Don’t Watch the Foley Video

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The world is reeling after the very public slaughter of an American journalist named James Foley.

Although details are still unclear, here’s what we know right now: Foley was taken hostage by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group. According to ISIS, it also has some other American and British hostages — the exact number is unknown, but American officials believe there are at least three other American hostages. Some demands were made, but the United States obviously does not negotiate with terrorists. An unsuccessful rescue attempt was made earlier this summer. Now the news has surfaced that Foley was guarded by a specific group of ISIS militants, British-born, who call themselves “the Beatles.” According to reports, the British jihadists were especially brutal and worthless. A New Hampshire native, Foley was in Syria reporting for the Agence France-Presse and the GlobalPost. He’s been held since November 2012. Earlier this week, he tragically lost his life.

I want to start by saying how tragic and horrible this was — Foley, an innocent bystander, lost his life because he was used as a powerful political pawn. ISIS is expanding its influence and becoming an incredibly powerful and terrifying group in Iraq and Syria — the Foley execution is just another example of that power it now wields.

But it’s important to remember that the move by ISIS was relatively unsurprising. Hostages have been powerful bargaining tools since the beginning of time. As tragic and horrific as Foley’s death was, and I want to emphasize that this is not an attempt in any way to diminish that, it was unremarkable in a historical sense.

The way it’s been handled, however, has been remarkable in every sense of the word. The video of Foley’s execution was uploaded to YouTube. Since then, it has made the rounds of pretty much every corner of the internet. It’s gory, it’s horrifying, and the fact that anyone with an internet connection can now access it pretty easily is a public travesty. Social networks have started banning users who share the video, and various media publications are under fire for their choices to provide either the video or still shots from it.

The New York Post especially received a lot of ire for its decision to show a still from the video on its front page, in print. Where anyone could see it, even if they didn’t want to. I’m no stranger to blood and gore — I have distinct memories of watching that video of Saddam Hussein being executed when I was a freshman in high school. But that doesn’t mean it’s right to force that kind of stuff on people. I follow the news every day, but that’s my choice. I have friends and family who avoid the news — and until this week I have to be honest that I didn’t fully understand why. But when it’s that easy to accidentally see something that disturbing, I get it. Anyone who published this video or pictures is very close to being over the line.

Then there’s the fact that by sharing this video, the power that groups like ISIS can have has been magnified. ISIS claims that it killed James Foley because its demands were not met, and while that may be true, there’s another motive here. ISIS is an organization that relies heavily on terroristic tactics. The thing about terrorism though is it works really, really well if people know about it. Every time that video is shared or a screengrab is published, ISIS gains more power in the form of fear to wield.

I know I’m in the qualification for a hypocritical lifetime achievement award now that I’ve just spent the last 600-odd words writing about the very people I’m encouraging you not to give attention to, but I’ll leave you with this: my condolences go out to Foley’s loved ones. That’s where our minds should be, not watching the perverse and horrifying circumstances of his death, for so many different reasons.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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