University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


This study examines whether American television news coverage uses negative agenda-setting to depict Middle Eastern women. In approaching coverage of the Middle East, one of the key issues has been the plight of Middle Eastern women in their Islamic societies. Qualitative scholarship and limited quantitative analyses of print portrayals argue that Western media depict Muslim/Middle Eastern women negatively. However, there appears to be no research documenting how American television news, neither network nor cable, portrayed these women. I conducted a content analysis of 61 news packages from ABC, CBS, and NBC along with Fox News and CNN, aired between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2008, to answer the questions I had concerning how television news portrayed these women. I was curious to see if television journalists fell into the habit of depicting Middle Eastern women as submissive, second-class citizens, which was the accusation leveled at the Western press in prior scholarship. In addition to a quantitative analysis to determine the actual elements of coverage (frequency of portrayals and prevalence of frames), a qualitative analysis of anchor lead-ins was also conducted. This study revealed that Middle Eastern/Muslim women were depicted more negatively than positively. They were often portrayed as submissive victims of their societies, an "othered" entity requiring rescue through Western intervention. Palestinian and Iraqi female suicide bombers were also portrayed as threats while being depicted simultaneously as victims. In short, this initial research analyzing American television media discovered networks and cable channels do practice negative agenda-setting in regard to portrayals of Muslim women and their societies. The following article is a synopsis of a longer work exploring the extensive literature on women in the Middle East.