Iran Hostage Situation and the Media Within the United States
by Stockton Trujillo
Course: ESMG 4200- Disaster Response and the Public
Date: September 08, 2018
The media has often been known to skew stories to cause controversy in an effort to gain more
viewers. This was also shown in the 1979 Iran Hostage Situation; “The crisis also raised
questions about whether the TV news was reporting on the events or influencing the drama
(Feuerherd 2017). This incident caused a spike in viewers across media outlets throughout the
United States. Victim privacy was not protected and the media used these victims to gain
empathy from the viewers in the United States.
On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran; 52 American
diplomats and citizens were held for 444 days! Once mass media here in the United States got
ahold of the news, media companies saw the growth in viewers. “TV news audiences spiked
from 45 million each evening to 57 million” (Feuerherd 2017). This event happened in a time
period where videotapes and inexpensive satellite feeds were being used by the media here in the
United States. “The interest generated by the Iran crisis indicated an American appetite for more
international news” (Feuerherd 2017).
As stated above, the Iranian Hostage Situation of 1979 caused a change in the media and had
many Americans digging for information and wanting to know what was going on across the
globe. “The American media dramatized the conflict and put extra pressure on the Carter
Administration to act promptly, but despite the failures of President Carter to secure their rescue,
the struggles of the domestic economy played a larger role in his losing the presidential election
of 1980 to Ronald Reagan” (Rosenfield 2016). We all know that the media often tends to skew
the story to get more viewers/publicity. They don’t always provide the facts on a story.
“American news media networks portrayed the Iranian Hostage Crisis in a manner that
exaggerated the conflict and focused on immediate threats” (Rosenfield 2016). The media began
airing a late-night news show called The Iran Crisis-America Held Hostage; this turned into ABC
News Nightline. “For over a year, the American public fixated its eyes on the crisis in Tehran,
and what was once a country that barely received a fleeting glance from the United States would
become the eternal recipient of its chilling glare” (Coscia 2016). This began changing
American’s views of Iran. “Iran, through the eyes of the United States, was no longer a nation,
but a breeding ground for radicalism, extremism, Islamism, and anti-Americanism . . . Therefore,
the media singlehandedly filled the public’s void of ignorance about Iran with antagonism”
The following alternatives to the narrative in media discourse should be applied to hostage
situations in order to protect victim privacy and not impede with police/military work on scene:
1. The media should not glorify victims in hostage situations. As stated by Rosenfield,
“Families of hostages became new figures in American public life. . .”
2. Instead of spreading fear in viewers, the media should focus on facts, rather than
spreading hate about terrorist incidents.
The media attention on the 1979 Iran Hostage Situation changed journalism today. This led to
24/7 media coverage. This media coverage led to the creation of a late-night news show,
Nightline, that is still airing today. The media caused many negative idealizations about Iran, and
caused a spread of hate toward Iranian’s by much of the United States. “Americans responded to
this coverage with a “fierce, even xenophobic nationalism and emotional bond to their fellow
Americans held captive in Iran. They came to perceive Iranians as merciless, evil violators of
human rights who were unjustly punishing innocent citizens” (Coscia 2016). Not only were the
victims’ privacy not kept private, the victims/hostages were glorified here in the United States
and they were all named and had stories published about them. “By depoliticizing the hostages,
the media successfully identified the hostages as innocent private individuals under attack by
radical militant Iranians, touching sympathy and inciting fury in Americans across the nation
(Rosenfield 2016). The media failed the U.S. citizens by dramatizing the issue and making it a
more personal dilemma.
1. Victims privacy should always be protected in issues regarding hostage situations.
2. Media outlets should face legal or financial consequences for reporting victims
information, or it should be tied into HIPAA.
3. The media should focus on facts rather than spreading hate towards any race, gender,
culture, nation, etc.
1. Have HIPAA implemented within media companies, in order to protect victim privacy.
2. Prevent media outlets from spreading hate towards other races, gender, nationalities, etc.
3. PIO assigned to all U.S. international conflict incidents.
Rosenfield, D. (2016, November 08). The Portrayal of the Iranian Hostage Crisis by American
Media. Retrieved from http://vanderbilthistoricalreview.com/iranian-hostage-crisis/
Feuerherd, P. (2017, November 04). How the Iran Hostage Crisis Changed International
Journalism. Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/how-the-iran-hostage-crisis-changedinternational-
Atwater, Tony. “Terrorism on the Evening News: An Analysis of Coverage of the TWA Hostage
Crisis on NBC Nightly News”, Political Communication, 4:1, DOI:
proxy.library.vanderbilt.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/10584609.1987.9962805. p. 17-24
Scott, C. V. (2000). Bound for glory: The hostage crisis as captivity narrative in Iran.
International Studies Quarterly, 44(1), 177. Retrieved from
Coscia, M. (2016, August 20). The Fateful 52: How the American Media Sensationalized the
Iran Hostage Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.e-ir.info/2016/08/20/the-fateful-52-how-theamerican-