When conservatives charge the political press with displaying a bias toward liberalism – or, at the very least, deferring to the consensus opinion that is dominant among coastal, urban elites – they are often accused of lacking substantive evidence to support that allegation. Thank USA Today for providing those conservatives who make this assertion with an exhibition of exactly the kind of bias that members of the media so often refuse to acknowledge.

“More than a quarter of Americans and nearly half of senior Protestant pastors say the Islamic State terrorist group offers a true representation of Islamic society, according to a pair of new surveys by LifeWay Research,” opened a piece in USA Today via reporter Aamer Madhani.

The USA Today headline blared: “Study: 27% of Americans say ISIL represents true Islam.”

The findings that indicate many Americans have a dim outlook on Islam come as President Obama sent a formal request to Congress on Wednesday to authorize the use of military force to combat the Islamic State. Meanwhile, police in North Carolina tried to determine whether the shooting deaths of three Muslim students were hate-motivated.

Forty-five percent of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.” Forty-seven percent disagreed with the statement, according to LifeWay, a Nashville-based, non-profit Christian research group. LifeWay surveyed only clergy who identified themselves as the top pastoral officials in their organizations.

The pastors had a much darker view of Islam than Americans at large. In contrast, in the second survey, 27% of Americans say the Islamic State reflects the true nature of Islamic society.

For millions of Americans, many of whom rarely if ever find themselves in close contact with a member of the Islamic faith, this is a common point of view. There is a case to be made that mistrust of Islam, in general, is born out of ignorance, but it is an equally valid contention to claim that Islam is in the midst of a public relations crisis and it is incumbent on the members of that faith to acknowledge and address the endemic violence committed by that religion’s adherents

Many Muslims would say that this is unfair. They would assert that Muslims do denounce acts of violence committed in the name of their religion, and it is both tiresome and unjust to tar the whole religion with a damning brush. So, too, would those Americans who are Christian or Jewish cry foul at the accusation that their opinion on Islam is merely the result of unfamiliarity. Despite the claims of millions of elitist liberals, including the President of the United States, the violence displayed by adherents to the Islamic faith has no empirical parallel to any of the world’s other great religions.

This is a fine debate to have, but USA Today only views one of these points of view as legitimate. How do we know that? The image that this publication’s editors chose to grace this report tells the tale:

USA Today

It is a moving image. The portrait of a father and son enjoying a tender moment amid prayer. This is what Islam is for the majority of American Muslims, and hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world would regard this representation of their faith as a more familiar than the horrors emerging from Iraq and Syria.

But why choose this image to accompany this report if the intention is not to convey to the reader from the moment they engage this article that the 27 percent who say that the barbaric Islamic State is representative of Islam are both wrong and oblivious to the world around them? The selection of this image is indicative of a judgment call made by USA Today’s editorial staff, and it communicates clearly that the 27 percent are ill-informed at best or prejudiced at worst.

This manner of condescension seems completely unwarranted given the other findings of this survey. The LifeWay poll found that 37 percent of Americans fear that Sharia law could be applied in portions of the United States. The survey found that this fear is more acute among women; 42 percent describe themselves as concerned about Sharia law. Given the consequences women would face should such an eventuality come to pass, this finding makes perfect sense.

In addition, 76 percent of American pastors believe that airstrikes against ISIS is necessary to protect Christians in Iraq and Syria from harm. That makes you wonder what the 13 percent who disagreed with this opinion were thinking. In Iraq and Syria, a virtual genocide targeting ancient Christian communities has been ongoing for over a year. 2,000-year-old Christian churches are being razed to the ground. From the Atlantic Coast in Nigeria to the foothills of the Himalayas in Pakistan, Christian communities that predate the spread of that faith to Europe are being wiped off the face of the Earth. It seems that this survey’s respondents have every right to view Islam with some suspicion.

It perhaps must be stated for those like USA Today’s editors that ISIS clearly does not represent Islam. Those who think it does are members of a minority, and that point of view does not withstand even modest scrutiny. But it is not especially productive to sneer condescendingly at those who earnestly believe that there is a cancer corroding the Islamic faith from within. Those who hold this opinion, and who are apparently seen by USA Today as unworldly bumpkins as a result, do not lack evidence to support this contention.