The Mast-Head: Disturbing Images

When to run or not run photographs that could cross a moral or ethical line

   Sharp criticism greeted the New York Post editors’ decision this week to put a photograph of a man about to be struck and killed by a subway train on the cover of the Tuesday edition. The image presented the Post with a dilemma its editors are likely to face a lot more than we do at The Star: when to run or not run photographs that could cross a moral or ethical line. I’m not saying the Post made the right choice, but the question is more nuanced than the critics make out.
    People quickly took to Twitter and other online forums to denounce the choice. Taken by an occasional Post contributor, the image was of Ki-Suk Han, 58, just after he was pushed from the platform and as he was scrambling to climb to safety.
    R. Umar Abbas, who took the photograph, told the Post that he had been on the same platform and had begun running toward the train firing his camera, hoping the train’s driver would see its flash and stop in time. Others on the platform were similarly unable to help.
    The controversy over the photo, of course, has assured its distribution. Other media outlets, such as The New York Times, piled on. The journalistic thinking in reprinting or airing the troubling image of Mr. Han’s last moment was that because the Post was widely faulted for running it, the photograph itself had become news.
    To me, the criticism seems disingenuous. So many front pages of the nation’s newspapers in recent years have had photographs of the dead, often children, killed in wars, in places like Afghanistan or Iraq. How is it somehow different and across a line to show one of our own people, a New Yorker, about to be killed?
    If it was wrong of the Post to publish it — and for The Times and many others to reproduce the Post’s Tuesday cover — it is also unacceptable for The Times and others to run images of those killed by United States drone strikes, terrorists’ attacks, and Israel’s retaliatory bombings in Gaza.
    Our contemporary culture is soaked in images of death. To be outraged at the Post but ignore all the rest seems hollow. It can be an unpredictable, and brutal, world, and the news media by and for adults must reflect that unfortunate truth.