Battered Rihanna Picture A Media Ethics Lightning RodS

The pictures of Rihanna's injured face are disturbing. It's not just our commenters debating whether they should have been published Thursday, or readers broadly; editors throughout the celebrity-industrial complex disagreed, too.

First, a quick rundown of who did and did not publish pictures of the R&B singer after she was reportedly struck by boyfriend Chris Brown during a side-of-the-road fight before the Grammys. (TMZ first ran the pictures Thursday night. They quickly spread.)

Ran the picture:

  • New York Daily News (with picture on homepage
  • New York Post (with picture on homepage)
  • Newsday (with picture on homepage)
  • Us Weekly (with picture on homepage)
  • Huffington Post (ran picture on homepage with link to TMZ)
  • Gawker (with picture on homepage)
  • Star (alternate picture on homepage)
  • TMZ (obviously, since they were the ones who obtained and first published it)
  • Perez Hilton (with picture on homepage)

Did not run the picture, but reported it:

  • People , which did a full story about the picture but did not even link it.
  • E! also did not link the picture when it ran a story about the photo and how Los Angeles police are investigating how it was leaked.
  • The LA Times wrote about the same investigation, with a link to the photo on TMZ.
  • Drudge Report linked the TMZ photo prominently.

(Larger news sites like CNN, MSNBC and New York Times did not cover the picture by end of day Thursday.)

Critics say running the picture humiliates Rihanna at a time when she's already in emotional agony, that it pierces a zone of emotional and physical privacy already grossly violated in the apparent attack on her. Victims of domestic abuse and rape have long been accorded special rights in the criminal justice system; it is argued they should retain a similar degree of control if and when information escapes that system. Finally, it is lost on no one that sensational pictures like the Rihanna shot can bring profit-making publishers large amounts of traffic, opening publishers to charges of exploitation.

So why would anyone run the picture, as we and others did? The Rihanna story has always been about an unfortunately common crime involving two famous people and a high-profile event. This has given rise to a full spectrum of speculation about the case. Though unsettling, the evidence of Rihanna's injuries settles at least some of that guessing game.

One result of this: underlining the seriousness of an attack that many people have sought to minimize.