Iran Hostage Crisis

Day 4

On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and began to consolidated power. When President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to visit America for cancer treatment in October 1979, radicals in Iran seized the American embassy on November 4, fearing a repeat of 1953, when the US and the UK deposed a previous Iranian government and put the Shah in his place. Fifty-three people were taken as hostages.

For many, the most famous pictures of the hostage crisis–which lasted 444 days–were taken on its very first day. Many photographers were a demonstration nearby and they rushed onto the scene just in time to take the memorable images of blindfolded communication officer William Belk (topmost) and footage of another blindfolded communication officer Jerry Meile led away by the militants. Seeing how damaging these pictures are to the morale of the American public, the militants would parade the blindfolded and handcuffed hostages for the cameras for the next few days to humiliate Washington.

After much dithering, Jimmy Carter decided to send a rescue operation, which he had to abort when helicopters malfunctioned, and one crashed into a transport plane while taking off. Walter Cronkite would measure its hostage crisis by added a count of days to his famous sign-off. The hostage crisis along with the deepening economic crisis, cost Carter his reelection bid. After the election, Carter tried harder than before to get hostages released, but the Iranians made a point of releasing them just minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. The 444-day crisis was over, but not America’s long national nightmare with Iran.

See this excellent paper on media impact during the hostage crisis:

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