Media Angers Audience with Pictures of Trayvon Martin’s Dead Body

For the past few weeks, coverage of the George Zimmerman trial has dominated the media, months after the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin.  After hearing closing arguments today, the all-female jury began deliberations.

While waiting to hear a response from jurors, major news outlets began to cover the back story of the case, addressing crucial details and raising questions about the validity of Zimmerman’s stand your ground defense. 

Zimmerman is accused of profiling and stalking the unarmed teenager, before shooting him dead.  It was in a small Florida community that self-appointed Zimmerman took to the streets to protect his neighborhood from potential criminals.  Zimmerman attests to the fact that he followed Martin, considering the teen up to no good, but claims that the teen attacked him before he fired the fatal shot.

Zimmerman claims that he acted in self defense and is using Florida’s stand your ground to protect him.

With tensions high as jurors deliberate, the nation sits waiting to hear the final outcome.  Last night, a fleeting moment of media coverage ignited angered responses when MSNBC aired the lifeless body of Trayvon Martin.  While striking a cord, the news outlet also stirred up an entirely separate debate; is it necessary to show such graphic images when covering such a story?

The photo that was aired on MSNBC wasn’t the photo that had previously been used in coverage on The Huffington Post of Trayvon’s body covered up with a sheet, but the uncovered, unmasked, bloody image before he was covered.  It’s a shocking photo that is quite personal – his eyes still open and his hands lying beside him.

Gawker quickly published a piece headlined with a dominating photo of Trayvon’s body, with the seeming rationale, according to a Facebook user, “the media is shitty, I’m the media, I’m expected to be shitty.”  The author, Adam Weinstein didn’t quite condemn MSNBC for their decision, but instead decided, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’

News outlets have subsequently pounced on MSNBC and Gawker for deciding to publish such personal content, slamming them for their decision to garner page views. For the record, I will not be linking to the Gawker story as they have yet to take down the photo.

Weinstein published comments and letters he’s received since publishing the story with one woman writing, “As a Black woman, I am angry.  livid. distraught,”  she continues to write, “BUT, you should have asked permission from Trayvon’s parents.  They should have had that right.  Trayvon and his parents had no respect/hand in how he was portrayed in the mind of his ignorant murderer.  That decision cost him his life.”

A handful of readers responded on the Gawker story with their irritation that the publication decided to show the image.

“I very much wish I had been given a choice of looking at this picture, instead of having it embedded on the main page,” wrote one reader.

“Nauseating,” wrote another.

News is generally grisly enough without the need of amplifying the gruesomeness of the story.  It makes you wonder what need this fulfills.  Does it help tell the story?  Can’t words do justice?

It’s only been a few hours since the original Gawker story went up and already it has created a firestorm of debate, but this isn’t the first time something like this has angered an audience.  In 2001 many news outlets angered their viewers for showing people jump to their deaths from the World Trade Center attacks.  What the media hasn’t realized yet is that is wasn’t okay with their audiences back then, and it still isn’t okay with them now.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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