Asiana Airlines Headline Called ‘Racist’ And ‘In Bad Taste’

Asiana Airlines Headline Called ‘Racist’ And ‘In Bad Taste’

This weekend, tragedy struck. Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed in San Francisco. Over 180 people are injured, and two are dead. Nineteen passengers are still hospitalised, with six still in critical condition. Two thirds of the passengers were Asian, which is why the Chicago Sun-Times‘s headline is angering some online.

As pointed out by AsAmNews, the Sunday headline read, “Fright 214”.

There is, of course, a long tradition of mocking Asians — especially Chinese as well as Japanese — by not differentiating between “L” and “R” sounds in English. Case in point: the “fried rice” scene in Lethal Weapon 4.

For many, the headline appeared to perpetuate the stereotypical Asian accent.

“First, its pretty sick to use a play on words in a headline for a tragedy,” wrote AsAmNews. “Secondly, this one’s pretty racist.”

Some commenters on AsAmNews agreed that it was racist, with one even calling it a “sick joke”. Others seemed to think it was simply in poor taste and unintentionally showed bad judgment while covering the crash. It felt oddly reminiscent of ESPN’s “Chink in the Armor” headline.

Sun-Times Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk told the Asian American Journalist Association that his staff didn’t even think about how the headline could be perceived as insensitive.

“There was nothing intentional on our part to play off any stereotypes… If anybody was offended by that, we are sorry,” Kirk told AAJA. “We were trying to convey the obviously frightening situation of that landing.”

The Asian American Journalist Association thinks the headline might have slipped through due to a lack of diversity among newspaper staff.

Some will say that getting upset over something like this is being hypersensitive, that the Sun-Times didn’t mean malice, and that this loses sight of the tragedy at hand.

And as insensitive as the Sun-Times headline seemed, there were also Twitter users writing all sorts of awful things and even a Korean newscaster on Channel A that, according to Searchina, actually said, “We’re lucky that the people who died were Chinese.” (And yes, online in Chinese people are incredibly angry about this news anchor’s remark.)

But, intentional or not, the headline doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

You’re Kidding Me, Right? Check Out This Headline in Chicago Sun Times. [AsAmNews via Bejing Cream]
Chicago Sun-Times publisher responds to ‘Fright 214′ headline [AAJA]

Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty


  • I swear some people just cant function without being offended by something each day.

      • How so?

        I have never been in a plane crash, but I imagine it would be quite terrifying. In this instance, the headline is both clever and correct.

        There is nothing else in the headline to suggest a racism remark, nor any reason to think they were playing on the words intending to make a racist joke.

        Just because you are offended, it does not make you right.

        • A play on words that relies on racial stereotyping to headline a newspaper is amateur. Whether its offensive or not is up to personal discretion.

          • orry, what? its a play on words, yes, but its a play on words in the seance that it would have scared the shit out of anyone on the flight. Only racists would see this as rasisem.

          • Actually, it’s a play on words that relies on the substitution of a single letter.

            Whether it’s racist or not is up to personal interpretation.

        • Clever? Yes. Correct? Yes. Appropriate? No. It was “FLight 214”. Not FRight. So there’s a little switch which goes off in the brain which says “hey, if I change this letter, it has a dual meaning; a pun”. This is no different from “Flied Lice”. It’s humorous and makes sense in the context; surely everyone on board was frightened, but the context is also death, and the passengers were predominantly asian. “There is nothing else in the headline to suggest a racism remark” is somewhat true… until you hear how most of the passengers were asian. Then it becomes “I see what you did there”. And just because something is racist, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily offensive. It’s discrimination based on racial difference. It’s like saying asians are good at math… that is a compliment, but it is also racist… it is not derogatory, and in general should not cause offense.

          If your job is to cook, then you should be good at cooking; you should be mindful of the health concerns of your clients and for delivering a professional product. You can insert whatever profession you like and that’s true. For a journalist, it’s the same story. As a master of their craft, media, they should in fact be more attentive to something such as political correctness, even if their motives are tempered by sensationalism to sell newspapers.

          The journalist coming up with this headline knew the circumstances of the tragedy, and should not have proceeded with this. Not because it’s mildly offensive, but because it’s in poor taste. People died.

  • As soon as I read this, it instantly made me think of the Justin Lin “chink in the armour” headline too. Come on… You just can’t throw this kind of casual racism around anymore. The 80s have long since passed. So unprofessional, especially given the gravity of the event.

    • Its only racist if you yourself made the connection in your head that the headline somehow lampoons an old stereotype. That says more about you than the article in question. Ill give you the chink article as that was pretty blatant and featured an Asian man right underneath the headline, but not this one.

      • This is why the whole “Political Correctness” and “Racism” thing is bullcrap. Society as a whole, primarily the PC and Racism Police, are the one perpetuating racism. Racist stereotypes and nicknames are hilarious as long as it’s not said in an injurious fashion. Hell, me and my friends and to a lesser extent, co-workers, refer to each other in non-PC and even racist terms because the names are funny. ie; Honky (“racist” nickname for white people).

        I suppose I should start trying to get common names branded racism just to see how far the PC thing will go. ie; “You are such a John”.

      • When I was a kid, my grandparents were fond of calling me a ‘cheeky monkey’. The chiding affectation embedded itself in my brain as being an appropriate term for a specific situation. Later, I grew fond of the imagery of a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters in an attempt to plagiarize Shakespeare, and I used the term synonymously with ‘muppet’, to describe someone of technical ineptitude. “How hard is it to fix? What are those bloody monkeys doing in IT?”

        Years later, as a fully-grown adult, I discover (and this really was news to me) that calling someone a monkey is a racial slur. (Apparently this is something I was supposed to have known about, what with all my exposure to racists and their language. Fucking eyeroll. Fortunately I discovered this by watching the news, rather than offending someone myself.)

        But now I can’t use it. Because what I mean apparently doesn’t mean jack shit to someone who’s determined to go looking for things to be offended by. Honestly, I’m not surprised that it never occurred to these editors that ‘Fright’ as a pun might have any other implication beyond terror. And I have no doubt that they think it’s totally not fair that what was otherwise a passable headline is completely ruined by fucking racists.

        • Ok what about this: If I wrote and article about a man (who happens to be gay) who likes lighting bonfires which featured him standing in front of a pile of bound sticks, ready to be set alight and put the headline above it “LOOK AT THIS MASSIVE FAGGOT” even though it is actually the correct usage of the word I would be open to criticism as I should have used better judgement.

          I do agree that there is definitely an over abundance of PC-ness nowadays, with people getting up in arms about anything and everything, but I also think that people should be aware of the situation and their actions and make the judgement to act appropriately.

          As I said below I don’t believe this is overly harsh or racist, and I do believe it could have happned by accident, but as Ashcraft said intentional or not, the headline doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

          • As long as I’m aware of it, I don’t use it – see the ‘monkey’ example. But you have to be aware of it to be able to exercise that judgement. I know a guy who has Indian parents who occasionally makes jokes about his heritage, along the lines of, “Well, they know what you say about Indians and X.”
            And there’s a weird moment of, “Uh… actually I don’t. Could you set this up for me before continuing the joke?”
            “Oh. Right. We operate a lot of laundromats. Apparently.”
            “Shit. I thought that was the Lebanese? I keep getting my racism mixed up.”

            The implication of ‘a headline doesn’t exist in a vacuum’ is that you need to go broaden your knowledge of the darker, less seemly uses of the lexicon, in order to better understand the interpretations by them and the people who are exposed to them. And then, how far do you go? Cis in front of everything?

            This particular example is such a stretch. I haven’t heard the ‘flied lice’ shit since the 90s, it needs to die the death of obscurity. The response the accusers SHOULD be getting is, “Really? That racist shit? It’s 2013. We’re past that. Act like it.”

          • yeah, but nobody has seriously used faggot in the correct way for years, and if they have they are far behind the times and far from the mainstream.

          • That’s true, it hasn’t been in proper use for years, but it is possible (however unlikely) that there are people out there that don’t know it’s a slur and use it, completely unaware of its other coloquial meaning. In which case they wouldn’t be using it as an attack on a homosexual, but it could be seen that way.

          • Funnily enough, in my current job, we used to have 4 gay guys in my team. They were the most inappropriate and funny bastards to have around. They were also the first person to tell you that they’re not ‘gay’, but are actually ‘faggots’. They’d word it like, “Honey, I’m not gay, I’m a fag!”.

            Unfortunately, they left a couple of months back and the office is now mostly silent and boring without them.

      • Ill give you the chink article as that was pretty blatant and featured an Asian man right underneath the headline, but not this one.

        No, it only has a plane with Asiana on the side right under the headline and talks about Asian people who were killed.

        I’m not saying it’s the same, but it’s close.

  • “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”

  • It’s not overly racist or harsh, but come on, they should know better. It’s the kind of thing you might say to your mates as a joke that you know is in bad taste, not the kind of thing you use as a headline on a national (and now international thanks to the internet) newspaper.

    • It’s not racist at all… As @dogcat said
      Its only racist if you yourself made the connection in your head that the headline somehow lampoons an old stereotype. That says more about you than the article in question.

      It’s simply a play on words of flight and frightening. I’m pretty sure most plane crashes are frightening…

      • You’re missing the connection of the name of the airline is Asiana, and that Asian people were among those that died, within that context (and without without tone) it could be constrewn as in bad taste.

        “That says more about you than the article in question.”

        What about Asian people who are taunted with this kind of derogatory language and speech by people who are racist and do seek to belittle people based on their race/culture? They experience it in person so it could be in their head when they read it even if they aren’t looking for it because of their experience with it.

        This is all about using better judgement, especially when considering the context.

        • If you’re not familiar with the insult against asians about pronunciation (and I believe this is more common than the readily-offended might think – either from not having listened to much comedy in the 80s or not being a racist yourself), then there would be no possible way for you to know that the headline could be interpreted that way.

          You either have to be a racist or be exposed to racism to ‘get’ the racist ‘in-jokes’ and how they affect your language. I was in my 30s before I heard of ‘monkey’ being used in a racist context. I was in my 20s before I knew that ‘coon’ can be used in a racist context – up until that point, my only exposure to ‘coon’ was the cheese, and my Dad’s old 50s-era Davy Crockett books.

          The internet exposed me to a whole host of insults and epithets for certain ethnic groups which I had never heard, growing up, because people from those ethnic groups simply didn’t inhabit the places I grew up. Did you know ‘beaner’ is a perjorative label for Mexicans? I didn’t, until I heard some Americans using it. They were kind of embarrassed when I asked them to explain.

          People are so quick to groan, “Oh, you have to have known that was a possibility,” but in the world we actually want to live in, where we don’t see the differences as any kind of big deal at all, then we have to acknowledge that this is one of the byproducts.

          • I get what you’re saying, it could have been an accident, or an oversight, or a harmless pun, but the difference I see between you or I saying it is this is a national newspaper, so they have more of a responsibility to treat a subject such as this (an airplane disaster where people died) with respect. Using a pun is bad enough, but using something like that I think is a bit crass.

          • nothing is free from comedy, and putting a laughable spin on something otherwise tragic and devastating can help people deal with the news.

            and as has been said, the joke is not racist, the joke is a pun, you cannot say the headline or the people who wrote it are racist, you can say they are ignorant of a racist stereotype yes, but you cannot say that what they did is racist because that is not what the joke was.

            would it be offensive for someone who works at an Asian airline to use the term fright in relation to something that scares them? they’re in an Asian airline that has flights regularly, so in context it must be horribly offensive to use the term fright right? fright is a word that is not inherently racist, if they were saying flight in a racist way it would be racist, but simply saying fright in reference to what fright actually means is not racist.

            if we were to bar every word that has ever been used in an offensive capacity from the English language we’d fast run out of words.

          • I totally agree, NOTHING should be free from comedy, not disasters, not religion, not people in power, not anything.

            But, having said that there is a time and place for everything.

          • That much I agree with.
            I mean, I understand where they’re coming from. I get that a certain amount of compassion fatigue sets in when your daily duty is to report on atrocities and horrors, so that there’s very little personal impact. (Good example is that moment in Scrubs when young intern JD is horrified at doctors joking over a dead patient. Cox explains to him that they have to, so they can keep doing their job. He shows a doctor giving bad news about a death to family members. Are any of the family going back to work that day? No. But the doctor is.) And the pursuit of puns is one of the few ways sub-editors can keep themselves professionally entertained.

            All the same? Know your audience. Tragedies should be off-limits for pun time.

  • While obviously this story has been picked up by other media outlets (so it’s not purely a Kotaku thing), I have to be that guy:

    Honestly, I filled out the Kotaku readers survey and yesterday and in the box marked ‘What would you improve’ I wrote something along the lines of ‘Less hysterical political correctness and beat-ups’.
    Basically less articles about how Tiny Tina is racist, how Far Cry: Blood Dragon kills gay teens or complaining that idiots with social issues are happy to be mean to girls through a gaming headset.

    Those things annoy me because they’re always thin skinned, overblown and hysterical…. This on the other hand has NOTHING TO DO WITH GAMING. If you want report on discrimination issues isn’t there 1000’s of left wing blogs on the internet where you can go to complain about how everything’s unfair on the behalf of others?

    Again, I’m not saying that the story on its own lacks merit. I’m saying that it has no more or less merit than every other story in the news at the moment. Kotaku doesn’t report new stories when they happen, why now? I didn’t see ‘Two killed in plane crash’ when people actually died yesterday.

    If you need to update your mission statement so it covers ‘games, gaming culture and anti-discrimination issues’ then you should.

    • Its an Ashcraft article…anything to do with Asian culture he’s all over it as the resident “expert”…..

  • Definitely in bad taste, but you can’t pick and choose your contexts for the racism angle. A racist interpretation of the headline doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either – there’s easily enough context for it to be tasteless without being racist – the onus is on the accusers to demonstrate that it is racist, rather than just that it could be. Otherwise, you could interpret the “… after S.F. crash-landing” as profanity, too.

    Maybe we should just require all media to only employ Basic English.

  • Ok, so, 2 options: it could be referring to to Fright as in “a frightening ordeal”, yes it’s shocking and terrible that 2 people died but everyone else survived so its reasonable to say that for them it would be a horrible and frightening experience.

    OR, there’s the tiny possibility that it’s an insensitive and racist headline choosing to mock the fact that most of the passengers were asian.

    Yeah cool, let’s make just assumptions and go with the worst possible option and flat out accuse an entire newspaper of blatant and ridiculous racism, just in the SLIGHTEST possibility that it might actually be true.

  • I REALLY doubt they were having a laugh at the R-L thing. This whole thing is stupid, it’s obviously a play on flight.

    I thought the R-L thing was less “asian” and more China/Japan anyway.

  • I read that in an Asian voice. I have Asian friends who make fun of the fact that some asians mispronounce these two letters, it’s a fairly well known thing, so it’s a bit of a stretch to say that NO ONE at the paper didn’t notice it. Especially given that the name of this particular asian airline happens to be so close in spelling to the word asian itself

  • I just watched Lost in Translation 2 nights ago.
    Lip my stocking! Yes! Lip!
    It’s fairly obvious that this particular play on words is based on the way Koreans and Japanese are often unable to distinguish between the L and R sounds.
    The same pun (flight/fright) is used in the Japanese TV series “Attention Please”, FWIW.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!