A lot of spin, not much data in the coverage of the US-Turkey visa suspensions
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A lot of spin, not much data in the coverage of the US-Turkey visa suspensions

October 10, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

US and Turkey suspend nonimmigrant visa services

On Sunday, the U.S. mission in Turkey suspended its nonimmigrant visa services in the country and, hours later, Turkey announced a reciprocal suspension. The U.S. measure was in response to the arrest of U.S. consulate staff member Metin Topuz last week. Topuz, a Turkish national, was arrested and charged with espionage, trying to overthrow Turkey’s government and acting against the Turkish Constitution. Turkey believes Topuz has links to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup in July 2016.

In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass announced the suspension and said, “we have been unable to determine … what if any, evidence exists against [Topuz].” He added, “we don’t know … if we should expect other Turkish staff members to be arrested for simply speaking to Turkish government officials or the wider Turkish public in the course of their duties.”

The visa suspensions affect students, business travellers, tourists and diplomats, among others. According to a U.S. official, all current visas remain valid and, while visa services in Turkey are suspended, Turkish citizens can still apply for U.S. visas in other countries. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said its suspension included electronic visas and those purchased at the border. The suspension does not appear to be enforced yet at Turkey’s borders, according to The New York Times.

On Monday, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu said Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had summoned the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Philip Kosnett, the top U.S. official currently physically present in Turkey, and asked for the U.S. embassy to reverse the suspension.

Recent disputes

The U.S. and Turkey currently disagree on other issues, including:

  • The attempted military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government in July 2016. Turkey holds Gulen responsible for orchestrating the failed coup. The U.S. has refused to extradite him, with U.S. officials saying the evidence against Gulen is insufficient.
  • The war in Syria. The U.S. is allied with the Syrian Kurds against the Islamic State group. Turkey objects to this alliance because the Syrian Kurds are connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. Both the U.S. and Turkey deem the PKK a “terrorist organization.”

The U.S. State Department has also been critical of Erdoğan’s government, citing human rights violations and irregularities in the referendum to amend the Turkish Constitution earlier this year. The State Department also cited “troubling judicial and law enforcement actions” by the Turkish government after it raided the offices of newspapers like Zaman last year and placed them under state control. President Barack Obama, as well as other world leaders, also reportedly expressed concerns about the treatment of more than 6,000 Turkish soldiers arrested in July 2016 on suspicion of plotting the attempted coup.

Distortion Highlights

  • If you read the articles we analyzed on the U.S.-Turkey visa suspensions, you may get that the issue is a problem — a “major” problem.
  • What you won’t get is a lot of data explaining why.
  • That’s what happens when journalism favors spin (which is opinion) over the facts.

Show Me Everything

The Numbers

See how the articles rate in spin, slant and logic when held against objective standards.

View Technical Sheet >

The Distortion

The Knife’s analysis of how news outlets distort information. (This section may contain opinion.)

Top Spin Words

  • Dramatic downturn

    The dramatic downturn was set off by the US announcement on Sunday that it was suspending the processing of non-immigrant visas in Turkey following the arrest of an employee at the American consulate. (Financial Times)

  • Permanent Rupture

    There are common interests that have prevented past disputes from escalating into a permanent rupture, and they haven’t gone away. (Bloomberg)

  • Chaos

    The measures, which threaten to create chaos for Americans flying into Turkey, do not appear to have been enforced at the border so far. (The New York Times)

  • Feverently anti-western

    Turkey’s relations with the US have been souring for some time as Mr Erdogan has pursued a nationalist and fervently anti-western stance, particularly since surviving the failed putsch. (Financial Times)

  • Major

    Why the U.S. and Turkey are suddenly in a major standoff (Bloomberg)

    Ankara has repeatedly pressured Washington to extradite Gulen since the coup, and the issue has become a major thorn in relations between the on-again-off-again allies. (CNN)

    This backdrop may help explain why the arrest of a U.S. consular employee in Turkey, on charges of involvement in the coup attempt, blew up so quickly into a major diplomatic rift, with the two nations suspending visa services for each other’s citizens, sending Turkish financial markets plunging. (Bloomberg)

  • Less-than-wholehearted

    But in Turkish eyes, the failure to extradite Gulen, despite repeated requests to do so, amounts to less-than-wholehearted support for a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that was the target of a violent insurrection. (Bloomberg)

  • Annoyed

    He is annoyed by the US’s refusal to extradite Mr Gulen, frustrated by Washington’s support for Syrian Kurdish militants, and angered by the US’s detention of a Turkish-Iranian businessman for his alleged involvement in a sanctions-busting scheme to sell gold to Iran. (Financial Times)

  • Spat/tiff

    Turkey summons US diplomat in escalating visa spat (CNN)

    Investors have been rattled by the diplomatic spat, with the Turkish lira falling more than 2 per cent against the dollar on Monday and the stock market tumbling almost 3 per cent. (Financial Times)

    The United States and Turkey have both declared plans to stop processing each other’s nonimmigrant visas, as what seemed at first like a minor diplomatic tiff threatened to flare into a full diplomatic standoff that could curtail most travel between the countries. (The New York Times)

Imagine a friend tells you about a disagreement two people are having: “I knew their relationship had soured, but I didn’t know the rift was this major. One day they’re fine, and then suddenly they’re in a major standoff!”

We didn’t make up the terms in red — they’re what Bloomberg used to describe the recent U.S. and Turkey visa suspensions, and the supposed state of bilateral relations. Notice the impression these terms create and how they stretch or shrink the imagination, while actually giving you little or no data about the issue itself. That’s often what spin does in news reporting.

The other three articles we analyzed also used several dramatic terms to describe the news of the suspensions. (For more examples, click here). These outlets called the situation a:

  • confrontation (The New York Times)
  • tit-for-tat (CNN, Financial Times)
  • quarrel (The New York Times)
  • diplomatic spat (Financial Times)
  • escalating visa spat (CNN)
  • growing dispute (The New York Times)
  • escalating diplomatic row (CNN)
  • dramatic downturn (Financial Times)
  • a minor diplomatic tiff [that] threatened to flare into a full diplomatic standoff (The New York Times)

Compare those spin terms to the two data points we gathered across the four articles: One, the U.S.’ visa suspension doesn’t mean Turkish citizens are barred from entering the country; the ban only applies to new visa applications filed in Turkey. In other words, Turkish citizens could apply for and receive U.S. visas outside of Turkey. Two, the U.S.’ suspension is “unprecedented” for Turkey, with no such occurrence in “decades,” according to a former Turkish ambassador to the E.U. (For information on other visa suspensions the U.S. has enacted, read our Context section below.)

The dramatic descriptions above don’t compare to the data in terms of informing us about the situation. That’s the trade-off between sensationalism and fact-based reporting.

Is it fact or fiction? Which outlet presents the most spin?

  • 46% Spun

  • 62% Spun

  • 64% Spun

  • 85% Spun


The New York Times

“It has become increasingly clear that [foreign nationals, including Americans detained in Turkey] are seen as potential bargaining chips in Ankara’s efforts to force the extradition of Mr. Gulen.”

Turkey has detained some Americans and has requested Gulen’s extradition.

Financial Times

“But Washington now appears to be drawing a red line under Turkey’s behaviour.”

The U.S. suspended nonimmigrant visa services at all its facilities in Turkey after a local Turkish employee at a U.S. consulate was arrested last week.

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts in all sources

With some exceptions, the move effectively blocks Turks from travel to the United States, and vice versa, indefinitely. (CNN)

Since CNN doesn’t list the “exceptions,” people may assume the move “blocks” Turks from traveling to the U.S. “indefinitely.” However, Turks can still travel to the U.S., they just can’t apply for visas at U.S. embassies and consulates within Turkey.

John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, said, “Now this suspension of services is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens. It’s a suspension of our consideration of new visa applications. If you have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States. If you want to apply for a visa at another U.S. embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so.”

Turkey’s U.S. embassy also notes that the visa restriction applies to those issued at “diplomatic and consular missions in the U.S.” It hasn’t specified whether U.S. citizens can apply for Turkish visas outside of the U.S.


An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

Dramatizes the actions and events by saying “tensions boil over.”

The Post could take out the spin and inform readers about the visa issue, maybe saying that nonimmigrant visa services have been suspended.

Vaguely claims there are “growing differences” between the U.S. and Turkey.

This headline doesn’t tell us what those differences are or how they relate to the visa suspensions.

Describes the main news, without spin.

This is the main news and Fox delivers it in neutral, straight-forward language.


Get the full picture! Don’t buy into cherry-picked information.

The media’s slant:
  • The U.S.-Turkey visa suspensions are significant: they’re a sign that tensions are escalating and bilateral relations (or Turkey’s relations with the West) are deteriorating.
  • Tensions will continue to escalate and bilateral relations will probably get worse.
  • The situation is mostly Turkey’s fault. The country and its leader Erdoğan are to blame.
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • Suspending visa services is a type of diplomatic protocol. Can the U.S. and Turkey implement this measure without bilateral relations falling apart? The sources we analyzed don’t specify how relations are “deteriorating.”
  • Turkey and the U.S. have been allies since after World War II, they are both NATO members, and their relations are more complex than this single situation. Maintaining ties may be important to both countries, so they may resolve the situation without breaking relations.  
  • Erdoğan is responsible for what happens in his country, its response to last year’s coup attempt and its international relations, but pointing the finger at him negates the U.S.’ participation in the current situation.


Access information and historical data that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the story.

How unusual is this visa suspension? Have there been others by the U.S.?

The visa suspension with Turkey isn’t the only one the U.S. has enacted during the past year. To better understand these restrictions, we compiled a list of the countries affected and the reasons the U.S. cited for these changes. Note: the information doesn’t include the countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban.

Oct. 8, 2017

  • Country: Turkey
  • Visa restriction: Stopped issuing nonimmigrant visas from all U.S. consulates within the country.
  • Stated reason: To reassess the safety of consulate employees.
  • Restriction end date: To be determined.

Sept. 29, 2017

  • Country: Cuba
  • Visa restriction: Stopped issuing nonimmigrant visas from the U.S. Embassy in Havana (there are no U.S. consulates in Cuba). Cuban applicants may apply at another U.S. embassy or consulate overseas.
  • Stated reason: Staff reductions, citing safety concerns due to the unexplained illnesses of consulate employees.
  • Restriction end date: To be determined.

Aug. 21, 2017

  • Country: Russia
  • Visa Restriction: Stopped issuing all nonimmigrant visas from U.S. embassies and consulates in Russia.
  • Stated reason: Staff reductions imposed on the U.S. mission by the Russian government in response to sanctions issued by the U.S. Senate.
  • Restriction end date: To be determined.

Oct. 1, 2016

  • Country: Gambia
  • Visa Restriction: Stopped issuing visas to Gambian government officials and individuals associated with the government, as well as their families.
  • Stated reason: In response to the country’s refusal to provide travel documents to Gambian citizens being deported from the U.S.
  • Restriction end date: To be determined.