Blogger/author Tony Woodlief performs a back-of-envelope calculation of trends in the way major media outlets address Muhammad/Mohammed of Islam fame:
It seems to be the case, however, that major news outlets have begun using the honorific title far more frequently. I don’t think that’s very good journalistic practice. I mean, to 2.2 billion Christians, Jesus Christ is “Lord Jesus Christ”—but we don’t expect The Washington Post to call him that.
I decided to do a news search, a very basic one, using Google and some simple filters. Basically, I wanted to see whether mentions of Muhammad have changed in six major news organs: CBS, NBC, ABC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. I began my search in 1998, in order to include a period when Muslim terrorists had begun more noticeably killing people worldwide, but before 9/11 and the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Woodlief searched for changes in the mention of “Prophet Muhammad” versus regular old, non-honorific “Muhammad”. His chart:
Woodlief admits there are limitations to the analysis, but it’s interesting nonetheless and fits a noticeable pattern. For instance, do not your ears perk up when you hear an athlete or celebrity mention “Christ”? But if someone says “the Prophet Muhammad” we don’t miss a beat. In his analysis Woodlief attempts to control for “lesser Muhammads” by screening articles for mentions of Islam. Between 1998 and 2011, Woodlief writes, major news outlets gave Muhammad the title of “Prophet” about 10 percent of the time (though his chart indicates a break in structural shift around 2009). This year “Prophet” precedes “Muhammad” in 67% of mentions.
I thought this might have something to do with changes in media outlets’ style guide books. It’s hard to track explicit changes recommended/forced by AP or other news outlets. But at American Thinker, Johanna Markind investigates:
The Times, the AP, and Reuters all have style manuals setting forth their policies about usage for proper names like “Jesus.” Both the Times and Reuters manuals explicitly caution against using the term “Christ” when referring to Jesus because it is a theological term, “a title non-Christians would not give him,” as Reuters’ handbook says.
Similarly, the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage does not list “Prophet Muhammad” as an acceptable usage. It says only: “Muhammad. Use this spelling for the name of the prophet of the Muslim religion.” Both Reuters and the AP Stylebook identify Muhammad as “Prophet,” but neither explicitly states whether “Prophet Muhammad” is a preferred, disfavored, or neutral usage.
The Times confirmed that its above-cited styles are current, but did not respond to an inquiry about its actual practice. The Washington Post, AP, and Reuters did not respond at all to inquiries for this article.
My other hypotheses would be that news outlets are relying on Muslims – scholars, clerics, and regular devotees – for more of their news stories.