Affinity for Zionism is deeply embedded in the political structures of the United States. Washington has traditionally extended unconditional support to Israel and shielded the Zionist state from criticism and sanctions over its daily human rights violations. U.S. media has also played a crucial role in manufacturing consent for policies that isolate and hurt Palestinians.
Usaid Siddiqui and Owais A. Zaheer from the Toronto-based research group 416Labs conducted a quantitative study that confirms U.S. media’s pro-Israel bias and sheds light on the problematic language used in the service of this goal. Employing Natural Language Processing techniques, the study evaluated over 100,000 headlines from five major U.S. papers over the last fifty years.
The results reveal that Palestinian narratives are highly underrepresented, while crucial topics that would help audiences gain a meaningful understanding of the situation in Palestine/Israel remain absent.
Overall, the majority of headlines about Palestine/Israel are negative. However, headlines focusing on Israelis tended to be more positive than those about Palestinians. Israeli sources were quoted 250% more often than Palestinian ones. Phrases like “Israel says” have been exceptionally common. Based on these results, the authors concluded that “Israeli sources are a standard part of headline construction.”
The core of the so-called “conflict” remains absent from the analyzed publications. The study found that the underlying structural problems, such as the long-term siege of Gaza and the military occupation of the West Bank as well as the disastrous everyday consequences that emanate from these circumstances, receive little focus. As the authors outline, “[t]his contributes to the normalization of the Israeli occupation.”
The very usage of the word “occupation” has declined dramatically – by 85% in Israeli-centric headlines, and 65% in Palestinian-centric headlines, while tropes centered around “terror” have become more frequent. In fact, the word “Hamas” is one of the most widely used terms in Palestine coverage. It is unsurprising then that the illegality of the occupation and the status of Jerusalem are rarely ever addressed. The mention of Palestinian refugees has also dropped by 93% since 1967; the authors interpret this as indicative of how “concern for refugees has become increasingly relegated to the background in the context of the conflict’s coverage over the past 20-30 years.”
The study concludes by observing that its results “provide a quantitative indicator that appears to confirm the existence of a deep, systemic pro-Israel bias, which has often been alluded to in media analysis scholarship.” The authors identify this as a systemic problem, rooted in the U.S. media’s affinity with Washington’s foreign policy agenda.