Sun-Times Headline Racist? Chicago Newspaper’s Editor Apologizes For Offensive Asiana Airlines Crash Front Page Gaffe

By Philip Ross on July 8, 2013 4:42 PM EDT

sun-times headline
The Chicago Sun-Times headline, as it appeared on the newspaper’s front page on Sunday, July 7. Critics said the paper’s use of the pun “Fright” was racist and insensitive. (Photo: Chicago Sun-Times)

The Sun-Times headline, which the Chicago newspaper ran following the deadly Asiana Airlines flight 214 plane crash at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, drew criticism for being what some people saw as blatantly racist. The insensitive headline appeared on the newspaper's front page on Sunday, July 7. The paper's editor even apologized for the offensive Sun-Times headline after the nonprofit organization Asian American Journalists Association, or AAJA, reached out for comment.

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As seen in the accompanying photo of the Sun-Times front page, the headline, in all caps, reads: "FRIGHT 214." The headline continues: "At least 2 die, 181 taken to hospitals after S.F. crash-landing."

You can see why the newspaper's disastrous attempt at a clever, punny headline didn't sit well with the AAJA. Given that Asiana is an Asian airline headquartered in Seoul, South Korea -- not to mention that two-thirds of the passengers aboard flight 214 were Asian -- critics decried the Sun-Times headline as racist, saying the headline echoed the linguistic alteration frequently used to stereotype an Asian accent.

When the AAJA reached out to the Chicago Sun-Times for comment, they got in touch with the paper's publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk, who said it didn't occur to him or his editors that the Sun-Times headline would be taken offensively.

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

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