On Tuesday, New Yorkers awoke to a gruesome New York Post cover photo. The photo, which fills most of the page, depicts a man trapped on the New York City subway tracks, awaiting an oncoming train that would eventually take his life.
“Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die,” the headline says. The victim appears to be trying to climb up as he looks toward the oncoming train. Below the victim, appears one word: “DOOMED.”
The decision has sparked outrage across the Internet, raising questions about journalism ethics. The story also has touched off a debate about whether bystanders — including the photographer — should have done more to help Ki-Suck Han, a 58-year-old from Queens, N.Y., who was allegedly pushed onto the tracks Monday afternoon.
“Someone needs to be fired for this @Nypost cover. It's classless, cruel and completely void of all integrity. You should be ashamed,” tweeted @ JasFly.
Others singled out the photographer.
“Wow! enough time to take a few pictures. Why didn't the person help? … What an age we live in when getting the picture is more important! I am appalled,” Joseph Monte wrote in a comment on the Post’s website.
Han attempted to get back onto the platform, the Post reported, but was crushed between the side of the platform and the train, which could not stop in time. Witnesses have indicated the man who pushed Han appeared to be disturbed and had frightened other riders as they waited on the subway platform.
Police have released a video that shows Han and another man arguing on the platform before the incident. Police said Tuesday they were questioning a 30-year-old man in connection with Han’s death and that he had implicated himself in the attack. No charges were expected to be announced before Wednesday.
The photographer, in particular, has been singled out for criticism.
The Post reported that one of its freelance photographers, R. Umar Abbasi, had been on the platform of the station at West 49th Street and 7th Avenue. Abbasi told the Post that he attempted to warn the operator by rapidly firing off his flash.
“I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash,” Abbasi told the Post.
Abbasi said others on the platform also ran toward Han and the train after he was pushed.
Marc Cooper, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said many people had rushed to judgment without a full understanding of the facts.
“Those who are outraged that the cameraman did not save his life need to ask themselves what they would have done and what they could have done,” Cooper said. “Because from what I have seen, I am not convinced that the photographer could have saved his life.”
Cooper said that if the photographer could have helped Han, he was obviously morally bound to do so, rather than snap a photo. But the outrage at the Post’s decision to run the photo “seems misplaced” unless their photographer actually could have saved Han’s life, Cooper said.
Although the headline was sensational, the photo has news value, Cooper said, because “it makes us think how we treat others and what our toleration of violence is.”
“If we live in a society where people are pushed to death in a subway over a silly argument, then I am in favor of documenting that and showing that in all the horror that it is,” he said. “Journalists do not shy away from depicting horror because there is horror.”
Some journalists took a different view on Twitter. On Tuesday, the Poynter Institute published a post that provided a roundup of comments from journalists.
“Sickening rubber-necking front page from the New York Post. Imagine how this man's family feels,” Ian Prior, sports editor at the Guardian newspaper in London, tweeted.
“that NY Post cover doesn't seem necessary at all...” Charlie Warzel, a digital media reporter for Adweek magazine, tweeted.
[For the record, 5:37 p.m. Dec. 4: An earlier version of this post spelled the victim's name as Ki-Suk Han. Actually, it’s Ki-Suck Han.]
[For the record, 8:39 p.m. Dec. 4: This post was updated to indicate that police said late Wednesday that the man being questioned had implicated himself in the attack and that no charges were expected to be announced before Wednesday.]