The most hypocritical thing on the Internet. We found it.
Gather round, gather round!
I have found, with help, quite possibly the best example of media hypocrisy that exists on the internet.
I bring you, dear readers, a New York Times editorial from September 2, 1983. For it was on this day that the editors decided it was time to sound off on an incident which saw the Soviet Union accidentally shoot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which had entered its airspace.
The pontificating editorial, dramatically titled "Murder in the Air" does not seem particularly noteworthy taken on its own. It does, however, become quite noteworthy when we compare it to a similar editorial, this one from July 5, 1988, also dealing with the accidental shooting down of a civilian passenger plane. The difference was that this time it was the U.S. Navy that shot down an Iranian passenger jet in Iranian airspace while patrolling the Persian Gulf -- also an accident.
Before looking at the two pieces, let's agree that the shooting down of a civilian passenger plane is a horrific event, whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and regardless of who is responsible. Details from the two events suggest negligence, recklessness an aggressiveness on the part of both the Soviets and the Americans -- and with more than 260 civilians killed in each incident, playing the 'who was more reckless' game seems rather futile.
Now that's out of the way, let's compare the two editorials.
Here's how the New York Times wrote about the Soviet mistake:
"There is no conceivable excuse for any nation shooting down a harmless airliner," the piece begins. It is "unforgivable" and amounts to "aerial murder".
The Soviet Union's response, the New York Times wrote, "will affect their standing" in the world for years to come. The Soviets, it said, "had better curb their customary instinct to cover up, or blame their victims, and bring the guilty to account."
Then the newspaper took issue with the "cool detachment" shown by the Soviet military in shooting down the plane.
"The tone of Moscow's statements in the next few days will show whether the Kremlin accepts its responsibility for a minimally decent international order," it said. "Any effort to justify such brutality will surely affect America's judgment". Because "no circumstance whatsoever" justifies shooting down a civilian plane.
Now let's look at how the New York Times responded to the American mistake:
First let's note the title, "In Captain Rogers's Shoes". Already a stark contrast to "Murder in the Sky".
In its opening paragraph, the editorial reads: "While horrifying, it was nonetheless an accident." Remember, the Soviets got "unforgivable" and "aerial murder". The U.S. Navy got "accident".
The piece then goes on to say that it is "hard to see what the Navy could have done to avoid it." Yet for the Soviets, there was "no circumstance whatsoever" that could justify such a mistake.
Modern warfare and "crowded skies" it wrote, have made the stage "conducive" to accidents like this. "It's too early to assess blame," it continued.
Also, note that the editorial following the Soviet incident was published one day after the event and assigned blame immediately and unconditionally, while the editorial following the American incident was published two days after the event and this was, according to the New York Times, still "too early" to assess blame.
The fact that there is even a question mark over who is at fault in the American incident is interesting. The editors are perfectly willing to entertain the idea that it might have been the pilot of the civilian jet more at fault in the case of Iran Air 655.
The Navy captain, it continued, "had little choice" but to fire. Put yourself in his shoes, it said. It’s "hard to find fault" with his decision.
Of the Soviet mistake, readers are told a horrifying tale of brutality and carelessness. Of the American mistake, they are told a sad tale about a captain who bore such a great burden of “appalling responsibility”, leading him to make an agonizing decision.
Most stunningly of all, the New York Times then outright suggests that the Iran Air pilot was potentially at greater fault than the Navy for "flying outside the civilian corridor" despite the fact that the U.S. Navy ship was in Iranian territorial waters.
This comment is made all the more hypocritical, given the line in the previous piece warning the Russians not to "blame their victims". Where the New York Times wanted to "bring the guilty to account" for the 1983 incident, its intent was to absolve the U.S. military of blame for the 1988 incident.
As for the "cool detachment" shown by the Soviets, I highly doubt that there are eruptions of hysterical emotion from members of the U.S. military every time one of their "precise" missions goes awry.
And remember the bit from the 1983 editorial, the part where the writers suggested that the Soviet reaction and the "tone of Moscow's statements" in the aftermath would greatly color U.S. opinion? What about Washington's response to Iran Air 665?
The U.S. has never offered an apology, and yet oddly, the New York Times didn't seem all too concerned about how that might color the world's opinion. The Russians never offered an apology either, by the way -- and both refusals to fully acknowledge blame, in my opinion, are equally wrong.
Adding insult to injury, two years after Iran Air 665 was shot out of the sky, the captain who shot it down was awarded the Legion of Merit commendation for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer".
The New York Times probably didn't complain.