Blame “Trauma Porn”

Why did a silly apology by a bunch of students playing journalists at Northwestern become a national story? The underlying story of students protesting Jeff Sessions was one thing, but it’s become commonplace for students to protest and silence despised speakers on campus, even as their natural apologists deny it still happens or rationalize that it’s just the usual nature of things, to use force to silence others invited to speak.

The protests against Sessions were not entirely insignificant but hardly earth-shattering. The Daily Northwestern’s reaction however, was not merely “new,” but a paradigm shift that no one hoped would happen. And yet, many dreaded would happen.

After the event, Ying Dai, one of the students, saw a photo of herself on his Twitter feed — sprawled painfully on the floor — and addressed him directly.

“Colin please can we stop this trauma porn,” she wrote on Twitter. “I was on the ground being shoved and pushed hard by the police. You don’t have to intervene but you also didn’t have to put a camera in front of me top down.”

The student engaged in a public protest, as is her right, although the protest exceeded a claim of free speech and dove into civil disobedience by force. And yet, she still believed herself entitled to micromanage news coverage because of her feelings. It’s unclear where the phrase came from, but there it is: “trauma porn.”

If she calls it that, does it not morph news into a violation of her personal right to have her feelings take precedence over all else? According to the dean of Northwester’s Medill journalism school, this feelings uber alles went both ways.

I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared. I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would affect a measure of community healing.

So the students felt bullied by their names and images being displayed by the student newspaper when they didn’t feel like it, and the editors felt beaten into submission when their feelings were hurt by the “vitriol and relentless public shaming” they endured in return. And the cowardly abdication of any sort of journalistic responsibility gets washed away as a “testament to their sensitivity” for the sake of “community healing.”

And then there’s the trauma. Everything is drama trauma. If a student says they were traumatized, only a horrible person would question it, challenge it, not care about the harm they’ve done to that one sensitive child by doing something that they would prefer not be done.

For years, people have been fabricating excuses to trivialize this adoration of pathetic feelings and inviolate claims of pain. They’re just silly kids. All generations think the ones who come after them are soft and entitled. They’ll grow out of it. Just wait until they get out in the real world.

The problem is that things aren’t turning out that way, and this too has been apparent now for a while. The warped perspective demonstrated in colleges, harmful as they’ve been on campus as reflected in matters such as Title IX, #MeToo and canceling speakers, professors and ideas, have followed into real life and the disease spreads from bottom up.

At a time when some say heightened sensitivities have become the norm on American campuses, it is not uncommon for college newspaper editors to be confronted by students who are upset at being photographed in a public place without being asked for their permission; who view receiving a text message or phone call from a reporter as an invasion of their privacy; and who expect journalists to help assuage their concerns that graphic images in a newspaper could cause trauma to readers.

New York Times reporter, Julie Bosman, who co-wrote this article, explains this as “way more complicated than it first appeared.” There is nothing complicated about it. If there’s to be journalism, there will be hurt feelings by those who would prefer to engage in public use of force but not have their name or image shown. There is no compromise between fair reporting of news and students “upset at being photographed in a public place without being asked for their permission.” Is this a serious conflict at the New York Times now?

If the NYT takes this infantile adoration of feelings over journalism seriously, can anyone blame the dumb kids at Northwestern? While the student editors at Northwestern thought their “struggle” with compromising all journalistic integrity with the latest version of woke psychosis was just a private matter between them and their community of unduly sensitive children, that’s because in their world it was an entirely normal and reasonable thing to do.

Troy Closson, the editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern, wrote on Twitter that he felt added pressure as only the third African-American student to hold the top position at the paper in its more than 135-year history. “Being in this role and balancing our coverage and the role of this paper on campus with my racial identity — and knowing how our paper has historically failed students of color, and particularly black students, has been incredibly challenging to navigate,” he wrote.

To his credit, Closson twitted that all criticism should be directed at him, as editor-in-chief, reflecting at least his fortitude in taking responsibility for his position. But he doesn’t recognize any error in his decision, and suggests that under his regime, “news” is now tainted by his race. If there’s a black EIC, does he publish black news? There’s nothing challenging to navigate, unless his race makes him incapable of being EIC of a newspaper. Is he saying a black person can’t be an editor-in-chief without distorting news to favor racial perspectives?

Medill Dean Whitaker called out the cries that news should be secondary to race.

But I patently reject the notion that our students have no right to report on communities other than those from which they hail, and I will never affirm that students who do not come from marginalized communities cannot understand or accurately convey the struggles of those populations. And, unlike our young charges at The Daily, who in a heartfelt, though not well-considered editorial, apologized for their work on the Sessions story, I absolutely will not apologize for encouraging our students to take on the much-needed and very difficult task of reporting on our life and times at Northwestern and beyond.

The future of journalism lies in the mindset of student journalists, and they have minds of mush. But the present state of journalism is reflected in the mindset of New York Times reporters like Julie Bosman, and if she finds this “way more complicated,” then journalism is already lost to “trauma porn.” When the children get out into the real world, they’ll be right at home.

12 thoughts on “Blame “Trauma Porn”

  1. Dan T.

    Lots of protestors around the world and through history have wanted their protests, and brutal reactions to them by the police, to be publicized because they thought it might get more public sympathy for their side. Isn’t that the purpose of a protest? When Spanish police assault Catalan protestors, it’s the pro-Catalan Twitter feeds that post pictures and videos of it.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Some want publicity. Some don’t. Either way, they don’t get a vote in the matter. It’s not up to the subject of news whether reporters decide to report on it.

      Reply
  2. Bear

    The kids don’t know how to report and they don’t know how to protest. If they wanted to do a secret protest, they could have stayed in bed, in mom’s basement with the lights off so no one could take a photo.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      You just don’t appreciate the full scope of entitlement, where everyone is entitled to a world that centers on them. Of course, it might create some conflicts, but only a boomer would say so.

      Reply
  3. losingtrader

    I guess the paper won’t be covering Northwestern football in the future.

    Watching them play is definitely trauma porn. (except when they beat Nebraska)

    Reply
      1. B. McLeod

        I think it’s “Dai!”

        She is funny too. God forbid she ever go to a “protest” where the police are beating heads and deploying tear gas instead of “shoving hard.” That’s when Ying will want to be at home with her Barbies and her My Little Pony action figures.

        Reply
  4. B. McLeod

    So, Dean Whitaker is a dinosaur, who remembers a bygone day, with a concept of “journalism” that is different from the one known to the kiddies in his class and the NYT today. Back in Whitaker’s day, there was a bunch of “accuracy” and “informing the public” stuff to journalism. Now it is about advocacy and feelz, and students can get their “Certificate in Social Justice” concurrently with their “journalism” or “communications” degree.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Accuracy could hurt marginalized communities. Nothing is allowed to hurt marginalized communities. It may be fact, but it isn’t “truth.”

      Reply
    2. wilbur

      My experience with the media in coverage of me and the work I did was that “accuracy” and “informing the public” mattered a whole lot more when I started out almost 40 years ago. The more time passed, the more reporters approached a story with their preconceived narrative and the less interested they were in the facts.

      I would add that’s it’s a shame this happened, except that I no longer have an iota of respect for anyone in the so-called “news” business.

      Reply

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