Image of fatal subway push leaves journalist with many questions

AP This image released by NBC shows co-hosts Savannah Guthrie, left, and Matt Lauer, center, during an interview with freelance … Continued


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.

Billy Hallowell is a journalist and the faith editor at TheBlaze .

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  • Itzajob

    If any paper needs a policy to discourage its photographers from photographing an imminent death instead of intervening to help the victim, it’s the Post — the Washington Post.

    Recently, a WaPo photographer attended a snake-handling ritual in which the preacher was bitten. Although the photographer knew that he needed help, at first the victim and his several co-religionists present did not; they were all expecting him to be healed. Eventually, as the photographer snapped away, the victim realized he was dying and asked for help. But by then it was too late.

    The photographer justified her decision to put photographs ahead of a human life on the grounds that the preacher had made a religious choice, and WaPo published the pictures.

    How is the Washington Post and its photographer any better than the New York Post and Mr. Umar?

  • abrooklynite

    Newscorp wants you to focus on the photographer, but the height of callousness was the Post’s cover itself. I don’t judge people in the heat of a moment, I don’t know what was going on in the photographer’s mind, his story about the flashes is probably bogus but he might just be panicking from the bad press, or maybe he wasn’t thinking straight when it happened and actually thought that might work. I don’t think he was being sadistic. The Post, on the other hand is disgusting because it tried to make a buck from murder and took time to formulate it’s cover not in an adrenaline filled moment, but in the safety of an office. The caption almost taunting the struggling man. So, yes, the photographer didn’t do all that he could, but I doubt he was setting up shots calmly, as if at a wedding. I am suspending judgement on the photographer for now, but not on the NY Post.

  • Itzajob

    One might argue that WaPo’s photographer’s was far worse. Mr. Umar, after all, had only a few seconds to consider his moral choice. WaPo had several hours.

  • abrooklynite

    Did the WaPost say, THIS MAN IS ABOUT TO DIE on the cover. The NYPost had time too and what did they come up with? One of the most disgusting headlines I have seen.

    Also did someone throw the snake at the man. The point of handling the snake was that Jesus would prevent it from biting him. That didn’t happen. False equivalence.

  • Itzajob

    No, WaPo prettied it up, “Look at our sensitive reporter, covering this man’s long and unnecessary death. We hope she wins a Pulitzer for her sensitivity and fine photography.”

    You tell me which is better, a 15-second decision in the midst of tragedy, or a long and drawn-out failure to act like a human being?

  • vt00

    We are becoming more of an international country every day. Foreign newspapers regularly publish photos of dead bodies including faces. People who grew up seeing this in their country are now here and some of them probably are working for news organizations also so this is the future for our press as well. Get ready for it.

  • philly76

    Murdoch will do the most disgusting things to make a buck. I hope the Han family sues them for the grief they magnified by plastering a picture of their husband and father in his last desperate moment on the front page of their paper in total disregard to the family.

  • erinoconnell

    Is anyone asking the obvious question: How long did you wait to share your juicy photo with the New York Post? This accidental photo made the front page pretty quickly.

  • Goodwater

    You have a choice whether to buy and read the paper. Don’t like what they do, don’t buy it. Perhaps others liked the photo. I hate what became of the NY Times. I cancelled my subscription (so have many others) and don’t read that paper any longer. I suggest you do the same instead of trying to edict what’s right oer wrong for everyone else.

  • abrooklynite

    Oh, I am not knocking either photographer, actually. I don’t remember how long the man was bitten. I am comparing two newspapers and their approach. The NY Post Reveled, absolutely reveled, in death. The Washington Post took the picture and told the story.

  • Itzajob

    Wrong New York paper, Goodwater. You may not like the Times, but it has nothing to do with this story.

  • Itzajob


  • Presned

    I was once near a terrible explosion where a service station leaked gasoline into the city sewer which blew up. The surrounding neighborhood was evacuated and a number of us were called on to go to the houses and tell people to get out, run for their lives, since nobody knew how widespread the danger was. The next day a picture was in the paper of a woman running, her clothes on fire. I never found out if the photographer helped her and there was no further mention in the paper or on the news. I will never forget that day or that picture and still wonder how anybody could have taken a picture like that without helping and why the newspaper would publish it.

  • TEQ1

    Abbasi tries to paint himself as a good samaritan, shooting away w/ his camera….And then races to the NY Post for a nice fat check. The Post has always just been an embarrassment. As with pornography, there really should be laws to prevent publishing this kind of image. No way he can believe himself to be a photojournalist. Human waste is the proper way to put it.

  • Itzajob

    Well, we will have to differ on this, then, Brooklynite to Manhattanite.

  • abrooklynite

    Ah yes the old free speech defends from criticism canard. Let me say what I say and don’t say a darn thing about what I said. Speak with your wallet and so on. The truth is, the NY Post can publish what they like and I can be outraged if it is disgusting, and I can talk about it here. What precisely is your issue Goodwater?

  • stupaplinth

    I find the NYPost despicably exploitative and I find this “photojournalist” hard to believe when he profits.

  • stupaplinth

    This whole story stinks for NY, NYers, “photojournalism”, NYPost, Abbasi, the Han family. shame shame shame!!!

  • stupaplinth

    This whole story stinks for NY, NYers, “photojournalism”, NYPost, Abbasi, the Han family. shame shame shame!!!

  • philly76

    To be honest I find it hard to blame the photographer. It’s doubtful he could of rescued Mr. Han. Maybe he could of advised him to lay down along the bottom edge of the platform where there is usually some space filthy as it is. But who knows how much time there was for even that. My guess is he is not sleeping well. As far as selling the photos, it is questionable but he probably did not know which one was going to published nor how it was going to be published.

    On the other hand there is Ruppert Murdoch’s News Corp which being inhuman doesn’t ever sleep but is lead by barely human executives who had time to make plenty of decisions.The real problem is the publisher who printed it on the full front page with a horrific headline that even people who did not want to buy the paper couldn’t avoid seeing as they passed a news stand.

  • philly76

    That’s a big lumping of different groups and people that made no sense. Shame shame shame on you.

  • BadCitizen

    Murdoch. All slime all the time.

    If you lie with dogs, you’re bound to get fleas

    In this case, I’m being unfair to the dogs.

  • erinoconnell

    He went to the New York Post. He knew exactly what would happen and he offered them a scoop.

  • duvoisin

    I think this is the worst written piece I have ever read in the Post. Are these guest columns/blogs run by an editor? If not, they should be.

    For instance, this sentence:
    “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.”

    So R. Umar Abbasi, the photographer, is also the purported murderer? That does add a new wrinkle.

    Seriously, EDIT. Please!

  • duvoisin

    We’ve seen dead foreigners in our papers and on our news, usually when they’re non-white. It’s pretty rare for American papers or news to publisher photos of American, or white, corpses/faces. Yes, there is a double standard.

  • smb62

    He must have known what would happen, including paying him some cash for his picture.
    Murdoch’s people indeed assumed that some extra sales could be made.
    I’ve always been puzzled why newspapers, not only Murdoch’s, go in for a tasteless page one story lasting a day or two. Does it really improve their bottom line so much? What’s the point?

  • tabithag

    We can harp about the homeless, mental illness, the photographer, Rupert Murdoch or even lack of NYPD presence until the cows come home, but in the end all it would have taken was one person, one decent human being to lend this man a helping hand. Anyone anywhere who has ever taken public transportation could possibly find themselves in this position. Let’s try to remember this!

  • pogomcl

    think it is basic violation of journalism ethics to print death on front page without first contacting the family and kin– it’s really horrible to be the recipient of such a “news scoop”. my sister was put o front page like this and my father was delivering the paper and was how he learned her death. He stopped by the house in break of route to ask me her whereabouts and if I knew where she had gone–so I learned via front page that my sister was killed by a semi on a bridge. Mirror caught her and dragged her under the truck.

    is very very nice way to be informed
    you don’t shake it off so easy.

    and in this case, how could a newspaper at least not have the decency to go and tell the carrier that his daughter’s death was front page? county paper in rural area–no excuse for this at all. Now it’d be far worse because of internet and big news / media concerns all waiting like jackals to grab the latest juicy bite of human misery.

  • pogomcl

    not photojournalism– is sensationalism and opportunism, but not journalism

  • pluto96

    So many holes in this guys story. Not only did he clearly do nothing to help, he took pictures of a man dying, sold them, and now tries to play himself out as a hero.
    1) In the first picture he takes, which he supposedly does to warn the train, there are no train headlights in the background. If he really was trying to help, put down the camera and go help.
    2) If he is trying to warn the train, why is the victim in the middle of the photos, and not the train?

    Trying to make himself a hero. It’s despicable.