The New York Post & the Real Questions We Should Be Asking

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Wednesday, December 05, 2012

New York Post
During my university days, I sat as the news editor of The Keystone, Kutztown University's campus paper, for a semester. Multiple challenges arose. Long hours of layout and editing of articles that seemed to be written by 8th graders took their toll. But those issues were minuscule.

The first few issues of The Keystone to come out that semester included articles on the death of multiple students. I was reminded of one of the articles in particular following the New York Post's article and front-page photo on the subway death of Queens resident Ki-Suck Han. A student had been walking along Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks, presumably, intoxicated. We ran the article accompanied by a photo of a Norfolk-Southern train running down the tracks. It was our front-page story.

After the issue came out, our supervisor questioned the use of the photo used. Why hadn't we gotten a photo of the student? Why hadn't we gotten a photo of where the accident took place? This is just a stock photo of a train. 

Yes. It was, simply, a stock photo of a Norfolk-Southern engine. Personally, I felt it would compliment the story better than a photo of empty tracks where the accident took place. The photo of the victim was unavailable at the time, so we couldn't run it. As the news editor, I felt the way we presented the article was in decent taste and that the photo we used was sufficient.

When I saw the New York Post's front page photo accompanied by the headline "DOOMED" and the  blurb pictured above, I was unsure of how I felt. Certainly, this was a tragedy but what questions does it raise journalistically? Morally? The internet has exploded with commentary aimed at both the New York Post for printing it and the photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, for snapping photos instead of helping Han escape his terrible fate. There are bigger issues to think about than the actions of both, though.

Is the New York Post's cover page in bad taste? That goes without saying. But how many people really expect journalistic integrity and high moral values from the New York Post? The Post is known for its bombastic headlines and tabloid stories. It's a sensationalist paper that caters to the human obsessions of violence and tragedy. Murdoch and Co. knew exactly what they were doing when they printed the photo and headline. And everyone, including myself by writing this article, fell into it.

Instead of examining the Post and shaming them for doing what the Post does best without shame, we should turn the tables and examine ourselves. Why is it that this photo of a helpless, NYC resident, seconds away from his death, evoke so much anger and emotion while the stories and photos of the dead in warring nations go almost unnoticed by the public at large almost every day? 

Yesterday, amid all the fervor of the subway article and blaming Abbasi for not "doing enough", "Syrian rebels kill 9 students in attack on school near Damascus" was one of the many headlines hitting news. "Typhoon Kills Hundreds in Philippines" ran today at The New York Times

Over the past few years, we've seen video of Saddam Hussein put to death by hanging, Muammar Gaddafi executed and his corpse paraded through the streets, countless stories of innocent people killed among war-time gunfire by all sides, tsunamis devastating sea-side civilizations. The list goes on. Plenty of graphic media portrayed through countless outlets. It all goes largely unquestioned. And how many ask, "What can be done to stop it? How could we or how can we help?"

It's not easy for Americans to identify with those issues, though. And when we see a reported "bad man" put to death, we accept it no matter how gruesome or barbaric it is. Flip the switch. Imagine, for a moment, if a sitting president were executed by rebels here in the states. Imagine those rebels strung his body up or paraded it through the streets, desecrating it every chance they got. 

Or, just think of Ki-Suck Han. How many of us have been on a subway platform? How many of us have relatives or loved ones who use the subway? It's easy to identify with. It's easier to imagine yourself on a NYC subway platform than it is to imagine yourself ducking for cover amid spraying bullets and firebombs in Syria. Maybe we should try harder to put ourselves in those shoes, though.

Fingers are currently being pointed at Abbasi for doing nothing but documenting the tragedy that unfolded before him. He could have / should have done more! Abbasi has become an easy target. Could he have done more? Maybe. How have the rest of those present on the platform avoided scorn, though? Was Abbasi the only one who could have helped? Certainly not. Anyone on that platform could have done more than they did, but didn't. In reality, whether or not you believe Abbasi's claim that he was using his flash to attract the attention of the conductor or not, he seems to be the only one who did anything.

Hindsight is 20/20. All of us, at one time, have witnessed an accident and have said something to the effect of, "Well, so and so should have done this and that," or, "I would have done more." However, no one can assert these claims without being thrust into the situation. What you say you would do in any given situation will differ greatly from your actual actions. Was Han's death an unfortunate result of the Genovese syndrome, or did the tragedy simply unfold so quickly that no one, including Abbasi, have the time necessary to process what was happening? 

In the end only one fact remains: Han's death was an unfortunate tragedy. Sitting around computers raging at the New York Post or Abbasi will do nothing besides sell more attention to Murdoch's bloody pages. This is what the Post wants. Instead, let's focus on the bigger issues. Let's ponder why the Post, and media outlets like it, can turn an easy profit off of a tragedy like this. Let's discuss the increasing use of sensationalism in media and the fall of actual, journalistic merit. And let's not allow Han's death pass without a possible discussion on how to make subways safer for the public.

Despite the crass front page of the New York Post, let's try to move away from calling slime slime and move towards a productive, public discourse. Let's turn the mad voices down and turn the reasoning up. There are terrible tragedies that occur every day. Let the tabloids do what they will with them and let humanity try to improve our lot.


“The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money.”
A. J. Liebling


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Comments (2)

Once again you are a voice for intelligent humanism, speaking reason to the reflexive, finger-pointing masses. Thank you for your well-thought, well-crafted response to this tragedy.
Jeanne

Thank you for your kind words, Jeanne.

Cheers

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