How US Media Cover Same Tragedies in Opposite Ways

How US Media Cover Same Tragedies in Opposite Ways
Ali Bandi, the only member of a 12-strong family, 10 of whom died after the US shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988. Ali was doing his military service at the time. / Photo by Mojtaja Seraji, Gerishna

A political commentator has weighed in on the US double standards in reaction to two similar tragic incidents: the USSR’s shoot-down of a Korean airliner, and the US downing of an Iranian passenger plane.

The downing of the Dubai-bound Iran Air flight 655 by the American warship USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988 over the Persian Gulf was not the only such incident in history.

South Korea’s Boeing 747 airliner, flight 007, took off from the JFK airport on 1 September 1983 before being shot down by the former Soviet Union’s air force. All 269 crew members and passengers on board were killed.

TIME
The USSR’s downing of a Korean airliner covered on the Time magazine’s frontpage in 1983

Political commentator Sahand Iranmehr has drawn a comparison between the two incidents and found interesting points. First, the Americans’ justification for shooting down the Iranian airliner was that the Bandar Abbas airport in southern Iran from where the passenger plane had taken off was simultaneously used by F-14 jet fighters as well. The Americans claimed any aircraft that would take off from that airport was a fighter jet unless proven otherwise (according to information provided by Wikipedia). So, after giving 11 warnings (most of which could not be picked up by passenger planes due to their special frequency), the US warship shot down the Iranian airliner. After the tragedy, Washington justified the downing by saying that the Americans had failed to properly identify their target in a critical situation amid the Iran-Iraq war.

The contradiction associated with this justification comes to light when we refer to the case on the downing of the South Korean airplane. Soviet officials argued that the South Korean airliner could not be identified due to night-time darkness. They also said that the plane did not pay attention to the warning shots fired by the Russian air force, either. At that time, the US dismissed the Soviet authorities’ justification as farcical and unconvincing.

The more interesting point is that the South Korean aircraft had strayed into the Soviet airspace by mistake, and as a result, the aircraft increasing its altitude was regarded as a declaration of war while the Iranian Airbus plane had not crossed into the airspace of any country.

The second point in comparing the two tragedies is that American media claimed a technical error was to blame for the US downing of the Iranian airliner while the South Korean plane tragedy became front-page news in most US publications and even the photo of the aircraft was printed on the cover of Time magazine and the incident received blanket coverage as a war crime.

According to an article by Iranian researchers Alireza Dehqan and Ehsan Shah-Qassemi released in the Hamshahri Training website, Robert Matthew Entman, the head of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, for the first time introduced the concept “news framing” by directly comparing the two incidents.

News framing refers to double standards on news stories which are similar in terms of content, but political or economic considerations will result in them being aggrandized or downplayed.

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