It's a New Yorker's worst nightmare: A reportedly disturbed panhandler shoved a subway commuter, 58-year-old Ki Suk Han, onto the tracks, where he was crushed to death by an oncoming train. The story was splashed on the front page of today's New York Post, which featured a chilling image of Ki seemingly paralyzed as he watches the train barrel toward him. "DOOMED," blared the headline, with the accompanying text: "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die." (Click here to see the disturbing photo in its entirety.)
The Post's editorial judgment has been pilloried on Twitter and elsewhere, with many horrified commentators criticizing the photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, for snapping the shot instead of helping Ki hoist himself onto the platform. The newspaper describes Abbasi as a "Post freelance photographer," and quotes him as claiming that he was trying to warn the subway conductor with his camera's flash. (It has been noted that the photograph is expertly composed for a man frantically using his camera to send warning signals to the driver.)
And "even if you accept that the photographer and other bystanders did everything they could to try to save the man, it's a separate question of what the Post would have done with the photo," says Jeff Sonderman at Poynter. The Post is notoriously lacking in tact, but many say the tabloid went over the line by putting the last terrified moments of Ki's life on the front page. "Imagine how this man's family feels," tweeted Ian Prior at The Guardian.
Of course, this controversy is just the latest installment in "a never-ending debate about photojournalism," says John Del Signore at Gothamist. While it's easy to blast the Post and Abbasi for their lack of ethics, or blame a smartphone-happy culture in which every subway fight is filmed and rapaciously consumed on the internet, no one is taking photographers to task for, say, failing to help wounded rebels in Syria and publishing photos of their suffering.