about our findings. Share it on Facebook, and don't forget to tag AFSC!