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Did we need to see this photo?

On Tuesday The New York Post published a photo of a man who had been pushed onto the subway tracks struggling to get up as a train sped toward him.

Tragically he didn’t make it, and was killed when the train struck him.

Aside from the death itself, there are some disturbing issues surrounding this tragedy.

First, was it right for The Post (a frequently trashy tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch) to publish such a photo? Should we be any less horrified by this incident because we missed seeing a picture which must have added immeasurably to the suffering of the victim’s family and friends?

Second, what was the photographer thinking?

It was shot by freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi, who was waiting to catch a train as the situation unfolded.

He told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that he wasn’t trying to take a photo of the man, but was trying to alert the motorman to what was going on by flashing his camera.

He said he was shocked that people nearer to the victim did not try to help in the 22 seconds before the train struck.

“It took me a second to figure out what was happening … I saw the lights in the distance. My mind was to alert the train,” Abbasi said.
Abbasi said he did not control how the images were used in the Post, but he did tell the “Today” show he has sold the images.

According to a police source, the victim was in the track well for more than a minute before he was struck.

This hit home for me because I once climbed down onto the Elevated tracks in downtown Chicago along with someone else to rescue a man (apparently drunk or stoned) who had fallen off the platform. Fortunately, although there was a train visible in the distance, it was not speeding toward us.

I’d like to think that if I had been in that New York subway station, and I believed there was a reasonable chance of saving the guy, I would have done the same. But since I wasn’t there, it’s hard to pass judgment on those who didn’t.