A study of news coverage on the Ground Zero mosque shows that while most Americans stand opposed to the proposed construction, the mainstream media is growingly increasingly biased in favor of it.

The news watchdog organization Media Research Center reviewed all 52 stories about the Ground Zero mosque that aired on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts from Aug. 14 through Sept. 13, tallying pro-mosque and anti-mosque sound bites.

According to the study, shortly after President Barack Obama brought the issue to national attention by defending the builders of the proposed $100-million Islamic mosque and cultural center near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, the news media’s coverage reflected general American sentiment, with 55 percent of sound bites labeled “anti-mosque,” to 45 percent labeled “pro-mosque.”

But in the following weeks, mainstream news coverage took a dramatic turn.

From Aug. 21 through Sept. 13, the media’s tone had changed, flipping to 63 percent of sound bites either supporting the mosque’s construction or condemning its opponents, while only 37 percent were critical.

The increased flurry of pro-mosque comments stand in stark contrast to American public opinion on the controversy.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month asked a random sample of 1,002 adults whether “this Muslim community center should or should not be built at this location.”

Sixty-six percent of the respondents answered it should not, with 53 percent “strongly” opposed, while only 14 percent were “strongly” in favor. Furthermore, of those opposed, 82 percent answered that they were not opposed to mosque construction in general, but only to the specific, proposed construction site near Ground Zero.

When tabulating its results, MRC states its analysts tallied as “pro-mosque” statements and sound bites that either directly supported the idea of building the Islamic center on its proposed site, defended or praised the project’s organizers or criticized opponents as bigoted or “Islamophobic.”

Anti-mosque statements were defined as those that criticized the construction plans, questioned the project’s organizers or defended mosque opponents from charges of bigotry.

Rich Noyes, research director at MRC describes the study’s findings: “What had been a relatively even-handed debate about balancing the sensitivities of 9/11 families with America’s tradition of religious freedom morphed into a one-sided story about beleaguered Muslims facing hardship at the hands of bigoted Americans. On the Aug. 23 ‘Nightly News,’ for example, NBC’s Ron Allen picked up how ‘many Muslim-Americans insist this debate is more evidence of religious intolerance.'”

Noyes claims the shift in news coverage has grown more significant since opponents of the mosque have been widely labeled as “Islamophobic.” He cites, for example, ABC’s “World News,” which aired comments from Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations.

On Aug. 16, Hooper told the news program’s audience, “I’ve really never seen the level of Islamophobia that we’re experiencing today,” and told the same program on Sept. 5 of the “hysterical atmosphere we’re in right now.”

On the issue of Islamophobia, the study found the on-air debate even more biased, with 27 sound bites (93 percent) accusing the public of bigotry, while only two comments (7 percent) were aired that defended critics of the mosque from accusations of racism.

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