I was in 9/11. I wasn’t just in New York or DC or Shanksville that morning. I was three-tenths of a mile from the World Trade Center, on the 30th floor of what would become the tallest building in Lower Manhattan again, staring out the window directly at the South Tower when the second group of five hijackers crashed United Flight 175 into the skyscraper.
Every television network ran that footage ad nauseum. Many of us developed legitimate PTSD symptoms, sharpened by the incessant replays, and many Americans developed from afar what would be known as “media-induced PTSD” (this was before the era of social media-induced PTSD).
Given The Great Rolling Stone Freakout of 2013, with CVS and Walgreens and others succumbing to the Helen Lovejoy primal scream and agreeing not to carry the issue featuring Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, you’d think there would be at least a hint of concerned chatter questioning, if not condemning, what was to be a touching moment from the ESPYs on Wednesday night.
ESPN produced a heartstrings-tugging piece on the Hoyts, Dick and Rick, a dynamic duo in which the father competes with his disabled son in marathons and triathlons. The pair took home the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, and everyone cheered. It was a great, emotional moment.
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But what was missed, oddly given the day’s hysteria, is that about two minutes into the package, ESPN aired raw, crystal-clear footage of the first Boston Marathon bomb exploding, smoke pouring out, audible screams, emergency first responders calling for ambulances.
And they did it with no warning whatsoever. Trigger, go.
Overall, I liked the package, and I like that ESPN honored the Hoyts.
But it goes hand-in-hand with the misplaced American priorities of sex versus violence. Rolling Stone glorified the dreamy younger Tsarnaev!, the mob cried. He’s like Jim Morrison!, the torches showed.
Glamorized, though never mind the fact that the photo had been everywhere months prior to publication, including the front page of the New York Times, every news website in the country, Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter, and probably Weibo. You’ve seen it, and seen it, and seen it.
But this was egregious, because it’s the cover of Rolling Stone, a sex symbol pop zine for the prime radicalization demo. (Just remember, when people reduce it to “pop,” that RS took down a four-star general, shone a light on Wall Street’s evil practices and wrote the definitive piece on John McCain’s recklessness in 2008.) Yeah, because a sexy terrorist is a problem, but watching the bloodshed and carnage that he caused is totally fine. It’s totes fine! Here, watch it again, on social media, on television, c’mon, let it sink in and haunt your dreams without you even knowing about it.
You can boycott Rolling Stone all you want, though nobody has raised a coherent argument against Janet Reitman’s piece of really good journalism on its face. But which is worse? Seeing a terrorist as you’ve seen him before, or causing all kinds of mental anguish when news networks and websites and sports packages and tweets contribute to the increasing mental instability of America through a continued stream violent images?
I would understand if Rolling Stone put Mohamed Atta or Osama bin Laden on the cover of its magazine if they were trying to get me to read an important piece of journalism. And I would certainly understand its news value more than showing the hijacked planes hitting the Towers on a loop until our eyes bled and our minds melted. You want to get angry about something? Start with the fact that we are living in a Constant State of PTSD, not that we are recycling old images to sell magazines.
Follow Slade at @SladeHV.