Knowing that Osama bin Laden was taken out with a shot to the head, it makes sense that the White House wouldn’t want to release the gruesome photos of his corpse, for fear of retaliation by Al Qaeda operatives. But it turns out that that isn’t even President Obama‘s biggest worry: He won’t release the photos for fear that normal people will Photoshop offensive jokes or turn it into a meme. Can you blame him, after what the Internet did to the now-famous “Situation Room” photo?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained the issue:
“[W]e were… worried about the potential for manipulation of those photos and doing things with those photos that would be pretty outrageous in terms of provoking a reaction that might in fact put our troops at greater risk in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“I have gotten from friends all over the country copies of the picture that was this iconic picture taken in the Situation Room while we were watching the operation. And they have been photoshopped in every way you can imagine, including putting you know, coming after the royal wedding, one of these had all of us in one of these big, wide-brimmed hats from the wedding.”
When it comes to boundaries of taste and respect, we’ve become a culture of assholes willing to push the line, for whom the question “Too soon?” is a punchline instead of a valid reason not to make the joke. Whether it’s a 4chan troll or a jerky fourteen-year-old boy with Photoshop skills (sometimes the same thing), we mock death and devastation.
The thing is, I completely condone the massive celebrations down at Ground Zero when the news of bin Laden’s death hit the Web: It was an emotional release that the public needed after ten years of searching for this guy, and it was spur-of-the-moment. There’s a difference between that passionate reaction and something you do when you’re bored and looking for a reblog.