Flight Wrath

Contrary to reports from slanted political blogs, the media did not "bury" a story about a man arrested for allegedly interfering with a JetBlue flight.

Published Oct 20, 2015

[green-label]NEWS:[/green-label] Contrary to reports from slanted political blogs, the media didn't "bury" a story about an altercation that took place during a JetBlue flight from New York City to South Florida.

On 19 October 2015, anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller published an article titled "FBI: Muslim Beats Up Jet Blue Flight Attendant, Threatens to Blow up Plane," the content of which consisted almost entirely of an article lifted from an Associated Press/CBSNewYork report which, by its very existence, contradicted Geller's premise:

There has been scant coverage of this incident. No big media, no mug shots, nothing. But it’s a big story. Punching out flight attendants and threatening to blow up the plane is terrorism.

On the same day, the web site TopRightNews aggregated Geller's claim in an article headlines "Muslim Attacks Crew, Threatens to Blow Up Plane in Air Over NYC, Media Buries the Story":

Something stunning happened last week on a JetBlue from New York bound for South Florida, but most of America hasn’t heard a word about it.

Because it was done by a Muslim, and the media doesn’t want you to know that.

There has been scant coverage of this incident. No big media, no mug shots, nothing. But it’s a big story. Punching out flight attendants and threatening to blow up the plane is terrorism ...

That article went on to lament a lack of media coverage about the 15 October 2015 incident, tacking on speculation gleaned from the comments section of a New York City-area news site and from other blogs:

According to commenters on local news site NY1 who claimed to be passengers on the flight, the Muslim man Kucuk yelled “f**king nigger” at Rolle, a Black man, and threatened to “cut him” and “blow up the plane.”

NY1 also reported that Kukuk has an “immigration issue” of an unspecified nature ... Huh? Is he here on an expired visa? Illegal alien? One of those wonderful “refugees” who so appreciate our generosity, as the Tsarnaevs did? ... No mug shots., only one, unconfirmed photo provided by a blogger in NYC, which was reportedly taken during last year’s Albanian-American parade in New York.

As the article itself stated, none of the "information" included was necessarily accurate, true, or related to the JetBlue incident. And while those blogs hinted that a media blackout of sorts was to blame for the uncertainty, both articles simultaneously embedded a lengthy article credited to the Associated Press (AP) multinational news agency (content from which is typically aggregated to major outlets across the U.S. and internationally).

In addition to AP coverage, news of Kucuk's arrest was reported by WABC-TV in New York, the Palm Beach Post (twice), WCBS-TV in New York, the New Orleans Times-PicayuneWKMG-TV in Orlando, and even an online news site in New Zealand.

Palm Beach television station WPEC also aired a segment on the arrest:

The Palm Beach Post reported on 19 October 2015:

Shortly after Jet Blue Flight 153 took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport at about 8 p.m. Thursday, Kucuk ran down the aisle, pushing two flight attendants out of his way, according to an FBI account of the incident. He slammed a third flight attendant, Whitney Rolle, into a door of the aircraft and punched him in the face, Special Agent Robert McGuire wrote in court documents.

While tussling with Rolle, Kucuk screamed racial epithets and threatened to “blow up the plane,” McGuire wrote. Rolle managed to subdue Kucuk and placed him in restraints for the rest of the flight. Kucuk was taken into custody at the Palm Beach County airport and placed in federal detention at the Palm Beach County jail.

No credible news reports indicated that Kucuk's being "a Muslim" was the motivation behind the incident, or that the event was being treated as an case of "Islamic terror." A relative of Kucuk told the Sun-Sentinel that his cousin had a phobia related to air travel and may have had an adverse reaction to an anti-anxiety medication:

Kucuk's cousin Adnan Radoncic, 35, [said] after the court hearing that Kucuk had been going through a difficult time after his father was murdered in Eastern Europe a couple of years ago and several other close family members recently died. He said Kucuk, a U.S. citizen who grew up in New York City, had been abusing prescription pain pills that were illegally or improperly prescribed for him.

"He's depressed; he feels like he's alone. He probably took something because he has a fear of flying. He's just a kid who talks too much," Radoncic told the newspaper.

Kucuk was charged with interference with a flight attendant and threatening to destroy an aircraft and faces a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison if convicted. While Kucuk's mug shot wasn't included among Palm Beach County's recent arrests, that may be due to the fact he was taken into federal (not state) custody.


Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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