THE HAUNTING photograph of Manhattan subway passenger Ki-Suck Han, taken moments before he was run over and killed by a train, is already burned into the memories of millions of people, and not just New Yorkers. It has also spawned a torrent of discussion, across TV, radio, and the Internet, about the New York Post’s decision to publish it on the newspaper’s cover, with a sensational headline (“Doomed”) that seemed to emphasize voyeurism over any conceivable news value.
The Post’s exploitative handling of the photo is the one truly objectionable aspect of the affair: Whether or not the photo served a useful function, it shouldn’t have been displayed in the way the Post did. But the other questions raised by the photo — such as whether the photographer should have dropped his camera and attempted to rescue the man, and why no one else on the platform did so — defy easy answers. They suggest that however painful and objectionable the whole affair may be, especially to the dead man’s family, the photo served to bring important issues to the forefront of debate.