Shooting victim’s brother criticizes media for ‘horrific journalism’

Paul Ercolino, whose brother Steven was killed outside the Empire State Building Friday, called in to New York’s WFAN Monday to talk about his brother’s love of sports. He also criticized the media for using graphic images of his brother.

The horrific journalism that’s going on surrounding my brother — and the scalding headlines and the pictures that were in the New York Post and The New York Times that my family had to see and endure, to see those pictures that were the most horrific pictures. They gave Osama bin Laden more respect and dignity than my brother, sprawled out over the — with blood coming from him. So I would just make a plea to everyone who’s out there that are reading these stories. There’s a family behind, grieving and dying for one of their own right now and we need all your support.

The New York Times defended its use of the image. “It is an extremely graphic image and we understand why many people found it jarring. Our editorial judgment is that it is a newsworthy photograph that shows the result and impact of a public act of violence,” Eileen Murphy, Times spokesperson, said in an email to Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon.

Poynter’s Kenny Irby told me, “The New York Times photo, while it is incredibly compelling and disturbing, what makes it graphic is the blood, the color … but blood is an inextricable part of a mortal wound.”

Ercolino said his brother would be buried Wednesday.

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  • Christopher Yasiejko

    You’re right about one thing: The Times and other American papers should publish raw photographs of the effects of violence.

    You’re wrong about what you deem “the right thing.” You malign some of the most exceptional reporters in the business as “navel-gazing, out-of-touch college boys,” as though you watched seasoned editors sit at their desks, drooling over an opportunity to hurt by way of visual information. That is presumptuous and insulting.

    The Times hardly needs a “body on display to sell papers.” (Otherwise, those millions of dead you mentioned would have been on many front pages.) The dead man and his streaming blood were absolutely powerful images of the aftermath of a very public killing. The publication of violence does not dismiss the effects of such images and details.

    This is truth. It is raw. It is painful. And it is a newspaper’s job to make public the most elemental details and images of newsworthy events. This clearly qualifies.

  • Kevin Hall

    One of us has the story mixed up. I thought Ercolino was the victim of the crazy man, who police then shot on Fifth Ave, and I can’t fathom why anyone would think that’s random police abuse.
    Victim or not, the first shooting outside the Empire State Building is about as public a place can be. Lots of people saw it, and bystanders had cell phones to put the pictures and video viral. In today’s technology world, it would just be head-in-the-sand for a news organization to pretend they could shield the public by not publishing pics.

  • Kevin Johnson

    Tell that the Sadam’s two sons. Bush had them as trophy’s on gurneys right after they were killed.

  • Poynter

    Good point, Matthew. There’s no telling how journalists would have treated bin Laden photos had they been available. News orgs published the Gadhafi photos: and Saddam Hussein photos: –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    So what you are saying is, we can hide the photos of the more than 1 million people the United States military has killed over the past decade, and we can hide the photos of the thousands of US service members who were killed, and we can hide the photos of politicians and so on who get killed, and people who die in disasters, but this one random New York citizen, we throw him under the bus. We put his body on display to sell papers, because he doesn’t have enough political power to stop them. And when his family complains about that, you take to the Internet to say there is no merit in the complaint, you have already selected this shooting victim to be a kind of martyr to the education of the public about random gun violence. Well, the public needs more education about the people that the public itself is killing all around the world much more than it needs to see this man’s dead body.

    Here’s what makes it even worse: he was not killed by the gunman. He was killed by the police. He is not an example of someone who was shot by a crazy person. This photo belongs to an entirely different story about out of control law enforcement in the United States.

    So publishing this photo was 200% inappropriate. Inappropriate that they singled this single person out for show, and inappropriate that he was used as an illustration for the wrong news story.

  • Matthew Keys

    “They gave Osama bin Laden more respect and dignity than my brother.”

    It’s worth noting the media did not have access to photos of Osama bin Laden’s death.

  • Clayton Burns

    There is no merit to the complaint.
    In the aftermath, it is obvious that Ercolino affected many people in a positive way.
    That makes us especially sorry for his death.
    There is no way to consider the implications of this story without studying the evidence, including the most horrific video and photo.
    Older students need to learn how to think about these happenings.
    A minor point that struck me in the NYT coverage was that extensive surveillance capability had been set up in Empire State meant to cover surrounding streets as well, but there was no apparent reaction to the shooting from this system.
    The NYT proved that it has overpowering resources for a story of this kind. Its aftermath analysis, however, has been slight, even if the Aurora coverage today in the paper was excellent.
    We could take the dismissive attitude of some use of force experts with their canned answers, or we could study the event to ask how so many other injuries could have been avoided.
    To do so we need to examine the material, as I did with students with the Saturday print NYT.
    That coverage was certainly tasteful.