This image released by NBC shows co-hosts Savannah Guthrie, left, and Matt Lauer, center, during an interview with freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi on NBC News’ “Today” show, on Dec. 5, 2012 in New York. On Monday, Abbasi took a photo of a man who was pushed onto a New York subway track and killed after being hit by a train.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly spelled Ki-Suck Han’s name.
The tragic story of Ki-Suck Han and his horrific death after being pushed off of a New York City subway platform on Monday has captivated headlines. He was purportedly assaulted and pushed onto the tracks by 30-year-old Naeem Davis, an individual who has been described by media as a troubled man with a criminal record. As if this story isn’t mind-numbing enough, the New York Post sparked intense debate after posting an image of the victim just moments before a subway train struck and killed him.
Examining the case, there is plenty to say about the purported murderer, photographer R. Umar Abbasi, who captured the shot and the Post, the outlet which chose to plaster the image on its front cover this morning. The headline accompanying the unconscionable picture reads, “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die,” with the word “DOOMED” printed in large letters at the bottom of the page.
Before getting into perspective about why publishing this image seems journalistically deplorable, allow me to add that Han is married and has children – individuals who will now forever be forced to remember, not only the event, but also the horrible visual that has been plastered all over American media. The image of Han staring at the train just moments before his demise will likely be a viral tragedy that will forever haunt the family.
One might be willing to look past this fact if the image was being published for some greater good or to add substantively to a story of grave importance, however that doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance.
From a business perspective, one can only assume that the Post’s editorial team believed that this photograph would be good for business, good for sales – beneficial for the bottom line. After all, tragedy sells. Simply consider all of the press that the image has received. But beneath the attention that the outlet has garnered over the past 12 hours, there has also been anger and frustration over the notion that such a picture would be shared so publicly and seemingly without true merit.
As a journalist, the image leaves me with so many questions, but the most pervasive ones are as follows: Have we become so desensitized as a society that we stand by idly salivating over even the most deadly and tragic events without even batting an eyelid? Has our thirst for “reality” and “behind-the-scenes” perspective gotten so out of control that we can honestly view the publication of this image and shrug our shoulders with a “no big deal” mentality? I hope the answer to both of these questions is a resounding, “No” – but I’m not so sure.
As for Abbasi, the photographer who captured the event is facing intense scrutiny. While asking questions about how the photo was captured in the first place – and why nobody took the time to help Han to safety — is certainly warranted, one must also consider the context of the situation. The photographer’s own account of what unfolded leads me to wonder if, indeed, he deserves such harsh critique. Here’s just a portion of the explanation he wrote for the Post:
Abbasi claims that he was too far from the victim and that there was no way for him to reach Han before the train struck the man. Additionally, he wonders why no one else on the platform, including people who were purportedly closer, jumped in to assist. These are valid questions, and if the photographer is telling the truth, it seems he tried his hardest (or at least he did what he felt was right in the moment) to stop the accident from unfolding.
Regardless, it’s always easier to judge a situation from outside the periphery. In the end, newspaper sales aside, a man has tragically perished. Somehow, though, that has seemingly been lost in translation.