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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

NYC Subway Photographer: 'If I Could Have, I Would Have Pulled Him Out'

Catherine Green |
December 5, 2012 | 10:35 a.m. PST

Executive Producer


Tragedy struck on a subway track in NYC, but could the photographer who captured it done anything to save the man killed? (Creative Commons)
Tragedy struck on a subway track in NYC, but could the photographer who captured it done anything to save the man killed? (Creative Commons)

The freelance photographer who's come under fire for taking photos of a man just before he was struck and killed by a New York City subway train said Wednesday there was no way he could have stepped in to help.

R. Umar Abbasi appeared on NBC's "Today" show to explain his side of the story, Reuters reported. "My condolences to the family, and if I could have, I would have pulled Mr. (Ki Suk) Han out," Abbasi said.

Abbasi has been scrutinized since the New York Post ran his photo on the cover of its paper Tuesday.

The newspaper has also faced criticism for sensationalizing the photo and handling the incident with insensitivity, pairing the dread-inducing shot with the headlines "DOOMED" and "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die."

The Post published a first-hand account from Abbasi Wednesday, in which he said he had no idea his efforts to slow the train — flickering his camera flash 49 times to alert the conductor — would result in such controversial photos. "I didn't even know at all that I had even captured the images in such detail," he said. 

Marc Cooper, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and faculty advisor for Neon Tommy, weighed in. 

From the Los Angeles Times:

“Those who are outraged that the cameraman did not save his life need to ask themselves what they would have done and what they could have done,” Cooper said.  “Because from what I have seen, I am not convinced that the photographer could have saved his life.”

Cooper said that if the photographer could have helped Han, he was obviously morally bound to do so, rather than snap a photo. But the outrage at the Post’s decision to run the photo “seems misplaced” unless their photographer actually could have saved Han’s life, Cooper said.

Although the headline was sensational, the photo has news value, Cooper said, because “it makes us think how we treat others and what our toleration of violence is.”

“If we live in a society where people are pushed to death in a subway over a silly argument, then I am in favor of documenting that and showing that in all the horror that it is,” he said. “Journalists do not shy away from depicting horror because there is horror.”

The train's conductor has been hospitalized for trauma, and police interviewed a suspect who had "implicated himself in the incident" on Tuesday. The Post identified the suspect as 30-year-old street vendor Naeem Davis.

Read the full stories here and here.


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