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Teen Vogue quietly tweaks article on US airman’s self-immolation after ‘glorifying suicide’

Teen Vogue story and Aaron Bushnell
Teen Vogue story and Aaron Bushnell

Teen Vogue has quietly made changes to a controversial story it published about a US airman who lit himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington last month — days after critics slammed the article for “glorifying suicide” and promoting “propaganda”.

The Condé Nast-owned magazine published a March 5 article about Aaron Bushnell — the 25-year-old US airman who self-immolated on Feb. 25 while screaming, “Free Palestine!” — and the glossy publication got blasted for minimizing Bushnell’s potential mental health issues while portraying him as a martyr fighting an alleged “genocide.”

In one passage that riled critics, author Lex McMenamin wrote: “Some attempted to attribute [Bushnell’s] choice to a matter of “mental health”; others suggested that to report on Bushnell’s self-immolation was akin to promoting it or would cause others to copy him, an implication that independent journalist Talia Jane called ‘plainly absurd.’”

Teen Vogue published a March 5 article about Aaron Bushnell – the 25-year-old US airman who self-immolated on Feb. 25. Teen Vogue/Instagram
Teen Vogue published a March 5 article about Aaron Bushnell – the 25-year-old US airman who self-immolated on Feb. 25. Teen Vogue/Instagram

The article sparked an immediate backlash, with many raising concerns about the takeaway among Teen Vogue’s “impressionable” teenage readers.

“Glorifying suicide puts vulnerable people at risk.

Might want to rethink this on a page for young people,” seethed one critic on the magazine’s Instagram page, adding, “Next you’ll be glorifying suicide bombers.”

A Teen Vogue spokesperson told The Post in a statement, “At Teen Vogue we take seriously the responsibility of providing fact-based reporting on news and current events for our readers. We stand by our reporting.”

Nevertheless, the magazine has quietly edited the inflammatory passage — deleting independent journalist Talia Jane’s claim that concerns about promoting suicide were “plainly absurd”.

Likewise, in the next paragraph, the current version has removed an emphatic “The truth is that” in front of a line at the stating that “self-immolation is a long-existent form of political protest dating back at least a thousand years.”

Aaron Bushnell sets himself on fire on February 25. X/Talia Jane
Aaron Bushnell sets himself on fire on February 25. X/Talia Jane

After tweaking the piece, Teen Vogue attached an editor’s note that made no mention of the above changes, merely saying, “This piece was updated to remove a mention of the means of Bushnell’s death.”

Since the piece’s initial publication, Teen Vogue deleted a line stating that video footage showed Bushnell “can be seen walking while holding a thermos, which apparently had flame accelerant inside.”

Teen Vogue also has since attached a lengthy advisory on what to do “If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis,” noting that “You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, where a trained counselor can talk to you and connect you with further resources.”

The article sparked an immediate backlash, with many raising concerns about the takeaway among Teen Vogue’s “impressionable” teenage readers. Getty Images
The article sparked an immediate backlash, with many raising concerns about the takeaway among Teen Vogue’s “impressionable” teenage readers. Getty Images

Teen Vogue likewise added a pinned tweet to its Instagram page with the same advisory.

The magazine, which says its prime readership ranges “from pre-teens to late twenties,” says it prides itself on its “journalistic integrity” and added that reported stories undergo “sensitivity editing” and the brand ensures articles are “conscious of the communities and topics we cover.”

Exposing young people to complex social themes they may not fully understand should be done with extreme care, Dr. Scott Krakower, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Northwell Health in New York, told The Post.

A vigil for Aaron Bushnell was created in Times Square. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock
A vigil for Aaron Bushnell was created in Times Square. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock

“Kids shouldn’t be sheltered from world events, but it has to be done in the right way — in a responsible, appropriate way. Kids are impressionable and they latch onto movements that they may not fully understand,” Krakower said.

“The problem with these articles is that young people don’t fully understand the situation or the details. They could like the article without even understanding it,” Krakower said, adding, “Before you know it, you have some crazy trend.”

The controversial article closed with a quote from MSNBC columnist Zeeshan Aleem opining that “It is glib and ahistorical to ascribe self-immolation to abject madness, and to claim that a specifically chosen act with a specific history doesn’t count as ‘legitimate’ protest.”

The article’s author, McMenamin wrote on X that Bushnell’s “final words were censored, his life reduced to discourse about ‘mental illness’ over his act of protest.”

The magazine, which says its prime readership ranges “from pre-teens to late twenties,” says it prides itself on its “journalistic integrity.” Josefina Santos
The magazine, which says its prime readership ranges “from pre-teens to late twenties,” says it prides itself on its “journalistic integrity.” Josefina Santos

Military veterans pushed back.

“You’re glorifying suicide when this is being used as propaganda. Disgusting,” wrote military veteran Sadie Strong, adding, “He was a sick veteran. It’s unacceptable.”

Bushnell, a noted fan of Israel critic Rashida Tlaib, was reportedly raised in a Christian cult and may have been subjected to abuse, “mind control” and “trapping” residents “in a perpetual state of terror,” The Post reported last month. “Some ex-Community members said it is not unusual for people who leave the group to struggle with a sense of purpose afterward, as Aaron might have.”

A friend, Lupe Barboza, told the New York Times that Bushnell recently announced that “he was dealing with some trauma from his past that had resurfaced.”

Bushnell is the second person to self-immolate in protest of the Israel-Hamas war.

In December, an unidentified protestor lit herself on fire in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

She survived and was in critical condition — only after the consulate security guard and military veteran Michael Harris, 61, jumped on her to extinguish the fire, suffering injuries himself.