Should media outlets publish a photo of Trayvon Martin's corpse?
For a fleeting moment Thursday night, MSNBC aired what analysts covering George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial have called the most graphic evidence in the case — a photo of Trayvon Martin's dead body lying in the grass. This was not the image published by the Huffington Post and other news outlets showing the 17-year-old's corpse covered by a yellow blanket. This image, captured before police covered him up, shows Martin in full — his face, his eyes and mouth open, his arms at his side.
In the courtroom, prosecutors used the photo to illustrate their closing argument. Martin, they said, was just an unarmed kid returning from a convenience store with Skittles and a drink, and he would be alive today if Zimmerman, a white, Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, hadn't stalked him because he was black. "His body speaks to you even in death," the prosecution told the jury. (Zimmerman maintains that Martin was the aggressor, and that he shot the boy in self-defense.)
Some readers and viewers saw things differently. One commenter at Balloon Juice, for example, called the airing of the image "wrong and disgusting," and said MSNBC should apologize, even though it only aired the photo briefly in a live feed before quickly panning away.
Was it wrong to show the victim's corpse in such a high-profile, racially charged case? Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo said his outlet has not published the image, and won't, but that he was still surprised by the power of the photo. It doesn't prove anything, Marshall said, but it does deepen the viewer's understanding of the tragedy. "I felt guilty journalistically," he said, "that it hasn't been seen."
Seeing it, for all the tabloid coverage and endless CNN cable news coverage of the case, a big part of me feels like the real story here has been glossed over. Whatever the ins and outs of the legalities here, the odds of this happening to a white kid are just very slim. I knew that an hour ago. But I’m confronting it in a different way now. [Talking Points Memo]
Gawker, however, did post the photo. (Warning: The image in this link is severely upsetting.) The writer of the article, Adam Weinstein, apologized to Martin's parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, for publishing the image. He said he didn't show it out of a sense of duty to the public interest, or simply because it would be available somewhere on the internet no matter what he did.
Those are rationalizations. They don't explain my motive: Good old-fashioned rage that this kid is dead because my home state empowered a dullard aficionado of Van Damme and Seagal movie cliches to choose his own adventure. Florida literally gave George Zimmerman license to make up neighborhood threats and invite violent confrontations, confident in the knowledge that he carried more firepower jammed down his sweaty fat waistband than every army on earth beheld before 1415.
I wish I were a better person than that, but I'm not. People come up short all the time, after all. I suppose it's a good thing I don't have a gun. [Gawker]
One commenter on Gawker, identified as KilgoreHTrout, didn't buy that argument:
You did it for the page views, everything else is rationalizations on your part... Seriously, to say this is poor taste would the understatement of the year, but I guess it was inevitable, so enjoy the cash that comes with it. [Gawker]