Ethics: Run the photo or not?
assignment: A one-page argument for running it or not running this
Background (from the Straits Times newspaper)
Mystery surrounds the identity of the man who was captured on film falling 'elegantly' from the burning tower on that fateful Sept 11 day THE image was so disturbing that it ran once in newspapers all over the United States and, in many cases, never again.
It was a photograph of a man plummeting to his death from one of the top storeys of the World Trade Center on Sept 11, 2001. Shot just as he achieves a vertical, head-first position against the vertical lines of the building, it is an almost perfectly composed frame.
It was one of a sequence of images that Richard Drew, a photographer with the Associated Press, took of the man, and it stood out from the hundreds of other pictures of people who fell to their death that fateful day.
The shots of the others looked chaotic and confused as people flailed about in the air as they embarked on their last journey.
In contrast, the man in Drew's picture looked almost peaceful. His body formed a perfect symmetry with the lines of the buildings behind him. To the left was the North Tower; to the right, the South.
On Sept 12, the picture appeared on Page Seven of The New York Times. It appeared in hundreds of other newspapers all over the country and around the world. But the man was not identified.
The minute Tom Junod, a writer for the American magazine Esquire, saw the picture, he knew he wanted to write about it.
He went on to pen an investigative story on how Drew got the now famous image and the attempts to determine the identity of the man. In his piece, he also wrote about how evidence that some 200 people fell to their death that day might have been suppressed.
His feature, headlined The Falling Man, appears in this month's Esquire.
'In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying', is the almost elegiac opening to Junod's eloquent piece.
In an interview later with the Atlanta Journal - Constitution, Junod says: 'On my computer I have some footage of people jumping on that day that I downloaded off the Internet.
'I've looked at it many times, and every time I looked at it, I want to say, 'Stop.' Nobody does stop. It's as if the horror behind them was greater than the horror in front of them.'
But in most American newspapers, the picture did not run again. An outcry erupted as people complained that by printing the now iconic photograph, newspapers had exploited a man's death and stripped him of his dignity.
In the Esquire article, Junod wrote about how The Toronto Globe & Mail had assigned a reporter, Peter Cheney, to uncover the man's identity.
Cheney got the image enhanced. It showed a dark-skinned man with a goatee. His white top was not a shirt but a tunic, and he wore black high-top shoes.
It was apparent that he was one of the workers in the Windows On The World restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower.
Cheney gathered from posters of missing people stuck up all over Times Square that the man was a Latino pastry chef at Windows called Norberto Hernandez, who lived in Queens.
But Hernandez's wife Eulogia and his daughters denied it was him. His remains - a torso and an arm - had been found and identified via DNA.
While alive, Hernandez's motto was 'together forever' and his family did not believe that he would abandon them by giving up and jumping out of a window.
Those who read Cheney's story believed that he had died by jumping out a window. But his family refused to accept this.
Whoever the Falling Man may be, he was wearing a bright-orange shirt under his white tunic, the images show.
The force of the fall had either pulled the tunic, open at the back, away from the man, or the fall had simply torn the white fabric to pieces. But Eulogia maintained that her husband did not own an orange shirt.
Another name cropped up.
Co-workers at Windows thought their colleague, Jonathan Briley, might be the Falling Man.
Briley's brother, Timothy, knew what he wore to work most days - a white shirt, black pants and black high tops, Junod writes.
Sometimes he wore an orange T-shirt under his top. He wore that orange T-shirt everywhere, Timothy reportedly said.
But he identified his brother's miraculously intact body later and found that none of his clothes were recognisable except for the high-top shoes.
So, was Jonathan Briley the Falling Man, not Norberto Hernandez?
No one knows.
Only one thing is certain, Junod writes in the Esquire piece: 'One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame - the Falling Man - became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen.' -- Information from Esquire
WHO, WHAT, WHEN?
• Tom Junod is an Atlanta-based writer-at-large for Esquire magazine. Asked in an interview if he felt that he was being prurient and voyeuristic in investigating the mystery of The Falling Man, he quoted the last paragraph of his feature in which he says: 'Richard Drew's photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves.'
• The towers were smoking when Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, now 56, arrived at the scene on Sept 11. He heard the crowd gasping as people fell from the towers. Through his 200mm lens, he started shooting each time he heard a cry. He found a falling body and snapped a sequence. Then the South Tower collapsed. He fled to safety. In his office later, he found among his many shots the Falling Man.
• In 1968, Drew was standing behind US Senator Robert F. Kennedy when the latter was shot in the head. The photographer jumped on a table and shot pictures of the scene.
• Sept 11, 9:41:15am: There were 12 frames in Drew's sequence of The Falling Man. In the two frames before the one that was eventually published around the world, the man's face was shown facing the camera.
After that, the force of the fall appeared to rip off his back the white tunic or jacket open at the back. He wore a bright-orange shirt underneath.
• Was it Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef at Windows On The World? His wife and daughters in New York denied this. They insisted he could not have committed suicide. Workers in Windows also did not believe it was Hernandez.
• Was it Jonathan Briley, who also worked at Windows On The World? He was known to wear similar shoes as the Falling Man. His brother, who identified his body, could not confirm it, but he said Briley liked to wear an orange shirt.
• The New York Times said 50 people fell to their deaths from both towers. The figure was based on what their reporters counted from their video footage.
• USA Today, using also eyewitness reports and forensic evidence, said at least 200 people fell.
• Esquire claimed the New York's Medical Examiner's Office was not forthcoming with figures on those who fell.
More on Richard Drew, the photographer