PRINT April 1986


After the loss of Challenger, the cost of instant replay.

ON FIRST VIEWING, THE IMAGE of the exploding space shuttle Challenger looked ungraspably awful. But instant replay soon turned first viewing into second viewing, then third, and fourth. Repeated over and over, the record of a terrifying malfunction became, with appalling speed, a static emblem. Repetition carried over from television to the covers of magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and The Economist, which all showed the explosive cloud. Here and abroad, newspapers had already run the same image in edition after edition.

By the time schoolteacher/astronaut Christa McAuliffe’s face appeared on the cover of People, her image, too, had been reduced to an emblem, like a face on a commemorative medal. She was a “normal American,” according to Time; in Newsweek’s words, McAuliffe reflected “what was best in us.” Journalists echoed themselves and one another until such phrases sounded neither

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