Media grossly misreport Iranian drone incident and crash of Israeli F-16 fighter plane

Guest post by Akus

We have become used to the media misreporting events from Israel. However, the reports that followed the recent destruction of an Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace were unusually inaccurate, even by the lax standards of media reporting these days.

The actual events were:

  • Early on Saturday, February 10th, Israel followed the flight of an Iranian drone from an Iranian command post near Palmyra until it entered Israeli airspace in the vicinity of Bet She’an in the Jordan Valley or eastern end of the Jezreel valley. Israel then used an Apache helicopter to shoot it down. (It has now been reported that the drone was a reverse-engineered copy of a CIA controlled U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone the Iranians captured in 2011).
  • In retaliation, Israel sent a strike force of 8 fighter jets, probably F-16s, to attack the Iranian command post and to destroy a number of Iranian-Syrian anti-aircraft missile sites near a Syrian base called T4, situated near Palmyra,
  • The Syrians and/or Iranians launched a massive wave of anti-aircraft missiles at the jets. The crew of one F-16 had to eject from their damaged jet, which fell inside Israel near Kibbutz Harduf, a few miles east of Haifa in Northern Israel. (The latest reports in the Israeli press suggest that the plane was not actually hit by a missile, which could have destroyed it, but that shrapnel from a near miss penetrated the cockpit, wounding the pilot, and forcing the crew of two to eject).

Ignoring the most recent updates, which of course were not available immediately after the events, the misreporting was extraordinary.

The Guardian’s new reporter in Jerusalem, Oliver Holmes, who replaced Peter Beaumont, had an article  (attributed to the Observer) on the web at 13:45 GMT  that is headlined

Israel launches ‘large-scale’ attack in Syria after fighter jet crashes”. 

It is only by the seventh paragraph that the sequence of events are clarified:

The jet was part of a mission deep into Syrian territory to destroy what Conricus said was an Iranian drone control facility near the desert city of Palmyra. The drone that entered Israeli airspace was shot down and retrieved, he said.

The Washington Post was actually worse, with virtually the same headline:

“Israel carries out ‘large-scale attack’ in Syria after Israeli jet crashes under antiaircraft fire”

This was followed by an unintelligible second paragraph that seemed to claim that the attack inside Syria was in response to downing of the F-16 while at the same time reporting that the Israeli counterattack was a response to the drone infiltration

The Israeli military said it launched the “large scale attack” after one of its F-16 fighter jets crashed under Syrian antiaircraft fire. Eight Israeli jets had been responding to an incursion by an Iranian drone launched from Syrian territory by bombing a Syrian air base, Israel said. 

A moment’s reflection by the sub-editors at the Guardian and Washington Post who wrote the headlines would have shown that it was clearly absurd. The jet crashed a AFTER the attack, on its return from the attack. The attack was a response to the drone infiltration, not to the downing of the jet.

Some cases were even worse.

As we reported on Sunday, February 11th, the Independent had to correct a claim that the Iranian drone was shot down over Syria. Obviously, there is a significant difference between Israel shooting down an infiltrating drone, capable of carrying missiles, over its own territory and shooting it down over Syrian territory.

One of the lessons we have learned from following news about Israel is to take a look at the background of journalist and news agency filing reports.

But does the reporter who filed the Independent’s story have the minimal knowledge of the Middle East necessary to distinguish between Israel and Syria, or are they simply muddled up in his mind?

The Independent’s report was filed under the name of Daniel Khalili-Tari. So who is this reporter?

Daniel Khalili-Tari is, in his own words:

“Twenty-one year old aspirant journalist currently attending the University of Westminster. Interested in: music, finance, economics, politics and other socially influencing matters “

On  his Linked-In page, he lists four months of experience at or for the Independent, following two months with no recorded output at News UK which followed four months at Blackbullion, a blog which claims to be a “The e-learning platform equipping students with money skills for life to maximise student success”.

There seems little there to qualify him to write a report on these recent events in the Middle East. Perhaps he was unlucky enough to draw the short straw and be the one holding down the desk on a slow weekend when the news came in who had to draw on this thin level of experience to try to understand – or misunderstand – what had actually happened.

But worst of all, and for much the same reason, was the report filed at the UK Evening Standard which managed to assert that Israel first shot down an Iranian “plane” (not a drone) under the headline (you guessed it):

“Israel launches ‘large scale attack’ on Syria after F-16 jet crash”

This was followed by an opening paragraph in which reporter Alexandra Richards managed to avoid referring to the drone as … well, a drone:

“Israel’s military shot down an Iranian plane before launching “large-scale attack” on at least a dozen of Iran’s targets in Syria.”   

She then went on to refer to the Israel response to the drone infiltration as a response to the downing of the F-16 even though, completely confusing the events, her report says:

The military said its planes faced massive anti-aircraft fire from Syria that forced two pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel on Saturday.

One pilot was seriously wounded and the suffered minor injuries.

“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig Gen Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement.

The Syrian missile fire was carried out during the Israeli raid on the T-4 base and the “serious threat” was the drone infiltration, not the missile fire.

So why did Alexandra Richards get so confused?

Like the young reporter at the Independent, her editors allowed her to write a column on a subject for which she is clearly unequipped. Her Linked In page gives her position at the Evening Standard as “Social and news reporter” and her description of this position, which she has held for 5 months, reads:

My role at the Evening Standard involves writing and publishing news stories for one of the UK’s fastest growing online news brands, working as part of a team of 12 reporters covering breaking news, politics, crime, health, education and transport. I am also required to work across different sections and stand in for colleagues as and when required.

I am responsible for delivering original and engaging stories that are relevant to the ES audience, ensuring legal, taste and decency obligations are adhered to while working closely with specialist colleagues in social, video, SEO, TV, data, and print to generate well-presented content.

Her prior experience is four months at an “online art, design and architecture magazine” which followed a three month stint at the Independent as a “Social Media and Trending Journalist”.  There is no evidence that indicates she might have experience events in Israel and surrounding countries.

Perhaps, like Daniel at the Independent, she was unlucky enough to have to be on duty over a slow weekend and got landed with the job of trying to sort out events in one of the most complex places on the planet. By the way, as of end of day Sunday, there has been no correction made to the article to clear up the confusion.

The copy-cat headlines and somewhat similar errors in reporting the events suggest, that much of what was published was actually a confused rewrite of articles that come in over the wires or are cribbed from their competitors’ earlier efforts.

When newspapers like the Independent and the Evening Standard, and, it might well be said, the Guardian and Washington Post, to name but a few, have this level of editorial oversight, and reporting on conflicts and international events  is left to inexperienced “aspirant” and  “social news”  journalists one is left wondering how much of what we read is really accurate .

The muddled reports on Saturday’s events indicate how low journalistic standards have declined.

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