Over the past 25 years, the Media Education Foundation has produced dozens of educational films that examine how mainstream media narratives shape our understanding of the world. A number of these films have focused explicitly on mainstream news coverage of crucial policy issues. THE OCCUPATION OF THE AMERICAN MIND is the sixth film we’ve done to look specifically at mainstream media narratives about U.S. policy in the Middle East.
HIJACKING CATASTROPHE (2004) examined how mainstream media outlets uncritically disseminated false information from U.S. officials in the run-up to the war in Iraq. PEACE PROPAGANDA & THE PROMISED LAND (2004), released the same year, revealed how U.S. news media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict downplayed the reality of Palestinian life under Israeli military occupation. REEL BAD ARABS (2006) explored how negative Arab stereotypes in American film and television shaped public attitudes about the Iraq war and other real-world events. WAR MADE EASY (2007) surveyed U.S. government war propaganda from Vietnam to Iraq, showing how U.S. news media have been complicit in disseminating it. And BLOOD AND OIL (2008) detailed how U.S. officials have used mainstream news media to conceal the role oil has played in multiple U.S. military interventions in the Middle East.
With THE OCCUPATION OF THE AMERICAN MIND, we decided to revisit news media narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, guided by polls that show the American people have far lower levels of sympathy for Palestinians than for Israelis. We began by poring through hundreds of hours of U.S. news reporting on the conflict, carefully examining stories about everything from Palestinian terrorism and Hamas extremism to Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian land, its illegal settlement expansion, and its siege, blockade, and successive military invasions of Gaza. When we started out, we fully expected to find pro-Israel bias in these stories given the U.S. alliance with Israel, American interests in the region, and how corporate news media tend to reproduce the official government line. But the level of imbalance we found was even more dramatic than we anticipated.
In story after story, Israeli spokespeople far outnumbered Palestinian spokespeople. U.S. political leaders of both parties uniformly and uncritically repeated official Israeli talking points. And American news media commentators repeatedly did the same, with very few exceptions failing to question the official line or provide even the most basic and uncontroversial rendering of Palestinian grievances. At the same time, we discovered that when Palestinian spokespeople did appear in mainstream news coverage, they were routinely subjected to harsh questioning and even vilification, treatment pro-Israel spokespeople rarely if ever experienced. When we compared what we were seeing in U.S. news media to coverage of identical events in Great Britain and other democratic countries, we saw nothing approaching this level of pro-Israel bias.
In an attempt to make sense of what we were seeing, we were led deep into the history of pro-Israel public relations efforts in the United States, a four-decade campaign to manage negative perceptions of Israeli human rights violations. THE OCCUPATION OF THE AMERICAN MIND tells the story of these PR and propaganda efforts – detailing how they work, how they developed, whose interests they serve, and why they have been so successful in shaping media coverage of the conflict here in the U.S.
We made this film for a very simple reason: because we believe government officials and mainstream media elites are denying the American people the basic information they need to make sense of one of the most consequential conflicts in the world. Regardless of where the American people stand on this conflict, we believe they deserve better. We believe American democracy deserves better. And we believe in the democratic imperative of holding our political leaders — and our news media — accountable. Given the huge stakes in the region, and the sheer amount of military, economic, and diplomatic support the United States gives Israel, we believe the American people have a right and a responsibility to make up their own minds about this conflict.
Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, Co-Directors
Sut Jhally, Executive Producer