New Jersey Transit’s Use of Madrid Bombing Photo is Wrong

See something, say something.

This catchphrase is omnipresent in New York City subways, buses, and commuter trains. It has become ubiquitous as the tagline for the MTA’s efforts to get riders to be alert and aware of their surroundings. Earlier this year, Boston’s transit authority unveiled ads with oversized backpacks and other items left behind nefariously with the tagline, “Its never this obvious.”  While these campaigns have been mocked on a variety of levels, there is something we can all agree on: they don’t terror-monger.

Meet New Jersey Transit’s latest safety related ad campaign.

New Jersey Transit is Scaremongering

Unlike the MTA and T, which use staged photo shoots or photoshopped images for their ad graphics, New Jersey Transit used an image from the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings. Coordinated bombings on four trains during the morning rush hour killed 192 individuals and injured nearly 2,000. Look at that photo again, four of those fatalities feature prominently in this ad.

The only attribution the image has is “Train Bombing.” This is overshadowed, however, by the large fonted, multi-colored tagline that is in all caps, “WE’RE ALL ON THE FRONT LINES.” Seriously, New Jersey Transit? Every single one of us is on the front lines? If that is the case, why I have never once seen a train with NJ Transit Police riding on it? Or bag checks like those done on the NYC subway or PATH? Sure there are soldiers and police dogs at New York-Penn Station, but that is primarily Amtrak related and it does us riders no good at busy stations like Secaucus, Newark-Penn Station, Trenton, and other high trafficked routes.

Now more than ten years after the September 11 attacks, most regular commuters are used to these types public service ads. I’ll admit I saw this ad twice before really noticing it and the accompanying photo. Beyond engaging in ineffective terror-mongering, it is also horribly insensitive.

Maybe it is the fact that no Americans perished in the Madrid bombings, but using a photo of the aftermath, one that includes four bodies covered in sheets is beyond the pale. What would happen if an airport in another country, say Paris’ Charles de Gaulle used an iconic image from September 11 in a public service ad calling on all travelers and airport staff to be alert and prepared?

We don’t need to guess. Check out this Gawker post that compiles the five worst ads that use the September 11 attacks. Even the subtlest of references to that day can send ad folks scurrying back to the drawing board. In the days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released and then edited an ad that had a plane flying low over the Manhattan skyline in support of David Weprin’s special election campaign.

Ads that blatantly use the imagery of an American national tragedy are rightly rejected and criticized. If we expect others to respect our wishes to keep our loss and the memory of those who perished sacred, we should do unto them the same. New Jersey Transit, take down those ads.


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