By Rob Blackwelder
A thorough and intelligent primer on the negligence of the corporate American press in covering both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this documentary has a tendency to be alternately redundant and scattershot in its desperation to drive home its point. But when directors Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally narrow their focus, the film really hits the nail on the head.
Making no attempt to hide its politics, the picture's long-winded interviews with lefty Americans (Noam Chomsky, Alisa Solomon of the Village Voice) and opinion leaders largely unknown in the U.S. (Palestinian peace activist Hanan Ashrawi) aren't all that persuasive since no counterpoints are presented or addressed. But the footage comparing American television news and foreign coverage -- sometimes juxtaposing reports of the same events -- speaks for itself.
On sound-bite-driven American TV, the Israeli settlements built in Palestinian territory (illegally, per the U.N. and Geneva Convention) become more innocuous "neighborhoods" (per written instructions from corporate honchos). Palestinians "attack" (U.S. reporters never ask why) and Israel "responds." Features are produced on the English-speaking parents of dead Israeli soldiers, but not on the uneducated Palestinians whose adolescent children were killed by an Israeli bomb. Meanwhile reports on the BBC are uniformly in depth, showing the humanity and suffering on both sides. And the British reporters do something Americans never do: ask hard questions and confront spokespeople when they spin and lie.
"Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land" is saddled with monotoned, deadly dull, professorial narration and often leaves itself open for easy criticism. Had the balance of screen time been tipped more toward examples of news bias and less toward pedantic pontification, it would be a far more persuasive (and engaging) document. But any tree-shaking scrutiny of the trend toward agenda-parroting oversimplification in American news should be welcomed. This may not be a great documentary, but its better moments make it an important one.
**1/2 out of ****
(80m | NR)