The authors, both professors at U.S. universities, open this book with an open, innocent question: "Is the media's coverage of Muslims and Islam as negative as critics claim?" They then immediately show their bias by acknowledging,
The title of our book, Covering Muslims, is a conscious echo of Edward Said's Covering Islam, which first appeared in 1981. ... Forty years later, our quantitative analyses do little to challenge Said's conclusions, underscoring the longstanding nature of this problem.
Having started out with a predetermined conclusion, Bleich and van der Veen proceed to prove that conclusion by relying on computers to crunch "all 256,963 articles that mention Muslims or Islam in 17 national and regional US newspapers over a 21-year period" from January 1996 to December 2016. They first "demonstrate precisely how negative [mentions of Muslims or Islam] are compared to the average newspaper article," then "carry out four types of comparison: across groups, across time, across countries, and across topics" by looking at nearly another one and a half million articles dealing with related topics.
The authors admit, "When working with more than a million articles, it is impossible for a researcher to read even a small fraction of them" and acknowledge their heavy reliance on computer-assisted topic modeling algorithms never revealed to the reader except cursorily in an appendix. Of course, as computer scientists have long observed, garbage in, garbage out; unless we know what the machines were programmed to do, how can we put credence in the results?
But Bleich and van der Veen's more profound problem has nothing to do with methodology. It concerns their numbing blindness to the fact that negative coverage of Muslims and Islam results not from some innate prejudice but from two monumental facts: fourteen centuries of hostile Muslim-Christian relations in the background and an epidemic of Islam-based violence, cultural imperialism, and religious supremacism that every non-Muslim adult alive today has experienced. Until the professors recognize this blazing reality, all their computer programs have no value and can safely be ignored as garbage out.