Coverage of Arab Americans before and after 9/11:
A content analysis of major U.S. newspapers
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Syracuse, New York
211 Lafayette Rd. #612
Syracuse, NY 13205
Email: [log in to unmask]
Paper presented to the Minorities and Communication Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
April 1, 2003
Coverage of Arab Americans before and after 9/11:
A content analysis of major U.S. newspapers
This study examines the extent to which Arab Americans were cast as the
"other" in major U.S. newspapers after September 11, 2001. A content
analysis was conducted to determine the extent to which Arab Americans have
been depicted as outgroup members, ingroup members, and victims. At least
in terms of coverage of Arab Americans, the results of this study seem to
confirm the existence of modern racism and its manifestation after 9/11.
Coverage of Arab Americans before and after 9/11:
A content analysis of major U.S. newspapers
One year after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington,
D.C., Americans continue to experience aftershocks of what has simply been
referred to as 9/11. With Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda members implicated
as the terrorists, Arab Americans experienced a difficult transition
period, where they not only faced the tragedy as Americans but suffered as
victims of discrimination, vandalism, insults, and, sometimes, physical
assault (Zogby, 2002). There were even cases when Arab Americans and those
mistaken as Arab Americans were murdered simply because of their ethnic
affiliation. However, despite such concerns and the attention brought to
Arab American groups after 9/11, there continues to be a severe paucity in
the mass communications literature about the media portrayals of Arab
Over the past year, news organizations have produced a large number of
stories about 9/11. Therefore, as one of the most salient collective
experiences for modern Americans, it is important to understand how the
news media have covered Arab Americans and what role the media has played
in either perpetuating misunderstanding or increasing awareness of Arab
A problem with the current racial discourse in the United States is that it
is too often framed as a Black-White dichotomy (Heider, 2000), thereby
marginalizing other groups as not meriting public attention and research.
Despite the violence against Arab Americans after the World Trade Center
bombing and other terrorist activity against the United States, there has
been little academic or scholarly research on the mass media's portrayal of
Arab Americans. Therefore, it is important to continue expanding upon the
bipolar view of race that currently exists. Towards that goal, it is
beneficial to research whether Arab Americans are framed as being members
of the society at large; as "others," who are a threat to the way of life
in the U.S.; or as a mixture of both.
Research suggests that, in general, news coverage of minorities is
stereotyped and less favorable than that of Whites (Power, Murphy, &
Coover, 1996). According to Entman's study (1994) on the portrayal of
Blacks in television news, he found that the actions of individual African
Americans are generalized as being characteristic of the entire African
American population. These portrayals often include negative
characteristics such as being aggressive, hostile, poor, lazy, and as
practicing special-interest politics. Further, the research indicates that
persons of color are, comparatively, more often portrayed as perpetrators
of crime than Whites (Entman, 1994), giving a distorted view of reality in
the news. One reason for this distortion is that interracial conflict
creates more newsworthy stories due to the tension between groups (Romer,
Jamieson, & de Coteau, 1998). Another explanation is that by constructing
stereotypes in this way, it reinforces the dominant position of the White
majority (Shah & Thornton, 1994).
While it is fairly clear that the mass media promote negative stereotypes
of minorities, it is less clear why individuals hold stereotyped beliefs in
the first place. While there are several competing theories, one common
characteristic is the assumption that individuals group themselves along
similar characteristics, creating ingroups to which one belongs and
outgroups to which one does not belong. Because individuals, generally,
have more contact with members of their ingroup, their conception of the
ingroup is much more complex than that of outgroups (Linville & Jones,
1980). Therefore, when coming into contact with members of an outgroup,
perceivers rely on their limited knowledge structure about that social
group, adopting a consistent bias in evaluating members of that group
(Linville, 1982). In explaining this phenomenon, there are four major
theories: realistic group conflict theory, complexity-extremity theory,
assumed characteristics theory, and expectancy violation theory.
One of the original theories on stereotypes is the realistic group
conflict theory, which suggests stereotypes are perpetuated through the
tension that is created between groups in their competition over scarce
resources (Vergeer, Lubbers, & Scheepers, 2000; Bobo, 1988). Another
explanation is the complexity-extremity theory, which states that those in
the ingroup are seen as having more dimensions and being more positive than
those in outgroups. (Linville, 1982). Other competing theories, which are
conceptually somewhat related to complexity-extremity theory, are
assumed-characteristics and expectancy-violation theories. Simply stated,
assumed-characteristics theory states that members of an ingroup have
stereotype-based assumptions that they have more positive characteristics
than members of the outgroup. (Jussim, Coleman, & Lerch, 1987). In
expectancy-violation theory, members of an ingroup have stereotype-based
expectations of the outgroup, and if those expectations are violated, the
evaluation of that outgroup member becomes more extreme in the direction of
the violation (Jussim, Coleman, & Lerch, 1987).
Regardless of the cause of stereotyping, cumulative effects models such as
cultivation theory states that beliefs about social reality, including
views of minorities, are shaped gradually over time through continued
exposure to repeated images (Armstrong, Neuendrof, & Brentar, 1992; Tan,
Fujioka, & Tan, 2000). These images are, then, reinforced and perpetuated
as the news primes stereotyped portrayals of minorities, substantially
affecting individuals' racial cognitions (Domke, D., McCoy, K., & Torres,
While the majority of the literature focuses on the role media play in
threatening ones' group and in perpetuating negative stereotypes (Gandy &
Baron, 1998), there is some research that indicates news and entertainment
media can play a positive role as well. According to the contact
hypothesis, positive personal experiences with members of a different race
can mediate the negative effects of stereotypes (Fujioka, 1999). The
reasons personal contact can create more positive images of outgroup
members are not clear but can be easily applied to the theories stated
above. Primarily, personal contact provides more dimensions on which to
judge individuals, whether this violates assumptions and expectations,
makes views of outgroup members less extreme, or provides evidence that
outgroup members are not actively seeking to steal resources is unclear,
but all four of the theories provide theoretical basis for believing that
positive, personal contact will mediate the negative effects of stereotyping.
In terms of mass communications, an explanation necessarily involves
linking the contact hypothesis with social learning theory, which states
that learning can be achieved through observation and modeling. This means
that watching or reading about positive images of racial minorities in the
media can produce vicarious interaction with members outside of one's
group, thus increasing the store of knowledge one has about a group. In
this way, contact created through the media can contribute to the
dissipation of negative stereotypes. However, while there is the capacity
for positive change, the literature is clear that most portrayals are
negative, which leads to the following research question.
RQ: To what extent have Arab Americans been depicted as members of an
outgroup after September 11, 2001?
This question is significant for a number of reasons. After 9/11, a
significant number of Arab Americans were victims of discrimination. In a
report by Human Rights Watch (2002), the FBI reported a 17-fold increase in
Anti-Islam hate crimes from twenty-eight in 2000 to 481 in 2001, and the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported over 600 hate crimes
against Arab Americans, Muslims, and those mistaken as Arab Americans or
Muslims. Therefore, it is important in understanding what, if any, role the
news media have had in shaping people's opinions of Arab Americans. The
second reason this study is important is because it fills a research gap.
Although there has been some progress recently with studies on Latinos and
other groups, the overwhelming majority of the research on diversity and
the media still focuses on the Black-White dichotomy to the near exclusion
of other groups. By not examining other minority groups, it tacitly implies
that these groups are not important or that they do not face issues of
race. According to Entman (1990), this is one of the facets of modern
racism: the belief that racism no longer exists.
Furthermore, Arab American issues and persons have been more highly
scrutinized in the popular press, in general, and, therefore, are a group
deserving of more scholarly attention. Finally, this research question
relates to a critical population. According to the latest U.S. census
figures, minorities now consist of almost 25% of the overall population,
which is a 5 percentage point increase over the past decade. (U.S. Census,
2000). In terms of the Arab American population, specifically, it is
estimated that there are several million Americans of Arab descent in the
United States and that within communities in California, New York, and
Michigan, there are hundreds of thousands each. Therefore, this study is
meaningful in that it studies the portrayals of a growing and
under-researched minority group, which has been discriminated against and
victimized merely because of its ethnic identity.
A review of the literature found no specific studies on Arab Americans and
a very limited number of studies on Arabs. Because there was little
media-related research that could be found on Arab Americans, coverage of
African Americans and other minorities was used as a theoretical basis for
the study. "The picture that emerges by the lack of attention to Arabs and
Arab cultures is that these countries, these peoples, and their cultures
are neither significant nor important" (Lind & Danowski, 1998, p. 165). The
few portrayals of Arabs there are tend to reinforce negative stereotypes as
an "Orientalized other." Some stereotypical representations of Arabs have
been that they are dirty and lazy, ignorant, superstitious, irrational, and
violent. (Little, 1998).
A content analysis of portrayals of Arabs in television and radio has
revealed that while portrayals of Arabs as wealthy have decreased, Arabs
are still associated strongly with violence, threats, and war (Lind &
Danowski, 1998). While these stereotypes are not specifically related to
Arab Americans, it is likely that these same attributes are ascribed to
them as well. As further evidence these portrayals are likely attributed to
Arab Americans, many of the stereotyped characteristics described have been
ascribed to other minorities as well, displaying a pattern of stereotyped
beliefs towards all racial and ethnic outgroups.
Because the research on stereotypes has for the most part focused on
coverage of African Americans or on Whites' perceptions of African
Americans, it was necessary for this study to create theoretical linkages
from studies on African Americans that may be applicable beyond the
Black-White racial dichotomy. Because of this, the hypotheses for this
study must, by necessity, be extrapolated from studies that do not deal
directly with Arab American portrayals in the mass media but with Arab
portrayals in general and portrayals of other minority groups.
One of the overriding findings has been that, in general, these portrayals
tend to be negative (Tan, Fujioka, & Lucht, 1997). One of the most
prominent examples is the depiction of minorities as criminals (Entman,
1992, 1994; Romer, Jamieson, & de Coteau, 1998). In a study of the
portrayals of non-Whites on local television news by Romer et al (1998),
the researchers found that "persons of color" are overemphasized as
perpetrators of crimes, while Whites are over-represented as victims. The
reason for the prevalence of depictions of interracial crime is because of
its increased newsworthiness due to its focus on intergroup conflict
(Romer, Jamieson, & de Coteau, 1998). Because Arabs are also typically
depicted as aggressive and hostile (Little, 1998), it is reasonable to
believe that coverage of Arab Americans will include depictions of Arab
Americans perpetrating violence against Whites.
Another example of negative portrayals of African Americans is that they
are more dangerous than their White counterparts who are accused of similar
crimes. Because of this, African Americans are frequently shown in the
physical grasp of police officers (Entman, 1994). While much of the
stereotyped portrayals have been in the context of crime, this is not the
only stereotype. African American leaders are more frequently depicted as
complaining about the government and practicing special-interest politics,
implying that African Americans are not productive members of the society
This research supports what Entman (1990) refers to as modern racism,
which consists of three elements: anti-Black affect, resistance to the
political demands of African Americans, and the belief that racism is no
longer a problem. Entman (1992) has found that television news is shaping
racial attitudes in ways that are consistent with the elements of modern
racism, including the depiction of African Americans as criminals and of
African American leaders complaining about the government. To reinforce the
notion that racism is dead, there are also a few examples of Blacks who
have succeeded. While these latter news portrayals are positive, they are
far outweighed by negative portrayals and have been found to be problematic
in that they reinforce the notion that racism is no longer an issue
(Entman, 1992; Coover & Godbold, 1998).
Research on Arabs indicates that the negative affect is present in the
stereotyping of Arabs as hedonistic, hostile, lazy, and ignorant (Little,
1998). Because Arab issues are typically framed against their relationship
to Israel, Arab American leaders are also portrayed as practicing
special-interest politics that run counter to American foreign interests.
Finally, by not paying attention to issues relevant to Arab Americans, it
perpetuates the notion that their issues are not important to the general
In defining and maintaining stereotypes, the mass media serve as vehicles
in creating understanding of outgroups and in providing assessments of
threats to the ingroup (Gandy & Baron, 1998). Further, the mass media have
been found to support a hierarchy of races with Whites at the top,
promoting values important to the White majority (Shah & Thornton, 1994)
and providing information about outgroups that tend to be negative (Tan,
1997) and largely incomplete (Power, Murphy, & Coover, 1996). In White News
(2000, p. 37), Don Heider writes, "Stereotypes offer those in power an
opportunity to control the images, the very ideas by which entire groups of
people are defined."
Priming and Effects of Stereotypes in the Media
A significant body of literature states that representations of ethnic
minorities in the news and in the media play a significant role in shaping
and reinforcing perceptions of race (Coover & Godbold, 1998; Entman, 1992,
1994; Romer, Jamieson, & de Coteau, 1998; Shah & Thornton, 1994). These
portrayals prime viewers by activating stereotypes that are already in
place and by influencing how these perceptions are applied to guide
information processing and judgment (Domke, McCoy, & Torres, 1999).
According to the cumulative effects model, over time, stereotyped
portrayals shape beliefs about social reality (Armstrong, Neuendorf,
Brentar; 1992) and "…become a part of the 'common sense' reality about race
in the United States" (Shah & Thornton, 1994), creating the impression that
minoritiess are "…threatening, demanding, and undeserving of accommodation
by government" (Entman, 1990). Even though individual stories may be
accurate, the mental disposition to stereotype combined with news coverage
creates a stereotyped cognition (Entman, 1994).
This stereotyped cognition is learned gradually over time, shaping
impressions of the behaviors, values, and personality traits of various
groups. This is especially true for those who have little personal contact
with members outside their groups (Tan, Fujioka, & Lucht, 1997). Because
viewers are not presented with enough information to suggest that these
representations are distorted, viewers begin to accept portrayals in the
mass media as social reality, creating pervasive and long-lasting
effects (Gandy & Baron, 1998). Even for those who score low in prejudice,
stereotyped images become incorporated and automatically triggered,
influencing their responses in respect to issues of race (Devine, 1989).
Further, while it is not as true for Black Americans, other minority groups
are often portrayed as victims. In a textual analysis of Latinos in a major
North Carolina newspaper, Latino farmworkers were often portrayed as
victims (Vargas, 2000). By doing so, the coverage "genderizes" Latinos as
passive, silent victims (Vargas, 2000). This fits the pattern that has
been prevalent in the entertainment industry. In Gerbner's (1982) analysis
of prime-time television over several years, he has found that minorities
are often portrayed as victims of aggression.
Symbolic violence demonstrates power; it shows victimization, not just
aggression, hurt but not therapy; it shows who can get away with what
against whom. The dominant white males in the prime of life score highest
on the 'safety scale': they are the most likely to be the victimizers
rather than the victims. Conversely, old young, and minority women, and
young boys, are the most likely to be the victims rather than the
victimizers in violent conflicts (Gerbner, 1982, pp. 106-107).
Therefore, the mass media play a significant role in the maintenance and
perpetuation of stereotypes of minorities. While the mass media have the
ability to shape racial attitudes in a positive direction, the bulk of the
research indicates that the mass media continue to perpetuate outgroup
stereotypes. It is expected, therefore, that news articles on Arab
Americans will also present negative, stereotypical depictions. This leads
to three different hypotheses tested in this study.
H1: Portrayals of Arab Americans as outgroup members will increase after
September 11, 2001.
Research indicates that minorities are depicted as outgroup members and are
stereotyped negatively. While this is the case during non-eventful time
periods, it is expected that crises such as 9/11 will exaggerate the
grouping of Arab Americans as outgroup members. Realistic group conflict
theory states that stereotyping results from tension that is created
between groups for scarce resources (Vergeer, Lubbers, & Scheepers, 2000;
Bobo, 1998). It is expected that 9/11 would cause the majority to view Arab
Americans as a threatening outgroup. Because of this, Arab Americans are
expected to be portrayed more frequently as having characteristics of
H2: Portrayals of Arab Americans as ingroup members will decrease after
September 11, 2001.
As a function of hegemony, outgroup members are occasionally portrayed
positively. However, during crises such as 9/11, it is expected that the
frequency of portrayals as ingroup members will decline. The
complexity-extremity theory states that those in the ingroup are seen as
having more dimensions and being more positive than outgroup members. It is
expected that 9/11 will polarize beliefs of group inclusion, which would
lead the majority to view Arab Americans less as ingroup members. Because
of this, depictions of Arab Americans are expected to include fewer ingroup
characteristics following 9/11.
H3: Portrayals of Arab Americans as victims will increase after September
The literature on the portrayals of minorities has shown minorities are
often portrayed as victims. While the research on news coverage of
minorities as victims is an area that has not been fully studied, early
indications from recent research indicate minorities are overrepresented as
victims in news coverage. After 9/11, it is expected, therefore, that Arab
Americans will be portrayed more often as victims, creating an image of
Arab Americans as passive and weak.
A content analysis of the coverage of Arab Americans in major U.S. daily
newspapers one year prior and one year after September 11, 2001, was
conducted to facilitate measurement of differences in coverage before and
Unit of analysis and unit of observation
The unit of analysis was articles in major U.S. daily newspapers that
include the search term, "Arab American." Major U.S. newspapers were
defined as those with circulation rates of more than 200,000 as listed by
Editor & Publisher International Yearbook (2001). This provided a sample of
newspapers that covered every major region of the United States.
The population included all articles drawn from a search of U.S.
newspapers on Lexis-Nexis, covering the timeframe of September 11, 2000
through September 11, 2002. Special-interest and alternative newspapers
were not included because the study is interested in determining how Arab
Americans are covered in mainstream newspapers that are aimed at the
population at large and not to specialized audiences. Due to limitations in
resources, the sample was drawn from every fifth article, resulting in 662
articles that were analyzed.
Intercoder reliability was established at the .9 level, using the Holsti
percent agreement formula. After reliability was established, coders scored
articles independently based on the measuring instrument (see Appendix 1).
The independent variable for this analysis is time before and after
September 11, 2001. Stories that occurred one year prior to September 11,
2001, were labeled as one stage, and stories one year after September 11,
2001, were labeled as another. Time was also measured in three-month
quarters to achieve a finer degree of analysis.
The dependent variables were grouped into three different categories:
outgroup, ingroup, and victim variables. Outgroup variables were labeled as
aggression, crime, antisocial, resources, unusual, and politics. The
ingroup variables were labeled as productivity, patriotism, and support.
The victim variables were labeled as victim and discrimination.
The first outgroup variable, aggression, was coded as acts of physical
aggression or violence perpetrated by Arab Americans. Research on
stereotypes indicates minorities are portrayed as violent and hostile, and
Arabs have also been depicted as aggressive, hostile, and reveling in
terrorist activity. The next variable was labeled crime and was coded as
any criminal activity committed by Arab Americans that did not include
physical aggression. The next variable, antisocial, was coded as any
antisocial activity that is not a crime such as lying, adultery, cheating,
and being supportive of terrorists.
The next variable was labeled as resources. Because realistic group
conflict theory suggests that stereotyping exists because of tension
between groups over scarce resources, portrayals of Arab Americans taking
resources such as jobs was coded under this variable. The next variable,
unusual, was coded as any practices or beliefs that are not consistent with
mainstream American culture. Defining this variable was, by its nature,
elusive. It was operationalized as any behaviors that would appear unusual
if performed by White, middle-class adults. Finally, minority groups have
often been portrayed as practicing special-interest politics, and it was
expected that Arab Americans would also be portrayed practicing
special-interest politics, especially in relation to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These depictions were coded as politics.
Because there is little research on what makes up ingroup variables, the
following were merely extrapolated from the outgroup variables. The first
is productivity. Much of the stereotypes on minorities are that they are
criminals, lazy, and aggressive. The opposite of this, then, is being
productive members of society. In this analysis, due to the difficulty in
achieving satisfactory reliability coefficients, productivity was coded
simply as holding a job, being a student, or contributing to society in
some other way. The second variable is patriotism. It was coded as
depictions being described as supportive of the United States or of Arab
Americans as United States citizens. The final variable is support. This
was coded as Arab Americans receiving emotional, legal, financial, medical,
and political support from other Americans.
The final set of variables was the victim variables. The first variable in
this set was labeled victim and coded as depictions of Arab Americans as
victims of physical aggression. The final variable, discrimination, was
coded as any depictions of acts of discrimination against Arab Americans.
All the dependent variables in this study were coded on the nominal level
of measurement for presence or absence in the stories. The outgroup
variable coded the most frequently was labeled politics, being coded in
more than 18% of all articles. Nearly 13% of articles were coded as linking
Arab Americans to "unusual." Further, almost 11% of articles linked Arab
Americans to criminal activity. The frequencies for the antisocial and
aggression variables were roughly similar with percentages of 7% and 5%,
respectively. The resources variable was coded in just over 1% percent of
the articles and was removed from further analyses because of its low
occurrences. Overall, the frequency of stories being coded with outgroup
variables was low (see Table 1).
The ingroup variables were coded more frequently than the outgroup
variables. The ingroup variable coded the most frequently was productivity,
appearing in more than 52% of stories. The support variable was the second
most frequent (38.7%) and was followed by the patriotism variable (22.4%)
Overall, a higher proportion of stories were coded as having ingroup
characteristics (see Table 2).
The two victim variables also were coded frequently. The discrimination
variable was coded more than any other dependent variable in the study
(58.5%). Nearly 15% of stories were coded as having depictions of Arab
Americans as being assaulted or killed. (see Table 2).
To test the first hypothesis that the portrayal of Arab Americans as
outgroup members increased after September 11, 2001, crosstabs were run to
test differences before and after 9/11. The results are mixed. Of the five
outgroup variables, only two of the five increased. The crime variable
increased about 4%, and the antisocial variable increased almost 8%. (see
The three outgroup variables that decreased tended to show more dramatic
changes in outgroup coverage. The politics variable showed the steepest
declines, decreasing 33%, and the aggression variable decreased 9%. The
unusual variable, on the other hand, decreased by less than 1% (see Table 2).
To achieve better detail and explanation, the data were also analyzed using
three-month segments or quarters. Using months was problematic because of
low cell counts prior to 9/11. An analysis by quarters reveals that after
9/11, reporting of outgroup characteristics did not necessarily decrease as
found in an analysis by stages. Only two of the five variables (aggression
and politics) showed decreases immediately after 9/11. Despite these
decreases, both variables increased slightly six months after 9/11.
Depictions of Arab Americans as unusual was interesting in that while there
was an overall decrease of less than 1%, coverage of Arab Americans as
unusual actually increased immediately after 9/11. The crime and antisocial
variables also increased after 9/11 and remained elevated above their
pre-9/11 percentages (see Figure 1).
Crosstabs were run to test the second hypothesis that portrayals of Arab
Americans as ingroup members would decrease after 9/11. Overall, there were
larger percent differences than for the outgroup variables. Further, these
differences moved in the hypothesized direction. The productivity variable
showed the largest decline (16.8%). The patriotism variable had the second
steepest decline (11.6%). However, portrayals of Arab Americans as being
supported by their friends, community, and nation rose almost 3% (see Table
An examination by quarters shows that descriptions of Arab Americans along
ingroup dimensions started high during September 2000 and dropped rapidly
following 9/11. Portrayals of Arab Americans as patriotic started at a high
of over 64% and fell roughly 10%. After 9/11, these portrayals rose to
about 26%, but after 6 months, these portrayals fell again to 4.4 percent.
Overall, from September 2000 to September 2002, portrayals of Arab
Americans as patriotic dropped 44%. Coverage of Arab Americans as being
supported had the greatest variability, but there is a clear pattern.
Portrayals of support for Arab Americans fell sharply after January 2001
and rose immediately prior to and after 9/11. Over time, however, these
portrayals eventually dropped to a low of around 18%, representing a 32%
decline since September 2000. Portrayals of Arab Americans as productive
members of society showed the least variability but also declined. Unlike
the two other ingroup variables, the productivity measure declined
immediately prior to 9/11 and then increased for six months. However,
depictions of Arab Americans as being productive did not reach its pre-9/11
levels (see Figure 2).
Crosstabs were run for the victim variables to measure whether there were
changes in coverage. The discrimination variable showed a sharp increase of
nearly 40%, while the victim variable increased 8% (See Table 2). An
analysis by quarters reveals that after 9/11, portrayals of Arab Americans
as being discriminated against increased sharply and then dropped for a
six-month duration. However, a year after 9/11, portrayals of Arab
Americans as being discriminated against was still greater than 30
percentage points higher than pre-9/11 levels. Portrayals of Arab Americans
as victims of aggression, on the other hand, rose after 9/11 but dropped
back to pre-9/11 levels (see Figure 3).
This study examined whether Arab Americans would be cast as outgroup
members after 9/11. The answer to this question, however, was not
clear-cut. While the first hypothesis of whether portrayals of Arab
Americans as outgroup members would rise after 9/11 was not confirmed, the
second hypothesis that Arab Americans would be portrayed less as ingroup
members was confirmed. Further, the third hypothesis that Arab Americans
would be portrayed as victims was confirmed, as well.
While these findings may appear contradictory, the results of the study
do, in fact, move in the hypothesized direction. While a straightforward
comparison of outgroup dimensions prior to and after 9/11 indicate
percentage decreases, this appears to be due to social desirability factors
skewing results immediately after 9/11. The newspapers studied exercised
some restraint in covering Arab Americans as outgroup members immediately
following 9/11, which resulted in fewer portrayals of Arab Americans as
outgroup members on some dimensions for a while after 9/11. However, this
restraint did not last over time. In fact, three of the five variables
studied (crime, unusual, and antisocial) showed increases immediately after
9/11. Only portrayals of Arab Americans as physically aggressive or
practicing special-interest politics declined, and only depictions of Arab
Americans as practicing special-interest politics remained at levels lower
than those prior to 9/11. In other words, four of the five variables
returned to pre-9/11 levels or greater.
The second hypothesis that coverage of Arab Americans as ingroup members
would decrease after 9/11 was supported, for the most part. Though
portrayals of Arab Americans as being supported increased slightly, both
the productivity and patriotism variables had significant decreases after
9/11. Though the correlations were somewhat low, the findings indicate that
Arab American portrayals as ingroup members did, on the whole, decrease
The hypothesis that portrayals of Arab Americans as victims would increase
after 9/11 was also supported. The victim variable showed an increase of
more than two-fold, while the discrimination variable showed a dramatic
increase of almost 39 percentage points.
The findings indicate major U.S. newspapers do not follow a clear pattern
in their portrayals of Arab Americans. Not all coverage is negative, and,
in fact, many articles had positive elements, including portrayals of Arab
Americans as productive or patriotic. While it appears newspapers have made
attempts to not portray Arab Americans as outgroup members immediately
after 9/11, newspapers eventually returned to the status quo in
characterizing Arab Americans as outgroup members. Also, along the crime
and unusual dimensions, portrayals of Arab Americans as outgroup members
increased a year after 9/11.
While attempts have been made to not exclude Arab Americans in portrayals
following 9/11, there were no similar attempts to include Arab Americans as
ingroup members after 9/11. It seems that while newspapers made efforts not
to portray Arab Americans along outgroup dimensions, they were not as
careful in describing Arab Americans along ingroup terms. In this way,
newspapers apparently distanced themselves from Arab Americans, not in
exclusion but in their lack of inclusion. It should be made clear, however,
that despite this trend, the frequency of ingroup portrayals tended to
outnumber those of outgroup portrayals.
The fact that Arab Americans were portrayed more as victims of
discrimination and physical aggression after 9/11 seems to accomplish two
purposes. The first satisfies one condition of modern racism, the belief
that racism is dead (Entman, 1992). By portraying Arab Americans as
victims, it points not to a societal ill but the misdirected nature of a
few deviant individuals, while, at the same time, confirming that Americans
do care about the difficulties faced by Arab Americans. The second is that
by describing Arab Americans as victims, they become a passive, weak
"other." By doing so, the dominant group maintains its superior position in
terms of power relations.
Limitations and future directions
There were several limitations to this study that warrant mentioning. The
first is the search term used, "Arab American." There are often times when
the mass media inaccurately portray and stereotype Arab Americans as Middle
Eastern. Further, there are many terms that are often related to Arab
Americans but are not true of all Arab Americans. For example, one major
misconception is that all Arab Americans are Muslim. Using any of these
other terms would have the unfortunate consequence of promoting stereotypes
of Arab Americans as a monolithic group (i.e. Muslim and Middle Eastern).
However, balancing this social responsibility with social reality means
that portrayals of Arab Americans that were defined, using other search
terms were not included in this study, which may have skewed the data away
from outgroup characteristics.
Also, the version of Lexis-Nexis used provided a limitation as well.
Although it was an expanded version that holds many more articles and
subscriptions than most academic versions, it still did not include every
Another limitation was that the ingroup variables were not fully
developed. It was not immediately clear there should be more dimensions on
which to measure ingroup dimensions because there is very little literature
on what makes up ingroup variables. Most of the literature is focused on
outgroup characteristics such as aggression and crime. While this was an
important paradigm in understanding traditional racism, a deeper
understanding of modern racism would necessarily entail studying the
inclusion of minority groups by the media. It is suggested that future
study examine those dimensions upon which members of ingroups categorize
themselves and the extent to which these ingroup characteristics are
applied to minority groups.
Finally, the level of measurement was only at the nominal level. Difficulty
in achieving intercoder reliability led to the use of nominal level
variables, which does not provide the same richness of data as higher
levels of measurement.
For future studies, it is advisable to use the original newspaper to get a
better sense of the size of the article, the location of the article, and
pictures. The limitation of this, of course, is that the range of
newspapers that can be explored would be reduced due to logistical
constraints. However, it might provide important information on the
portrayal of Arab Americans. It might also be appropriate to investigate
articles with other search terms. In this study it is likely that Arab
Americans are overestimated as ingroup members and underestimated as
outgroup members because of the search term used. Further, a content
analysis, using a higher level of measurement would provide richer data and
more substantive conclusions. Another alternative might be to conduct a
textual analysis to understand these portrayals beyond their manifest content.
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Variable Yes No Yes No
Aggression 35 627 5.3 94.7
Crime 72 590 10.9 89.1
Antisocial 46 616 6.9 93.1
Resources 7 655 1.1 98.9
Unusual 84 578 12.7 87.3
Politics 120 542 18.1 81.9
Productivity 345 317 52.1 47.9
Patriotism 148 514 22.4 77.8
Support 237 375 38.7 61.3
Victim 97 565 14.7 85.3
Discrimination 387 275 58.5 41.5
n = 662
Crosstabs for all variables before and after September 11, 2001
Variable Before 9/11 After 9/11 Chi-Square Phi
Aggression 13.4% 4.4% ----- 0.122*
Crime 7.5% 11.3% 0.896 -0.037
Antisocial 0.0% 7.7% ----- -0.092*
Unusual 13.4% 12.6% 0.037 0.008
Politics 47.8% 14.8% 44.110* 0.258*
Productivity 67.2% 50.4% 6.765 0.101
Patriotism 32.8% 21.2% 4.716* 0.084*
Support 35.8% 38.7% 0.205 -0.018
Victim 7.5% 15.5% 3.081* -0.068
Discrimination 23.9% 62.4% 36.703* -0.235*
n = 662
* p < 0.05
Percentages for all variables by quarter
Variable 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8
Aggression 21.4 10.0 10.5 14.3 5.3
2.4 2.2 5.1
Crime 14.3 5.0 5.3 7.1 10.5
14.5 9.9 12.7
Antisocial 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 7.6
9.6 8.8 5.1
Unusual 28.6 10.0 5.3 14.3 16.1
9.6 5.5 8.9
Politics 64.3 55.0 26.3 50.0 9.9
9.6 29.7 24.1
Productivity 71.4 70.0 63.2 64.3 46.8
51.8 58.2 55.7
Patriotism 64.3 40.0 10.5 21.4 26.3
19.3 4.4 20.3
Support 50.0 50.0 10.5 35.7 48.8
31.3 25.3 17.7
Victim 7.1 15.0 0.0 7.1 22.5
7.2 4.4 6.3
Discrimination 28.6 25.0 26.3 14.3 71.1
56.6 45.1 50.6
n = 662
Percentages by quarters for outgroup variables
Percentages by quarters for ingroup variables
Percentages by quarters for victim variables
APPENDIX 1 - CODE GUIDE
Code Number on article (i.e. 1,2,…25, etc.)
Date Code the year, date, and month of the publication date of the article
Article Size Code article size by word count as listed on the article
Aggression Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as perpetrating
aggression and/or violence against others. This can include physical
confrontations, murder, terrorism, intimidation, rape, threats, etc.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Crime Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as engaging in non-violent
criminal activity such as theft, vandalism, selling drugs, etc.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Anti-social Behavior Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as
participating in behavior that is detrimental to society but that does not
involve physical aggression or criminal activity. This can include lying,
cheating, adultery, etc.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Productivity Code whether Arab-Americans are portrayed as being productive
members of society. Examples include gainful employment, participation in
the democratic process, contributing to charity, providing jobs, etc.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Resources Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as taking resources away
from other groups, including jobs and political power.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Unusual Code whether Arab-Americans are portrayed as having beliefs and/or
practices that are considered unusual to the society at large.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Politics Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as being patriotic
towards the United States.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Patriotism Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as being patriotic or
supportive towards the United States. This includes being described as an
1 = Yes
2 = No
Support Code whether Arab-Americans are portrayed as having the sympathy of
Americans. This can be in relation to political interests, discrimination, etc.
1 = Yes
2 = No
Victim Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as being victims of
1 = Yes
2 = No
Discrimination Code whether Arab-Americans are depicted as
being discriminated against in ways that do not involve physical
1 = Yes
2 = No