Reed Irvine - Editor
|September B, 1983|
THE KOREAN AIRLINES MASSACRE
The cold-blooded massacre by the Soviet Union of 269 men, women and children, including U.S. Congressman Lawrence P. McDonald, off Sakhalin Island is far from being the worst atrocity ever perpetrated by the communists, but it has unique characteristics that have caused the media to give it more attention than they normally give to communist massacres.
The massacre of 10,000 Polish army officers by the Soviets when they invaded Poland in 1939 was effectively covered up when the Germans subsequently discovered the mass graves. The British and American governments collaborated with the Soviets in obscuring the communists' responsibility for murdering the cream of Polish youth whom they had taken captive. The Katyn massacre, as it is called, is little known to Americans even today. As recently as June 1978, the Voice of America helped the cover-up. A brave Polish writer, Andzrej Braun, had given a speech in Poland in which he accused the government censors of preventing mention of the fact that the massacre had been carried out by the Soviet Union. In reporting Braun's remarks, the VOA edited out "by the Soviet Union."
The most famous massacre in Vietnam was, of course, My Lai. Our media saw to that, giving it enormous publicity. It involved the killing of one hundred to three hundred Vietcong civilians, including women and children. More than ten times as many innocent civilians were massacred by the communists in the city of Hue when it was occupied by the communists in February 1968. When the city was retaken, over 5,000 civilians were found to be missing. About 3,000 bodies were subsequently discovered in mass graves. They were all civilians who had been on the communist "bloodlists," plucked out of their homes and shot, clubbed and even buried alive in some cases. That massacre did not pique the interest of our media. It was virtually ignored, and today few people have heard of the Hue massacre.
The horrible massacres in Cambodia perpetrated by the communists were ignored while they were taking place, and even though the victims number in the hundreds of thousands, those crimes have only made a slight dent on our consciousness. All the males in the village of Kerala in Afghanistan were massacred in July 1979, Soviet advisers directing Afghan soldiers who did the deed. About 1,000 were killed and bulldozed into a mass grave. Who today remembers Kerala?
Will the massacre of the 269 passengers and crew of KAL Flight 007 by the communists be a My Lai or a Hue? Certainly it has attracted worldwide attention and has aroused almost unanimous revulsion. None of the victims had done any harm to the Soviet Union or posed any threat to it. They were guilty only of having been accidentally transported into Soviet airspace, something that might have happened to anyone who travels near Soviet borders. The massacre was absolutely senseless--from the point of view of those who are not communists. We can identify with the weeping relatives of the victims, whom we have seen on our television screens. And we can share their anger when the communists not only refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing, but even refuse to permit the Japanese and Americans to help try to locate the wreckage and the bodies.
But if the past is any guide, the KAL massacre will excite the passions of Americans for a few months at most. The Soviets lost very little time in mounting their propaganda counterattack, and, as usual, our media have been quite cooperative in helping them confuse the picture. In the first few days after the massacre, the journalistic apologists for the communists had some uneasy moments. It is hard to justify shooting down a civilian airliner carrying 269 people just because it strayed into your airspace. The Soviets were clamming up, not even admitting that they had done the deed. That made it difficult for those who are eager to report the story from their point of view.
However. that difficulty was soon surmounted. Even before the Soviets themselves came up with the line that the airliner had been confused with a military spy plane. The Washington Post produced a front-page story by Michael Getler headlined: "Analysts Suspect Miss-Identification Led to the Attack." Getler was way ahead of the Soviets at that point. That same Saturday morning The Post and other papers were reporting that Tass, the official Soviet news agency, had explained that the Korean airliner had been carrying out an undercover spy mission. Tass said only warning shots had been fired. The Washington Post added to the confusion with a headline that read. "Moscow Acknowledges Firing 'Warning' Shots." The use of the word "acknowledges" is interesting, since all evidence available to the U.S. government indicated that no warning shots had been fired before the airliner was downed with a missile from a Soviet interceptor.
The Philadelphia Inquirer made the Soviet charge its lead story of the day, with a bold banner headline that read, "Jetliner Was Spying Soviets Say," and a sub-head that read, "Moscow holds U.S. at fault." The Inquirer relegated President Reagan's strong statement that the Soviets had "flagrantly lied' about its "terrorist" missile attack to the left-hand side of the front page. The New York Times also made the Soviet charge its lead story of the day, under the headline, "Soviet says Interceptor Fired Warning Shots at Korean Jet; Shultz Denounces Cover-up." The edition of The Times distributed in Washington carried a transcript of President Reagan's powerful denunciation of Soviet brutality and lies at the bottom of page 4, but it made no mention of it in its news story, which was devoted to comments by Secretary of State George Shultz.
All of this was but the beginning of the assistance our media gave to the Soviet campaign to limit the damage to their image by sowing as much confusion and doubt as circumstances would permit. While it is still very early, indications are that the Soviets will probably succeed in flushing the KAL massacre down the memory hole along with Katyn Hue. Cambodia and Kerala in a matter of months unless there is a resolve in circles able to influence media performance to see that this does not happen.
The media reaction to the Korean Airlines massacre has been overwhelmingly critical of the Soviet Union, reflecting the anger and revulsion felt by nearly all Americans. In citing examples of reporting that has played into Soviet hands, we are not suggesting that such stories have been typical. We are suggesting that already signs have appeared of a weakness in our journalism that the Soviet propaganda machine will make every effort to exploit to the hilt. The weakness is the apparently deep-seated tendency on the part of many of our journalists to try to find fault with our country, our government, and our institutions even if doing so involves helping the greatest enemies of freedom in the world--the Soviet Union.
Maj. Gen. George J. Keegan, former chief of Air Force Intelligence, expressed his strong indignation about the attitude of CBS News correspondents who had interviewed him about the KAL massacre. He told AIM: "They were obsessed with getting me to make a statement that they could edit to appear on the air that we would have been the complicit party in that shootdown. The manner in which they concerted their efforts to get me to make a statement that would serve the purpose of exonerating or attenuating somewhat the Soviet shootdown just struck me as typical of the kind of journalism we've been getting from CBS. They will go to any extreme to make the Soviets appear less culpable."
This is not limited to CBS. The New York Times carried an extraordinary article by Philip Taubman on September 4 under the headline, "Korean Jet's Path Called Short Cut." Taubman wrote: "Intelligence analysts studying information about the flight of a South Korean airliner that was apparently (our emphasis) shot down on Thursday by the Soviet Union said today that they could not rule out the possibility that the Korean crew might have flown intentionally into Soviet air space on a short-cut route to Seoul." Taubman said that Korean Air Lines officials had rejected such a possibility, but he said the question "remains one of several key problems that may never be resolved, according to the analysts." He said, "In addition, according to the intelligence officials, the incorrect course that the plane followed, whether by design or accident, happened to be the shortest, most direct route to Seoul .... The intelligence officials said they knew of no previous (our emphasis) efforts by Korean pilots to shave flying timing (sic) to Seoul by taking a more direct route, and acknowledged that intentionally flying through Soviet airspace would be 'unthinkable' to experienced pilots. But they said that other explanations, such as faulty navigational equipment, seemed even more unlikely. Major Gen. George J. Keegan, Jr., the retired chief of Air Force intelligence, has been quoted as saying that Korean pilots have been 'careless' in the past, and that they continued to fly too close to Soviet territory."
Gen. Keegan said he had not talked to Philip Taubman. and he had never suggested that the Korean pilots might have deliberately flown through Soviet airspace to shave flying time. He found the idea ridiculous. A spokesman for the Defense Department told AIM that he knew of no intelligence analysis who gave any serious consideration to the notion described by Taubman. He said it was beyond the realm of possibility that any Korean airline pilot would deliberately take such a short cut. Mr. Taubman refused to identify his sources to AIM.
In the same article, Taubman said that "intelligence officials said they remained uncertain whether Soviet pilots pursuing the South Korean plane knew it was a passenger airliner." Taubman said that Tass had said that the plane looked like an American AWACS surveillance plane.' Both the Department of Defense spokesman and Gen. Keegan found Taubman's statement absurd. They knew of no intelligence officials who were uncertain about whether the Soviet pilots were able to identify the very distinctive 747 as a passenger plane. Gen. Keegan pointed out that even if the Soviet pilot had not been able to see the airliner clearly in the moonlit sky, the size of the 747 jumbo jet on his radar would clearly distinguish it from AWACS, a smaller plane. He said there was no possibility of the pilot confusing the 747 with either the RC135 reconnaissance plane, which is a modified Boeing 707, or the AWACS plane.
Nevertheless, Michael Getler of The Washington Post again pushed this same theme in an article published Monday, September 5 on the front page. Getler said: "But what remained unclear yesterday, as new details were revealed both here and in Moscow, was whether the Soviet fighter pilot who shot down the Korean Air Lines plane, killing all 289 persons aboard, knew it was an airliner, whether he told his ground commanders so, or whether the Soviets cared about any such distinction if they were aware of one." This was a response to the revelation that an Air Force RC135 reconnaissance plane had flown a mission that took it northward along the Kamchatka Peninsula, over international waters while KAL Flight 7 was flying toward the peninsula.
Changing their story again, a Soviet air defense official stated in Moscow that they believed the RC135 had invaded their airspace when KAL Flight 7 first appeared over Soviet territory. Getler said unidentified U.S. officials believed that when the Korean plane entered Soviet airspace the Soviets "probably thought it was the reconnaissance plane." White House press spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters that if there was such a confusion initially, the Soviets had plenty of time to straighten it out, since two and a half hours elapsed before they shot down the airliner. Gen. Keegan doubts that there was any room for confusion, pointing out that the planes were going in different directions and that the Soviets had the RC135 flight plan. He said that we are required to file flight plans with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) when military flights cross civilian air lanes. He said the Soviets get those plans from the ICAO. They also know all the commercial airline flight schedules. In his televised address Monday night, President Reagan pointed out that the RC135 was back at its base in Alaska long before the KAL plane was shot down over Sakhalin. Nevertheless, Bill Plante of CBS came on the air right after the president's address saying, "They keep insisting that there is no other conclusion that can be drawn but that the Soviets shot that airliner out of the air deliberately, but a number of us keep asking if that is necessarily the case. We think it still may be possible that a mistake was made. And that is a question that the administration simply hasn't answered." Plante didn't explain what reason he and his like-minded colleagues had for thinking that a mistake may have been made, but it was presumably the possibility that the Soviets had confused the 747 with the RC135. That morning the Philadelphia Inquirer's banner headline had read: "Soviets May Have Mistaken Jet," and The Washington Post's lead story was headed: "U.S. Air Force Plane Crossed Path of let."
One of the strangest media performances was found in The New York Times' "Week in Review" section of Sunday, September 4. This section, which sums up the important events of the week, relied as much on Tass, the Soviet news agency, as on U.S. and Japanese reports of what had transpired once KAL Flight 7 entered Soviet airspace. The account relied on the information from the tapes of what the Soviet interceptor pilot said with respect to his approaching the KAL jet to get within visual range and then firing a missile on orders from the ground.
The Times then switched to Tass for its information. "Soviet fighters 'fired warning shots with tracer shells,' Tass admitted," The Times said. Tass made that as a claim, not an admission, but there is no evidence to back it up. The tapes say nothing about tracer shells being fired. Indeed the SU-15 fighter that shot down the airliner does not even carry guns that could fire tracers. It carries only heat-seeking missiles that could not be used to fire a warning shot.
The Times went on: "The plane, Tass said, did not have navigation lights and did not respond to queries or react to signals and warnings from Soviet fighter planes that 'tried to establish contact' and 'take it to the nearest airfield on Soviet territory.'" CBS News had reported on September 2 that according to Pentagon sources the Soviet pilot had radioed that the KAL airliner was blinking his lights. The Korean pilot had reported his position, incorrectly, as being on course only three minutes before he was shot down. He gave no indication that he was aware that Soviet fighters had been tracking him for two and a half hours or that they had given him any warnings. None of this was reported in "The Week in Review" summary in The New York Times. For The Times, Tass seemed to be a preferable source of information.
ABC's "Nightline" took another of its telephone polls on the night of September 2, asking viewers to call in to indicate whether they wanted to see the U.S. government take strong retaliatory action against the Soviet Union for the KAL massacre. The callers paid 50 cents for each call to the designated "900" numbers. Over 93 percent of the nearly 400,000 who called indicated that they favored strong action. No publicity has been given to this very revealing outpouring of public opinion except on "Nightline" itself.
The last such poll taken on "Nightline" measured public feeling about "debategate." The results showed that the public by a substantial majority thought the media were giving the now-forgotten Carter briefing book leak too much coverage. That didn't get reported either, but shortly thereafter "debategate" dropped out of sight. The media evidently got the word, if not through the ABC poll. then perhaps by other means of sensing public opinion.
On the question of the KAL massacre, will the media reflect the feelings of the 90 percent of the American people who would like to see some strong retaliatory action against the Soviets? Or will we see a more concerted effort to damp down the emotional reaction to this barbaric crime and resume the campaign to prove that they are just like us, or maybe a little better because of their love of peace?
Murrey Marder, diplomatic correspondent of The Washington Post, James Reston and Anthony Lewis, columnists for The New York Times whose columns appear in many other papers around the country have all expressed their fears that the public reaction to the massacre may seriously damage the new era of detente.
Marder writes: "Now those hardliners who embrace the devil image (of the USSR) have a chance to preserve the American outrage long enough to convert it into political currency. If they succeed, it will become immeasurably harder to sustain the political support required to bring any negotiation with the Soviet Union to a successful conclusion."
Reston thinks this would be tragic. He says: "The first reaction here (in Washington) after the plane disaster (not massacre) in the Sea of Japan was: 'What's the point of trying to reach an agreement with Moscow on nuclear weapons when such a government could order or approve such a human atrocity as has just happened?' It would be a tragic conclusion, but that's the way it's going for the moment. Later on the sense of outrage about the Korean plane disaster (again) may settle down, but it will take some time."
Anthony Lewis has an interesting view. Just when Ronald Reagan was finally beginning to win Yuri Andropov's confidence, he tells us, this terrible thing had to come along and spoil it all. Lewis assures us that since it is obvious that the Soviet leadership did not want such a result, it is unlikely that either the top political or military leadership in the Soviet Union had anything to do with the decision to massacre 269 people from 13 countries over Sakhalin Island. Lewis shows how one can use the disinformation that The New York Times and others have disseminated to mitigate the crime. "They may well have tried to signal the South Korean plane," he tells us, accepting the Tass version of what transpired, just as did "The Week in Review." He adds, "But when for whatever reason it did not respond, they shot it down." Alternatively, Lewis falls back on the theory that it was really a case of mistaken identity. He says: "Conceivably Soviet radar technicians could have mistaken it as an intelligence-gathering aircraft."
Lewis says none of this really excuses this "incident." (He can't bring himself to speak of a massacre or murder. He writes not of the killing of human beings, never even mentioning the number who died. but only of "the destruction of Korean Airlines Flight 7" and the "shooting down of Flight 7.") He regrets that the Russians have not bothered "to express regret in a generous way.., without the evasions and fulminations." (He can't even bring himself to use the word "lie" in speaking of the Soviet reaction.) Lewis sees faults on both sides. Tass, he notes, has called our criticisms "impudent," and he says, "To U.S. spokesmen, the Soviet behavior is 'characteristic.'"
Marder, Reston and Lewis are merely the vanguard of those who dare to say, while public outrage is still high, that it would be a mistake to plot any fundamental change in American policy toward the Soviet Union just because a Korean airliner got off course and was shot out of the skies by the communists. They and others like them can be counted upon to bend their efforts in the months ahead to flush the KAL massacre down the memory hole.
The people of the Free World have notoriously short memories, thanks at least in part to our media. The Berlin Wall, the crushing of the Hungarian and Czech efforts to free themselves, the torture of Soviet dissidents in psychiatric hospitals, yellow rain, the boat people, the victims of Pol Pot, the agony of China during
Mao's Cultural Revolution, the invasion of Afghanistan, the attempted murder of the pope, and the smashing of Solidarity in Poland are but a few of the great atrocities perpetrated by the communists that have alternately shocked and shamed us in recent decades.
Naive observers always ask with amazement how the communists can do such foolish things, things that so damage their image and impair their relations with the Free World. They never seem to learn that the communists don't worry about trifles like that. They can point to past experience to prove that with their great propaganda apparatus, it is what they say. not what they do that ultimately shapes world opinion.
There is no reason to think it will be any different with the KAL massacre, unless the civilized world decides that the time has come to turn the tables on the communists. If any country in the world deserves to be treated as a pariah it is the Soviet Union. It oppresses its own people, the people in neighboring countries that it has subjugated, it directly and indirectly supports & worldwide terror network, and it is the sworn enemy of freedom everywhere. Its system stifles creativity and creates shortages of consumer goods wherever it is introduced.
We hear a lot about how we need to understand the Soviets. A group of New England editors has journeyed to Moscow and has invited their counterparts to visit New England to promote understanding. The little Maine schoolgirl, Samatha Smith, was invited to the Soviet Union after the Kremlin propagandists decided to use her letter to dictator Yuri Andropov to demonstrate how the Soviet Union loves peace. Young Samantha's red carpet tour was given extensive media coverage in this country even though the American reporters in the USSR understood very well that it was all carefully orchestrated to serve the ends of Soviet propaganda. The message was that the Russians are just like us.
This is phoney understanding. The tours of the New England newspaper editors and Samantha Smith did nothing to help them understand the mentality that led to the Korean Airlines massacre. Indeed. the opposite was true. What we need is greater understanding that the Soviet Union is ruled by men who are not just like us. They are cruel, ruthless men who don't share our Judeo. Christian values. On the contrary, they are doing their best to extirpate them from the face of the earth. Talking to them will never alter that. Ostracizing them and neutralizing their propaganda machine might.
Watch for articles and programs that seek to offset the public awakening that the KAL massacre produced. Write letters about them yourself, or call them to the attention of AIM.
AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media, Inc., 1341 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, and is free to AIM members. Dues and contributions to AIM are tax deductible. The AIM Report is mailed 3rd class to those whose contribution is at least $15 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non-member subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).
WILL THE SOVIET UNION GET AWAY WITH THE KOREAN AIRLINES MASSACRE WITHOUT DOING itself permanent serious damage? We suggest in this issue of the AIM Report that past experience indicates that the answer is that they will get away with it. The world will soon forget and forgive, as it has so many times in the past. We already see indications of this in the media coverage of the massacre, and we discuss some of those in this report. In analyzing the coverage, I was forcibly reminded of some of the attitudes and practices that cause our free press to serve us badly at times like these. Let me list a few of them.
1. THE YOU-CAN'T-TRUST-THE-UNITED-STATES SYNDROME--THIS WAS EXHIBITED BY BOTH The New York Times and The Washington Post in their banner headlines on the morning of September 2, reporting that the plane had been shot down. The Times headline read: "U.S. Says Soviet Downed Korean Airliner." The Post headline said: "U.S. Says Soviets Shot Down Airliner." The New York Times was still using "U.S. Says" on September 7 in reporting on the U. N. Security Council session at which Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick played the tape recording of the comments of the Soviet fighter pilot who shot down the airliner. The headlines were as follows: "U. N. Council Hears a Tape in Russian - U.S. Says Voice is That of the Pilot Who Shot Down Jet." The lead paragraph read: "A hushed and intent Security Council today heard 11 minutes of the tape-recorded voice that the United States said was that of the Soviet fighter pilot .... " By this time The Washington Post had developed more confidence in the word of the U.S. government. Its report described it as "the tape-recorded voice of a Soviet fighter pilot as he homed in on the ill-fated South Korean jetliner."
2. THE U.S.-MUST-BE-TO-BLAME SYNDROME - THIS WAS EXHIBITED IN THE RECKLESSNESS with which the media disseminated the story that the Soviets may have confused the jumbo jet with what they liked to call "a U.S. spy plane." This excuse for the Soviet action first appeared in The Washington Post on Saturday, September 3 in a very prominent story on page one. It was reported at some length on the CBS Evening News that night, and it was promptly picked up by the Soviets and soon became their alibi. It was then given extensive coverage on Monday, September 5, after the U.S. acknowledged that an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane had at one point in time crossed the route of the ill-fated jetliner. If the reporters had been less eager to put some of the blame on the U.S., they could have learned very quickly that the reconnaissance plane had nothing to do with the tragic fate of KAL Flight 7. The stories about the RC-135 would not have been written and played as they were if (a) a little more checking had been done and/or (b) there had not been some desire to blame the U.S. The fact that some reporters, notably Bill Plante of CBS, were still talking about misidentification as a factor even after the absurdity of that argument had been made clear is evidence of (b). White House spokesman Larry Speakes showed impatience with questions from the White House press corps that suggested the misidentification theory had not been effectively laid to rest. At a press briefing on September 6, he said that such questions "search for some Soviet mistake that would apologize for them or mitigate their responsibility."
3. THE RELUCTANCE TO CALL THINGS BY THEIR RIGHT NAME - IN HIS TELEVISED ADDRESS President Reagan very correctly referred to "the Korean Airline massacre." He recognized that this evil deed had to be given a name. It was not an "incident," and it was a lot more than a "disaster." Our "cool" media are avoiding using its proper name. Use it!
YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND AN AIM CONFERENCE ON OCTOBER 13-14 IN HOUSTON, TEXAS. The subject: THE MEDIA: WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY ON? This will be similar to the conference we held on this subject in Washington, D.C. last April, which was so highly praised by those who attended that we decided to put it on the road. Many of the speakers will be the same, but not all. The banquet will be addressed by Dr. Edward Teller and Gen. Vernon Walters, former Deputy Director of the CIA and now ambassador at large. The theme of the conference is even more appropriate now than it was last April. This will be a stimulating experience and I urge you to attend, both to hear our excellent speakers and to meet and get acquainted with other AIM members--great people who think like you.
The cost for this conference will be only $80 if you pay before October 6. After October 6, the cost will be $100. This includes the banquet and two luncheons. For those who can't attend the whole conference but who want to attend one or more of the luncheons or the banquet, the cost will be $25 for each luncheon and $50 for the banquet.
Hotel reservations will NOT be handled by AIM. The conference will be at the Hotel Meridien, which is offering the special rate of $55 (single or-double) for participants. Make your reservations directly with the hotel. The phone no. is 713-759-0202 and the address is 400 Dallas Street, Houston, TX 77002. This is an elegant hotel.