December 5, 2012

 


Freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi (right) discusses his controversial picture of a man about to be killed by a New York subway train with “Today” show hosts Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer. (Peter Kramer/Associated Press/NBC)

The New York Post continues taking a beating for having published a cover photo of 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han moments before he was struck by a New York subway train. Han had been thrown onto the track bed by another man and was killed when the train hit him. Freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi was on the scene and snapped some shots of the incident, though he claims he was just trying to flash his camera to signal the train conductor to slow down.

The humanity of Abbasi’s actions are getting the Internet’s best rear-view-mirror assessment, with mixed reviews. Abbasi himself offers an account in the New York Post, attempting to shut up the online criticism — he never could have reached the man, he says. It all went down “so fast.”

David Carr of the New York Times writes draws a contrast between Abbasi’s actions and those of the New York Post. The newspaper, he writes, wasn’t confronted with a complicated, split-second decision in a hostile and fast-moving environment. It faced a routine call on how to deal with a freelance photo, and it reached a decision “driven by a moral and commercial calculus that was sickening to behold,” Carr contends.

The newspaper itself appears to be enjoying such remarks. After all, it published a piece rounding up reaction to its decision to go with the shot. Here’s the first sentence:

The dramatic photo of a subway train bearing down on a doomed passenger became a story in its own right yesterday — and earned mixed reaction from scores of commentators.

What’s missing from the roundup? How about a quote or two from the New York Post on its rationale for publishing the photo. The attempts of the Erik Wemple Blog on this front have failed. A spokeswoman for the New York Post, in response to an interview request sent yesterday, wrote via e-mail, “I will let you know if the POST responds.” A followup on the matter hasn’t fetched a thing. In the virtual pages of the New Republic, Tom McGeveran argues that at the New York Post, “editors have to have some pretty serious arguments for not publishing something that actually depicts the life-or-death moment that every New Yorker has imagined.”

When I asked on Twitter if anyone out there had seen an official response from such editors, a tweep responded this way:

 

That was a joke, of course. So allow the Erik Wemple Blog to do the New York Post’s work for it. Speaking as an unauthorized surrogate for the New York Post, we offer this statement for publishing the photograph:

What happened to Mr. Han was a tragedy, and the New York Post joins those who mourn the event and abhor the circumstances leading up to it. As has been widely noted, a freelance photographer was on the scene and came away with what we viewed as a compelling shot of the circumstances immediately prior to Mr. Han’s death. The photographer has written an account for our paper explaining his conduct and attempts to save Mr. Han. Our decision to publish the photograph was a difficult one and has been the subject of some criticism. We stand by the decision because the sequence of events, as tragic and grisly as they were, constituted a bona fide news event, and the New York Post is in the news business. The scene depicted in the photo is disturbing, but it’s not our job to shield the public from disturbing images. The story has prompted a great deal of discussion about what responsibility bystanders in America have toward crime victims, and that’s a healthy debate, one that the photo has helped to promote.

That work?

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.