Barrett: Media representation of Muslims reaching ‘normalization’

February 13, 2007

February 13, 2007 — Paul Barrett, assistant managing editor at BusinessWeek and author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, discussed the trends of news coverage of American Muslims across print and broadcast media, addressing the biases and stereotypes reinforced therein.

In terms of print media, Barrett said that news coverage has finally “reached a level of normalization” for the first time since September 11; as evidence, he cited a triad of recent articles in the New York Times that portrayed Muslims in America as “regular citizens,” like any other group in the United States.

Despite this normalization, however, he did note a discrepancy in the way that Muslims are identified in photographs or other visual media. Quoting an oft-held maxim in broadcast news, Barrett said “there is a tremendous felt need for images to ‘read’ Muslim.” Consequently, he explained, the media’s “lack of imagination” reinforces the separateness of Muslim communities from mainstream American society.

Barrett called radio “a surprisingly troubling medium” for the “open bigotry” expressed on conservative talk programs. Excepting NPR, Barrett said that these programs do great damage in contributing to the public’s misconception about Islam and its practitioners.