Quantifying 'Muslim Rage'

Sometimes very little can tell you a lot. Here's Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News, updating viewers on protests that are linked to that famous anti-Islamic video:

Overseas tonight, new and deadly retribution from that amateur Internet film that's enraged much of the Muslim world.

The "Muslim world" is, well, enormous-somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 billion people. A good question that doesn't get asked enough: How many Muslims are out protesting this video anyway? A helpful analysis comes from Dan Murphy at the Christian Science Monitor ("Is the Islamopocalypse Really Upon Us?," 9/17/12). He writes:

While sensational headlines have played up the story, the cumulative total of protesters so far in about 30 countries appears well under 100,000. At Tahrir Square on Friday, wide angle overhead shots (rather than the tight, ground shots favored by TV news producers) showed a sparse group reminiscent of Mubarak-era political protests (when people ran a major risk of going to jail for simply shouting slogans) and not the hundreds of thousands that have routinely come out to protest against their own government in the past year-and-a-half.

Murphy notes that the protests in Jakarta were tiny compared to the massive showing in 1998 that helped topple Indonesian dictator (and U.S. ally) Suharto. Protests in Egypt are tiny compared to the waves of protest we have seen over the past year.

And this does not even begin to consider the very sensible argument that some of these protests have very little to do with some hateful YouTube video.

The real question to ask is why U.S. corporate media decide to pay more attention to some protests than others. Tens of thousands of Americans protesting the Iraq War before it started? That was hardly news at all. But Tea Party gatherings of seemingly any size at all have been treated as big news. It would have been bizarre for journalists to have drawn sweeping conclusions about the prevailing political sentiment in the United States based on those gatherings, but implying-or outright stating-that the "Muslim world" is in a violent frenzy is acceptable.

This is a simple reminder that media choose to cover stories, and choose the ways in which they cover them. In so doing, they help form the impression that we have about the world we live in. As has been often noted, local TV news focuses so much on violent crime that you'd think it's dangerous to walk out your front door. And now, not the first time, Muslims the world over are in a violent rage about a religious insult.

It's not that people don't learn anything from watching television; they learn a lot. And what they learn is often completely wrong, and dangerous.

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