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U.S. President Salutes North Korean General – Commentary

In 2016, it was popular to capture and share split-second photos of politicians waving at crowds and portray the gesture as a Nazi salute. The Russian media outlet RT as well as social media trolls used such images to insight strife, discord, and tension.

This week a photo is circulating showing the current U.S. President saluting a North Korean General, while the general is reaching out for a handshake. It’s a freeze frame moment from a video where people are exchanging greetings.

In the photo, it would appear that the U.S. President voluntarily offered a formal salute showing deference, respect, and subservience, in the way that a soldier does to a superior. This has ignited an internet storm of people criticizing the incident.

What’s missing in the discussion is the context and circumstances leading up to the salute.

The U.S. President first reached out for a hand shake, but the North Korean general insisted on saluting instead. It should be pointed out that in the chain of command, the person who salutes first is showing a symbolic gesture of subservience to a superior. The President then did the cordial and diplomatic thing in saluting the general back. Any other gesture or body language would have been inappropriate, offensive, and boorish. After what seemed like a mutually respectful exchange of salutes, the North Korean general then reached out for a handshake out of respect for the President, responding to his initial offer to shake hands.

If one were to micro-analyze the brief exchange, it could be concluded that in a split second, the U.S. President instinctively did what was appropriate culturally in the moment.

Here’s the photo you likely won’t see reported where a split second earlier the North Korean general is bowing his head and saluting the U.S. President:

Yet, regardless of which photo people prefer based on their political leanings, it wasn’t a meeting about alpha dogs establishing who has dominance over the other. It was a meeting where people seemed to be expressing mutual respect.

The CNN News coverage of the incident correctly describes the context of what took place, as shown in the video below.

Why This Story Matters

Mainstream news media outlets have been under attack recently, accused of being biased and promoting ‘fake news’ stories. it’s essential for journalists and news media outlets to do their best to accurately present stories so as not to offer fuel to those who want to portray them as biased.

Those wishing to portray the U.S. President in a poor light will be tempted to use only the photo showing him saluting the North Korean general. However, when this is done, it will eventually contribute to the erosion of public trust in the media and undermine the perception of journalistic ethics (when people learn the context of the story).

It seems like a really small petty point to argue, but it matters. There’s a new journalistic standard of integrity emerging – as exemplified by The Associated Press who recently deleted a Tweet because it was thought to be ambiguous in its meaning. Not wrong, but just ambiguous to the point that someone may misinterpret the story. It was deleted.

At a time when journalists are experiencing a decline in public trust, they really need to be accurate and complete in their reporting. They need not be completely deferential and lauding of those they report, but simply accurate and balanced.

Military Protocol on Respect and Saluting

According to military protocol regarding respect and when to salute, the following information provides some guidelines. (Source: Page 6 from “Respect on Display“)

The North Korean general was following a guideline that states: “When in uniform, salute officers upon recognition, regardless of what the officer is wearing.” If the U.S. President is perceived to be an ‘officer’ (commander in chief) then a salute is justified.

The U.S. President was following a guideline that states: “It is customary … to salute these international officers as a sign of goodwill.” Given that he was on a ‘goodwill visit’ to the nation, a salute was warranted.

Furthermore, there is a guideline that states, “When in doubt, salute. Anyone may render a salute at any time if they believe one is warranted.”

News Outlets Reporting on This Story

Associated Press

Democratic Coalition

Buzz Feed Politics

NBC News

Now This

An analysis of how other salute blunders have been handled.


Raw Story

Talking Points Memo

The Boston Globe

The Hill


Humorous Criticisms

Below are some of the humorous criticisms of the incident.

Twitter User @ScottFrazier19

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com

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