Trayvon Martin Photo: Teen’s Dead Body Prominently Featured on Gawker Sparks Ethics Debate
Trayvon Martin Photo: Teen’s Dead Body Prominently Featured on Gawker Sparks Ethics Debate

A Trayvon Martin photo showing the 17-year-old’s lifeless body just after he was shot and killed last year was published on MSNBC but was displayed prominently on the website Gawker on Friday, prompting a debate over the ethics of publishing such a photo.

The photo shows Martin’s body laying face-up with his eyes open as police investigators stand around.

Gawker writer Adam Weinstein’s article, “This, Courtesy of MSNBC, Is Trayvon Martin’s Dead Body. Get Angry,” was written after he said his friend sent him a screengrab from MSNBC’s coverage of the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman is accused of shooting and killing the Sanford, Fla., teen.

“This is Trayvon Martin’s body. These are the last skinny jeans he wore, cuffed once at the bottoms. These are his stylish kicks, his sockless ankles. There are Trayvon’s taut neck, his slack jaw, his open eyes,” he wrote. He noted that other websites have published his body but none showed his face.

“To Trayvon’s parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, I’m sorry that I feel compelled to share this photograph. Were I a slave to journalistic norms, I would say that it’s somehow in the public interest to see him there. I would point out Florida’s sunshine laws, and the TV network’s incompetence, and argue the inevitability that this image would’ve gained a wider audience than it has already,” he added.

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However, some said publishing the photo was in poor taste, with The Root claiming Gawker published the photo as a “cynical” attempt to get web traffic.

“Have you been around for the past year? Spent any time on Twitter during the trial? It may come as a surprise, but people get that already. And just about anyone paying attention has shared your “good old-fashioned rage that this kid is dead” for a while now. None of it — none of it at all — required a visual,” it wrote.

Some commenters also took offense, echoing claims made by The Root.

“You did it for the page views, everything else is rationalizations on your part. I clicked, I read, I looked. I’m disgusted with myself, feel dirty, nauseated, taste some bile in the back of my throat. Sort of like when I see myself naked in the mirror,” wrote user “KilgoreHTrout. “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 editor Nick Denton offered a swift reply.

“You’re of course free to speculate about our corporate motives. But as a matter of fact, you should know that a story like is a cost of freethinking journalism rather than a revenue opportunity. Think about it. Sure, traffic spikes. But readers like you are unhappy; some may be unhappy enough to boycott the site. Advertising has to be taken down because clients don’t want the association,” he wrote. “I’m glad that Gawker has an audience and makes money — because that’s the only way we can afford to publish stories like this.”

But other commenters said it was necessary.

“This is the photo of gun culture, and anyone who thinks it’s a good idea. I’m usually a huge hater of Gawker page hit bait, but in this case, people need to see this. It’s uncomfortable, and gross, and sad, but necessary,” wrote another user.

To see the photo, click here (Warning: It is graphic)

  • scallywag

    Which brings us to the core question. Is a picture of a dead man’s body newsworthy? Is it really about journalism? But then again who said media really has anything to do with being newsworthy in the first place anymore? Or is it really about providing us with sanitized versions of reality that are consumer palatable? Or maybe media is just all about being entertaining and sensational?

    If we are going to sit down for months and talk about motives, prejudice and hoodies and pictures of Trayvon looking like a gangster, why not the end result picture too…?

  • markml

    That’s sick, and no I didn’t look.

    Gawker would never post such a graphic photo of a white person killed by a black man. Or a white person killed by anyone for that matter, especially a white woman. For one thing, the victim’s family would sue the living crap out of it for exploitation of their loved one. But I guess they don’t have much to fear about Trayvon Martin’s family coming after them.

    Second, if they did that, the politics would not make them look good. Nothing as politically incorrect as feeding white supremacists, but somehow it’s okay to race-bait and fuel blacks who hate whites.

    Finally, if Zimmerman gets murdered, people like those at Gawker have blood on their hands. I seem to recall something about “yelling fire in a crowded theater” as not being protected free-speech, and releasing a photo like this right now comes very close to that line. Regardless of whether you think he is guilty or not, or the verdict was correct, it’s very important to understand that mob justice is not justice. None of us were there. Would it be right if a lynch mob came after OJ Simpson when he was acquitted?

    This is racist at its core and very disturbing. It should be a wake-up call for what’s wrong with ‘Liberal’ America. Congratulations, Gawker, you’ve gone beneath a trashy tabloid this time!

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