-By Warner Todd Huston
The New York Post came under heavy criticism on Tuesday for publishing a full page photo of a man on its December 4 front page taken only seconds before he was killed by a Midtown Manhattan subway train. The photo’s headline luridly read, “Doomed” and a subhead screamed, “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die.”
The photo showed Queens, New York resident Ki Suk Han, 58, after he was pushed onto subway tracks just as a train was pulling into the station. Mr. Han was clearly trying to climb out of the deep-set tracks, but the paper informs readers that he wasn’t able to do so and was killed by the oncoming train.
Naeem Davis, 30, confessed to the murder and is in police custody.
The paper was criticized for its “if it bleeds, it leads” style of news reporting, with one Twitter user accusing the paper of dealing in “snuff.”
Regular Twitter users weren’t the only ones attacking the Post for its editorial decision. Journalists also attacked the Post on Twitter for using the shocking photo, especially as a front page image. Jeff Sonderman of Poynter republished the tweets of several journalists making the complaint.
Sonderman not only criticized the Post but also scolded every other news outlet for republishing the photo while dealing in faux outrage over the Post’s initial decision to publish the photo itself.
If you conclude it’s wrong to publish the photo, then is it also wrong for other media to republish the photo as they cover the Post’s initial decision? That’s the question New York City news blog Gothamist asks about The New York Times’ City Room blog post…
The man who took the photo also came in for criticism. For The Atlantic, Alexander Abad-Santos wondered why freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi stood there taking pictures instead of helping the poor man to safety.
If there’s enough time to capture a dying man’s last moments before getting hit by an oncoming train that’s that worthy of a tabloid cover, couldn’t the photographer have lent a hand?
In his own defense, the photog — described as a “Post freelance photographer” –said that he was trying to use his camera flash to alert the driver of the oncoming train.
“I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash,” Abbasi explained in the Post’s original story.
Ryu Spaeth of The Week blames some of this on the “rapacious” Internet but also notes that no one scolds photogs in war torn areas for not helping people.
Of course, this controversy is just the latest installment in “a never-ending debate about photojournalism,” says John Del Signore at Gothamist. While it’s easy to blast the Post and Abbasi for their lack of ethics, or blame a smartphone-happy culture in which every subway fight is filmed and rapaciously consumed on the internet, no one is taking photographers to task for, say, failing to help wounded rebels in Syria and publishing photos of their suffering.
It is certainly hard not to wince at the photo and brings to the debate the seminal question of just what responsibilities journalists have to the people they are covering.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, BigHollywood.com, and BigJournalism.com, as well as RightWingNews.com, RightPundits.com, CanadaFreePress.com, StoptheACLU.com, AmericanDaily.com, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.
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