The National Enquirer sparked outrage Wednesday when it released a cover featuring a photo purportedly showing the late Whitney Houston in a gold casket.
The existence of the Enquirer's photo, which the tabloid claims was taken at Whigham Funeral Home in New Jersey, was reported by several outlets. Some, including Jezebel and the Fox 411 blog, republished the photo at the top of their posts without any warning. The Daily Mail published the photo with the body blurred out.
(If you’d like to see the photo to gain context, it can be viewed here.The photo will not be published on Celebritology.)
It’s not known how the Enquirer obtained the photo. Requests for comment from Houston’s publicist and Whigham Funeral Home have not been returned.
(Update: Funeral home owner Carolyn Whigham told the Chicago Tribune, “I am very angry, very upset, just like the family, just like the fans. ... We don't like it because it implicates us. Whitney was a personal friend to me and my family. We would not do that.”)
Even without verification, the photo is shocking and disturbing. But it’s not surprising that it has been published.
The Enquirer published a photo of Elvis Presley in his casket on its cover in 1977. The issue sold 6.5 million copies, according to the Sun-Sentinel. More recently, a photo of Michael Jackson’s lifeless body was shown during the trial of doctor Conrad Murray. It was then republished in the media.
In the opinion of this writer, a line has been crossed. It seems highly unethical to me to publish a photo of this nature in the first place, but especially without permission from the person’s family. That seems to be the consensus on Twitter, as well. But where should the line be drawn to begin with?
Houston’s funeral, held Saturday at a Newark Church, was live streamed by the Associated Press with permission from the family. Celebritology embedded the live stream and then wrote posts about the service.
CNN, one of the cable networks to broadcast the funeral, averaged five million viewers during the three and a half hour period when it took place, according to the New York Times. The AP’s stream had nearly 2 million unique visitors. Clearly, there was a demand to watch it.
The BBC was forced to defend its decision to cover the funeral service after it received 34 complaints, saying “it reflected the significant interest in her sudden death as well as acknowledging the impact she had as a global recording artist.”
Other outlets, including Entertainment Weekly and ABC News, took it a step further and chose to live blog the service. EW was slammed for the decision in the comments section of a post announcing the live blog (Example: “A live-blog of someone's funeral is not only tacky, it's grotesquely inappropriate.”) The comments on that post have since been disabled. The commenters on ABC News did not seem to object to the live blog.
Wire services, like Getty and the AP, have made available photos of guests outside the funeral service, Houston’s casket and the hearse it was carried in. This is clearly not the same as what the Enquirer has done. But are these photos necessary?
This isn’t to say that there’s never a reason to publish photos of the dead. The Washington Post and several other outlets ran photos of a bloodied Moammar Gaddafi before he died online and in print. The Guardian’s Roy Greensdale defended his paper’s decision to do the same: “With the pictures all over the net, it would have seemed strange for newspapers to ignore them. Editors would appear to be failing in their duty to report on the reality of Gaddafi's death (more properly, execution). ... It was news - gruesome, grisly, ghastly (choose your own shock adjective) news - and the images told a story of brutality and mob chaos that could not be explained in words alone.”
Do you think the National Enquirer crossed a line? How do you feel about the coverage of Houston’s death? Tell us in the comments.