For me, a New Yorker who witnessed many of those images live, there are a few that are forever etched in my brain. One, still photos of men in suits jumping from the top floors of the World Trade Center, their ties whipping upward in the wind as they leaped from one helpless fate to another.
Many more images would follow. I was at my desk at The New York Times in May 2004 when news broke that a missing American contractor named Nick Berg had been decapitated by Islamic extremists in Iraq. He'd briefly attended my college, so I'd felt a small connection with him. I made myself watch the video of his decapitation that morning, and immediately regretted it.
Of course, it was grisly and shocking and awful. But that's not what made it such a lasting, haunting image that I can't shake to this day.
It's that he was one of ours, and they took his head as a trophy, held it up to the video camera, and with bloodlust and hatred in their eyes, rubbed it in our faces. I was looking at pure evil.
That's what came to mind when I saw Kathy Griffin's gruesome image. I'm not sure what reaction Griffin wanted us to have when she posed for a photo with a bloody, decapitated mask of Donald Trump. But there are no good ones to be had after looking at a picture like that.
In the more forgiving (but still unforgivable) metaphorical version, I suppose she's suggesting that comedians like her will symbolically take Trump down with their wit and humor and moral superiority. But this photo is not witty, funny or moral.
In the literal version, she's posing as a terrorist who's decapitated the President. She's issued a statement
saying, "OBVIOUSLY, I do not condone ANY violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever!" But that isn't obvious, actually. She's apologized
, suffered consequences
and asked the photographer to take the photo down, but that won't undo the worst of the damage.
In addition to gratuitously playacting one of the most vile, grotesque and evil acts of violence one could -- against any human, let alone the President -- Griffin has also managed to weaken good arguments against Trump's intolerance and the intolerance of some of his supporters. There is no equivalency between Griffin's photo, for example, and the stabbing of three people on a train allegedly by a self-proclaimed white supremacist, but if you think the President should take more seriously his role in tamping down violence and hate across the country, as I do, stunts such as this are a serious setback.
There are good people on the left and right who are trying earnestly and responsibly to hold this President to account. There are also millions of people who elected him and think he's doing what's best for the country. And finally, there are evil people around the world, some of whom want to behead innocent Americans. With this photo, who does Kathy Griffin most look like?