Kenya A soldier from the Kenya Defence Forces arrives at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi. Kenyan security forces are locked in a stand-off with gunmen in the upmarket mall. Photo: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Looking to uncover widespread censorship and liberal bias? All you have to do is skim through 10 newspapers.

At least that’s what Media Research Center would have us believe. The conservative watchdog behind NewsBusters and the Parents Television Council chastised American newspaper journalists on Monday, saying they “failed miserably” to “connect the dots” between radical Islam and this weekend’s terrorist attacks in Kenya and Pakistan.

In a blog post on its website, MRC claimed that 90 percent of top newspaper headlines “censored” Islam in their coverage of the attacks. The so-called censorship was discovered largely by reading through headlines from the front pages of Monday’s top 10 newspapers. From that shallow observation, the MRC determined that the newspapers have “unabashedly blacked out Islamic ties.”

The blog post fails to take into consideration that words for print headlines are chosen not just for their meaning but also for their ability to fit into an allotted space. For instance, MRC took issue with a New York Times headline that read “Carnage In Mall Shows Resilience of Terror Group,” which followed up on the terrorist raid at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. But the headline for the online version of the article clearly mentions al-Shabab, the Somali Muslim group behind the raid. Several paragraphs down, the Times explains clearly that al-Shabab “was formed in the middle of last decade as the small, armed militia for Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union.”

MRC also took offense to the Wall Street Journal’s story with the headline “Assault on Mall Stuns Kenya,” which had the temerity to characterize the incident as a “terrorist attack” by “armed militants.” The watchdog fails to mention a paragraph farther down in the story in which a source said the terrorists were killing Christians and Hindus, while Muslims were “on the safer side.”

Curiously, MRC also criticized the New York Post, which is known for choosing controversy-inciting headlines. In this case, however, its headlines screaming “Bloody Raid” and “Terrorist Massacre in Kenya” failed to impress the watchdog group.

MRC’s attacks are indicative of criticism from the right, which often accuses the so-called mainstream media (MSM in conservative circles) of downplaying the role of radical Islam in terrorist attacks, either for the sake of "political correctness" or to advance some nebulous liberal agenda. Similar criticisms were heard shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings, as the Daily Caller pointed out.

But as long as we’re basing broad generalizations about the news media on a few carefully selected statistics, it’s worth pointing out that a search for “Islamic militants” calls up 2,900 results on the Wall Street Journal website, 6,620 results on the New York Times website, and 9,700 results on the Washington Post website. How’s that for confirmation bias?

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