by Julian Spivey
We’ve all seen the horrifying image of “The Falling Man.” The World Press Photo Award winner taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew of an unidentified man leaping to his death from one of the World Trade Center towers on the morning of 9/11. It’s one of the most controversial photos in journalism history as it shows a man plummeting to his death. But, it’s also one of the most important photos in journalism history because it gave the tragedy of 9/11 a more human feel. Sure, we knew people were dying in the World Trade Center buildings, but the image of someone who’d rather die from leaping from one of the building’s upper floors than die in an inferno showed the event as horrific as it truly was. Recording that type of history is important for us to get the full extent of it.
This is an image I remember seeing a couple of times in textbooks during my college days minoring in print journalism in my News Editing and Media Ethics courses. The topic was about journalism ethics and what should and shouldn’t be shown in print. Basically, it’s a photographer’s job to capture an event – even if it’s a horrible or graphic one – and then it’s up for the editor of the publication to decide whether to run the image. That decision is one I respect and whenever an image is published that people believe shouldn’t be I’m almost always going to side with the media, because I have the schooling and knowledge based on my minor degree to know and understand why these images have been chosen for the public to see.
This controversy arose during the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night, May 13, when a terrifying three-car accident involving Joey Logano, Danica Patrick and Aric Almirola resulted in Almirola having to be cut from his car and removed via a backboard and stretcher. He was conscious and alert, but photos captured by the media, which could be seen on the live Fox Sports 1 television broadcast standing on the wall outside of the track’s catchfence taking photos, showed the driver to be in obvious pain while being removed from his car. Almirola would be airlifted to a local hospital where as of last report was in stable condition, but was to be held overnight for further observation. These images immediately drew the ire of many on social media sites like Twitter with people stating they believe the act of taking photos of this situation to be disrespectful and inappropriate.
Why is it important for images of Almirola to be taken and published?
It’s a simple answer really – because it’s something that happened. Almirola’s stature as an athlete involved in a sporting event makes his accident, his unusual (for these days in NASCAR) removal from his vehicle and his injury status news worthy. It’s the same reason that the accident led the late night ESPN “SportsCenter” broadcast. If Almirola had been killed in the accident you wouldn’t have seen images from the incident. I’m confident of that. Though, it would’ve been at an editor’s discretion and photos like this from the horrific 1955 Le Mans tragedy have been published before. The response from fans irritated by the media doing its job in showing the incident was dumbfounding to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if these fans dislike it when images of football players being removed from games, in obvious pain, after tearing up their knees or receiving helmet-to-helmet hits. That may be the case, but if so it’s not something I’ve ever seen or heard about. Nor did I see much outcry when NBA star Paul George was removed from the court via stretcher after a gruesome broken leg playing for Team USA. I wonder why it’s seemingly different for the sport of NASCAR?
I’m not, by any means, telling people that they can’t take issue with a photograph being published. I just ask that these people realize why these images are published and that in the profession of journalism it would actually more likely be considered more unethical to not publish something news worthy than to skip it for fears of disrespecting the injured. We all have jobs to do and had these photographers at the NASCAR race not opted to photograph Almirola being extricated from his torn-up racecar on Saturday night they likely would’ve received an earful from their editors and might have even been replaced.