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National Enquirer ignites furor with Whitney Houston casket photo

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"Turning dead bodies into cultural commodities violates the basic norm that death is private," says Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas (Arlington) Sociology Department, in an e-mail. “But, since the Kennedy assassination in 1963, much death has been public. His brother Bobby died on television, as did many in Vietnam and everywhere one finds inhumanity and war.”

Others see no excuse for publishing photos like the ones on National Enquirer's cover. Fordham University Communication Professor Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media,” sees the issue much more cut and dried.

"Although some people find photos of the dead of interest, the media serve no worthwhile purpose in satisfying that interest," says Paul Levinson, a communication professor at Fordham University," in an e-mail. "The dead deserve respect, and their families are entitled to privacy. The only photos of the dead that should ever be made public are those that may be released by family."

Who snapped the controversial Whitney Houston photos remains a mystery to the public. The National Enquirer did not include a photographer's credit. Two photos are on the cover: one a close-up of Houston's head and torso, and the other from a distance with the casket flanked by two lamps and flowers. The headline reads “Whitney: The Last Photo," and it carries the subdeck “Inside Her Private Viewing." Three bullet points offer the details that the famous singer, who died suddenly on Feb. 11, was “buried in jewelry worth $500,000,” “wore her favorite purple dress,” and “had gold slippers on her feet.” Her funeral, which was private, was held Feb. 18.

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