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Are Unidentified Terrorist Suspects Always Muslims? How Terrorism News Shape News Consumers’ Automatic Activation of Muslims as Perpetrators

Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Währinger Straße 29, 1090 Vienna, Austria
Department of Communication Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau (Campus Landau), Fortstraße 7, 76829 Landau, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2018, 9(10), 286;
Received: 7 September 2018 / Revised: 17 September 2018 / Accepted: 17 September 2018 / Published: 20 September 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Anti Muslim Racism and the Media)
Two experimental studies investigated how news reports about terrorist attacks committed by unidentified perpetrators influence beliefs about the perpetrators and Muslims in general. In Study 1, a quota-based sample of 354 Germans was exposed to terror news coverage describing either non-Muslim or Muslim victims with no reference to the perpetrators of the attacks. Upon stimulus exposure, participants were asked the likelihood that the perpetrators were either Islamist extremists, far-right extremists, or lone operators. In Study 2, no information about the victims was provided, but the perpetrators were either Muslims or unidentified. In addition, we measured news consumers’ Islamophobic attitudes in both studies. Results from Study 1 revealed that participants attributed perpetrator-unidentified attacks to Islamist perpetrators when the victims were non-Muslims. In contrast, terrorist attacks directed against Muslim victims were more likely to be attributed to far-right extremists. Additionally, Study 2 revealed that news consumers associated perpetrator-unidentified terrorist attacks with Islamist extremists to an equal degree as terrorist attacks that were committed by Muslim perpetrators. Attributing the attack to Islamists was in turn significantly related to Islamophobic attitudes in both studies. Implications of these findings for journalism practice and society at large are discussed. View Full-Text
Keywords: terrorism; news coverage; Islam; Muslim; Islamophobia terrorism; news coverage; Islam; Muslim; Islamophobia
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Schmuck, D.; Matthes, J.; Von Sikorski, C.; Materne, N.; Shah, E. Are Unidentified Terrorist Suspects Always Muslims? How Terrorism News Shape News Consumers’ Automatic Activation of Muslims as Perpetrators. Religions 2018, 9, 286.

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