Boston Marathon Explosion Photo of Terrified Child Puts Time Magazine in Spotlight

Time magazine, no stranger to controversial cover photos, has just released a Boston Marathon explosion doozy: A close-up image of a terrorized, redheaded boy of about 3, blood smeared into his hair, being held by an police officer in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s attack, under the headline “Tragedy in Boston.” It’s the cover shot of a special tablet-only issue, to be published Thursday, which Time previewed online on Wednesday. (See photo, which may be disturbing to some viewers, at the bottom of this post.)

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Though the image manages to movingly convey the emotions of the moment without being as graphic as some other images we've seen, public reaction to it, perhaps because its subject is a child, has so far been mixed.

Many in the Twitterverse have reacted with comments like, “Heartbreaking,” or “unbelievable and moving,” but others were not impressed.

“Disgusting. Giving the bad guys what they want. Idiots,” tweeted one critic. “Media taking it too far,” wrote another.

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Reader comments on the Time preview mostly gave praise to the photograph, as well as the handful of others previewed in a slide show, though some voiced concern. "These images should not be published," wrote one. Another offered a more cynical view, "Let's all thank the media...whose ratings go sky high with they really care or is it just $$ to them."

The photos, by Boston-based freelancer Bill Hoenk, may be the only ones that record the scene following the second blast, Time notes in its preview. “I was horrified by what I was seeing, but there was some sort of instinct that said, don’t worry about that, just keep shooting, because you’re the only person with a camera around that I could see and it needs to be done,” he said. “So I kept shooting.”

Hoenk, Time reports, was using a telephoto lens at the time of the blast, so he had to “move back quite a ways” to capture the full scene of the policeman carrying the child away. “I saw the cop lift up the baby,” he said. “When I look at the photos, I cry. The baby was screaming.”

Just seconds after capturing the image, Hoenk said, the police started “frantically screaming for people to leave” the scene, worried about the chances of a third explosion. “That’s when I decided that I didn’t want to be there anymore.”

I, for one, am glad that he was there at all, and find any outrage about the image confusing. Was Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the naked 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running from the napalm attack on her village too over-the-top? What about the famous 1943 shot of the Warsaw ghetto, in which a boy of about 10 is shown, hands in the air, after being pulled out of dugouts by Nazis?

Tragedies and disasters and terrorist attacks, as we all know too well by this point, happen. And they often affect children. And telling honest, accurate stories through the use of candid photos is simply good, moving journalism.

At least in my humble opinion. What’s yours?

Here's the photo, from Time:

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