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Why SU-24 Shoot-down News Reports Went from Fact to Fiction

A look at day one in the life of the SU-24 story

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 military jet on November 24. The Turks allege the plane made a 17 second incursion into their airspace. That's less time than most people spend brushing their teeth.

Turkey may very well have had a legal right to target the plane if its allegation is true. But what was its need to exercise that right? The SU-24 was clearly on a trajectory toward a quick exit. Many media reports were quite clear about that.

But this is the point at which fact turned into fiction in the news. Fact: the right to shoot an intruder. Fiction: the imperative to exercise that right. This is an issue that was under-explored by the media.

What perceived danger could Turkey possibly have felt? That common sense point apparently didn't occur to president Obama. He was quick to come to Turkey's defense. CNN ran a story, "Obama: Turkey has the right to defend itself and its airspace." "Obama says Turkey has right to defend territory," reported the Washington Post. But again, where was the imperative to exercise that right?

Personally, I have a "so what" reaction to Obama's contention here. No one's claimed that the plane was menacing Turkey. So why exercise the shoot-to-kill option? 

Why was there such a loud defense of Turkey's technical right, when a larger question loomed over why Turkey chose such a provocative response to Russia? It led to one Russian pilot's being shot and killed by apparent Turkish-speaking militants on the ground as he attempted to parachute to safety. And then a Russian soldier lost his life when Syrian rebels destroyed the rescue helicopter that was sent to pick up the surviving aviator. On top of all that is the enormous escalation of world tension that resulted. 

I took a look at the headlines that appeared in US media on the day of the shoot-down. What I saw is that some outlets stuck to a reportorial approach that day. Others pitched in to ramp up the steady stream of anti-Putin provocateurism. 

The New York Times played it straight with these headlines:

--Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet It Says Violated Its Airspace (AP)
--The Latest: Russia Pilot Killed by Groundfire in Syria

The three major broadcast networks did similarly. CBS News additionally carried the caution, "NATO urges calm after Turkey shoots down Russian plane." It also examined a ramification of the incident with, "Markets roiled by downing of Russian jet by Turkey.

On the other hand, the Washington Post played the fear angle:

"Will this Russia-Turkey business get out of control?"

But it was the Wall Street Journal and Fox News that clearly crossed the line that separates journalism from propaganda. Interestingly, they are both part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

WSJ spun it this way:

-- Putin’s Strategy for Mideast Takes a Hit 

But Fox News took the cake with these headlines:

--Is World War Approaching? The Rapidly-Spreading States of Emergency

--Obama points finger at Russia over jet shoot-down by Turkey

--Russia wants to manipulate Western nations: Will Obama take the bait?

What fear mongering! And this was just day one of the story. It's nonsense like those reports that played strongly in why the basic facts got twisted around into fiction. 

There are a number of theories floating about as to why the media and the Obama administration were motivated to distort the picture. Indeed, why did the incident happen at all? Explanations range from alleging the incident was a set-up to provoke Putin into an irrational response, to claiming that Turkey just taking revenge for Russia's military activity against Syrian rebels who are Turkish speakers. 

I also heard an interesting psychological angle: The SU-24 was downed by an American-made fighter jet. Likewise the weapon that blew up a Russian rescue helicopter allegedly came from the US. That means that US weaponry was used for taking deadly action in both situations. In that sense, the US enabled these moves. So here's the theory: Did American guilt over its weapon-providing role lead to psychologically displacing the blame away from itself and onto Russia? 

I don't know, what do you think? Considering all these factors, what do you think the reason is that the SU-24 story went from fact to fiction? 

Regardless of the reason, however, the SU-24 story really stimulated audience interest in the Syrian imbroglio. Just before the November 24 shoot-down, interest in "Syria" was waning, according to Google Trends. 

It had reached a peak around November 16, when France commenced air strikes in Syria. Just four days earlier, Google registered a level of interest that had been 85 percent below that peak. The French strikes really caught people's attention. 

Afterwards, however, interest was steadily declining. But the shoot-out gave things an almost 20 percent boost. It didn't last long, though. By November 27, interest hand fallen back to the pre-SU-24 level and continued to decline.

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