Analysis of NYT headlines revealed that 57 percent of those headlines that mentioned Islam were negative. Contemporaneous headlines regarding cancer, showed some 34 percent taking a negative tone.
"When we went into it we didn't think it would be surprising if Islam was one of the most negatively portrayed topics in the NYT," co-author Usaid Siddiqui explained. "What did really surprise us was that, compared with something as inherently negative as cancer, Islam still tends to be more negative."
Researchers noted that the number of NYT headlines mentioning or referring to Islam increased about 1,000 percent in 2014, compared to the previous year. Of headlines referring to Islam or Muslims, the percentage taking a negative tone also rose significantly, to 68 percent in 2015, from 35 percent in 2009. Authors of the report link these dramatic changes to reporting on the actions of the Daesh extremist group.
According to 416 Labs, Christianity and Judaism were portrayed negatively in about 20 percent less cases than those of Islam.
Negative portrayals of Islam in the NYT, alongside other major media sources, have been common for long enough that the results of the study should not come as a surprise, researchers stated, cautioning, however, that the percentage is increasing from year to year, and this is a cause for concern.
"Over time it just became too rampant to ignore," said co-author Owais Arshad, who released the results of the study to several prominent Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Among the Muslim friends I have," he said, "there's been a distinct recognition that the media is a […] source of biased information."
"Such language does promote the idea that Islam and its adherents are culpable for the violent actions of a few," the report reads.
Researchers suggest hiring Muslim reporters, opinion writers and editors as a stopgap measure to ease worldwide religious tensions and counter endemic cultural bias.