Research Project #1:

Media Bias in US Reporting on Israel & Palestine

A recent media study looked at 50 years of U.S. reporting. It showed that coverage of Israel and Palestine was consistently biased against Palestinian interests.

The study, conducted by 416Labs, a Toronto-based consulting and research firm, was the largest of its kind.

Using cutting-edge data analysis techniques, researchers evaluated the headlines of five influential U.S. newspapers between 1967 to 2017: the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. They used Natural Language Processing (NLP), an advancement in the field of artificial intelligence to sift through large amounts of natural language data and investigate the vocabulary used. During the period 1967-2017, the NLP tabulated the most commonly used words and word pairs, as well as the positive or negative sentiment associated with the headlines.

Using NLP to analyze 100,000 headlines, the study revealed that the coverage favored Israel in the “sheer quantity of stories covered,” by presenting Palestinian-centric stories from a more negative point of view, as well as by grossly under-representing the Palestinian narrative, and by omitting or downplaying “key topics”. Most troubling, journalistic standards require news stories to be “neutral, objective, and derived from facts,” yet the articles on Israel and Palestine exhibit what the report calls “some form of institutionalized ideological posturing and reflect a slant.”  

The study also found that Palestinians marginalized as sources of news and information. One of the goals of PMEF is to continue the work done by 416labs from 2017 to the present day. With a combination of social media tracking tools and NLP, we will measure news coverage in real time and respond to bias and inconsistencies through public statements across broadcast and digital.

A simple case in point: The fact-checking organization Pundit Fact examined CNN guests during a segment of the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza, OperationProtective Edge. Pundit Fact reported that during this time, 20 Israeli officials were interviewed, compared to only 4 Palestinians, although Palestinians were overwhelmingly victims of the incursion with 2,251 deaths compared to 73 Israeli deaths.

416labs’ data reveal what it calls “the privileging of Israeli voices and, invariably, Israeli narratives”. Indeed, the phrases “Israel Says” and “Says Israel” occurred at a higher frequency than any other bigram (2-word phrase) in  50 years' worth of headlines. They appeared 250 times more frequently than “Palestinian Says” and similar phrases. This indicates that not only are Israeli perspectives covered more often, but Palestinians rarely have an opportunity to defend or explain their actions.