[WARNING: Some contents of this post are graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.] In the midst of the reporting on the Boston Marathon bombings, including CNN’s inaccurate reporting, on April 15 The Huffington Post published a piece that documented a shooting that took place on Jan. 18, 2004 in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. The piece was seemingly intended to give some context to a recently failed bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate that would have expanded background checks and voted down bans on high capacity gun magazines and assault weapons.
To reinforce the senselessness of gun-related crimes, the website published graphic photos of the crime scene, in particular the bodies of Chris Heyman and Blake Harris (shown below) who were reportedly shot in the backseat of a car using a modified AP-9 fully-automatic submachine gun capable of firing more than 30 rounds per second.
The story heartbreakingly documented the crime and the subsequent trial. Bert Heyman, Chris’ father, tentatively communicated with Jason Cherkis, the author of the article; initially Heyman only communicated via email. Eventually, Heyman told Cherkis that “With the Sandyhook massacre and the gun regulation issues before us again, we thought it might be a good time to come out of our shell.” According to Cherkis, “The photos, and the idea of making them public, stirred Heyman into advocacy. Mourning turned into a mission.” For Heyman, sharing the photos with the public would do some good: “People live not so much in a bubble, but if it’s not happening to them they don’t really see it or feel it,” he said. “People need to see this kind of stuff. They need to feel it.”
The Huffington Post’s decision to publish the photographs ran contrary to the policies of many newsrooms that prohibit publishing photographs of bodies. In this case, however, The Huffington Post seemed to justify it using Heyman’s belief that “people need to see this kind of stuff.” But the question remains: Was it warranted?