Countering Distortions in the Media: Improving Perceptions of American Muslims

Spring 2011 – Present

Co-sponsors: Open Society Foundations, Woodcock Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Doris Duke Foundation, Kellogg Foundation

Problem: Demonizing of American Muslims The place of Muslims in American society is receiving renewed – and primarily negative – attention. Congressional hearings on the “radicalization” of Muslim groups took on the cast of a modern-day witch-hunt. The issue has already emerged in the 2012 election campaign, with candidates and incumbents joining in a spurious call to “stop sharia law” in the United States. The news media can be expected to continue raising fear and uncertainty about Islam and American Muslims, as occurred during the controversy around the Park51 project – the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” – which was neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque. These debates have only intensified with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

Vision: Realign Perceptions of American Muslims Our goal is not simply to win day-to-day arguments over the meaning of sharia law, blame for 9/11 or “radicalization” of Muslim groups. We seek to realign how Americans perceive Muslims so that these “debates” cease to exist. The active demonization of American Muslims must be countered with an effort to push back against the fear and misperceptions propagated by politicians, political organizations and some in the news media. Because so few Americans know Muslims personally, it is critical to present positive messages and images that help blunt the negative attacks and improve public perceptions of American Muslims.

Project Outline Working in consultation with key organizations involved with this issue, the Woodcock Foundation, in partnership with Hattaway Communications, is developing and testing a values-based and emotionally compelling message to counter anti-Muslim fear mongering. The messages and tools developed through this process will be made available to the entire field – groups large and small that communicate through the news media, grassroots networks or policy advocacy.

Will You Join Us? Our foundation is deeply committed to this project, and we are pleased to announce that it is already underway. We have set up a donor-advised fund at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors so all contributions are tax-deductible. We hope that you will consider joining us in this urgent effort. If you are interested in partnering, have questions, or know of other potential partners, please contact Alexandra Christy or Alex Cole.