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.