G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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I think this is worth crowd-sourcing. The library at my alma mater opens ridiculously late on Sunday so I wasn’t able to check out old AP Style Guides for changes to entries on “Muhammad” in order to add to Tony Woodlief’s insight. But here is the write-up in the 2011 edition:
Muhammad the chief prophet and central figure of the Islamic religion, Prophet Muhammad. Use other spellings only if preferred by a specific person for his own name or in a title or the name of an organization.
In her article at American Thinker Johanna Markind wrote that the AP Style Book she referred to (her article was from 2010) did not designate the proper way to address Muhammad. I’d like to see the exact copy to compare it to the 2011 entry which, by using italics, indicates that Muhammad is to be prefaced by Prophet by anyone whose media position requires them to adhere to the AP Style Guide.
To compare, the 2005 entry reads:
Muhammad The prophet and founder of the Islamic religion. Use other spellings only if preferred by a specific person for his own name or in a title or the name of an organization.
And the 2000 entry reads the same.
If Woodlief’s analysis is correct, it seems that the most likely explanation is that changes have been made at the tippy-top of the gate-keeper’s perch. This opens the floor to a lot of questions.
There are biases in reporting news and different philosophies on tactics to report news and what-not, and then there are hard rules on the language used to report it. Which is more important in communicating facts, ideas and opinions to the masses? When we talk about media – the medium – we are also talking about language. Language and terminology is the most fundamental medium.
This tells us two things: reporters actually refer to the AP Style Guide (or other such guides), and the AP (and perhaps other style-shapers) for some reason between the years 2005 and 2011 decided to begin addressing Muhammad by the reverential Prophet Muhammad, as a rule. Why the shift? A concerted effort to pay reverence to Islam? An unspoken but strongly perceived pressure that Islam and Muhammad had been overly denigrated through the years? Understanding the reasons for the shift might provide insight into the machinations of the part of the sausage-making process of journalism that is even less well-understood than the other journalistic sausage-making processes (sourcing, quote approval, pitch approval, etc.).
If you have access to a copy the 2010 AP Style Guide, please copy the entry for “Muhammad” in comments.