Earlier this week, Newsweek tweeted a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. in an open casket linked to a story about upcoming memorials, including his assassination. The civil-rights leader was murdered 50 years ago come April.
The image immediately sparked outrage. Many users puzzled over how the publication decided to use the photo in the first place. How could the publication believe that showing a fallen man -- rather than a photo of him at the height of his activism and power -- would commemorate the anniversary appropriately.
Newsweek quietly deleted the post, but not before King’s youngest daughter, Bernice, saw it and responded. She slammed Newsweek for its post. It later apologized, but has not publicly addressed how the image ended up on social media.
At the time of his death, King had already received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the civil rights movement. Posthumously, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Any of the moments that led to up to such honors would have been more relevant images to share.
When King was slain at the age of 39 in 1968, Newsweek ran an image of him in his casket on its cover. But there is a vast difference between mourning a death — 50 years ago — and celebrating King's enduring legacy 50 years later.
In the 1968 cover, the viewer is forced to take in the still, haunting image of a man taken at the height of his work. The promise of what could have been is palpable, as a woman weeps above him.
In 2018, the pain of that death hasn’t disappeared, but social media has made it easy for media outlets to sensationalize such content, revealing a callous, flippant nature behind each post.
The current story the image linked to was a compilation of anniversaries, featuring King’s assassination as one to remember. The image never appears in the actual posting, revealing its intended purpose as a means to sensationalize the story.
In the process, the publication essentially degraded the dead body of a powerful man, inflicting damage on his remaining family members and others in the process.
Showing a picture of King speaking or marching is a more effective and poignant reminder of what was lost when he was murdered, rather than focusing on the fallen man -- a mournful moment that still hurts five decades later.