I was stunned to witness an apparent suicide on the Fox News Channel Friday. The cable news network followed a carjacking via helicopter, broadcasting a live video feed of a Dodge Caliber approaching speeds of 100 mph in the Phoenix area.
Nothing unusual about a car chase – the cable networks broadcast them frequently. But this one was different.
“Studio B with Shepard Smith” joined the live feed about an hour into the chase. Shep is known for his lively play-by-play car chase narration, this one not withstanding.
This chase got dicing as the driver pulled off the highway traveling south on a dirt road. I could hear the angst in Shepard’s voice as the driver exited the car wondering around in the thicket of desert brush with a gun in his hand.
Shepard and Studio B staff collectively said “Get off, get off, get off,” asking the control room to cut away. But that request wasn’t headed.
And there it was.
Putting the gun to his head, the man fatally shot himself. All on live television.
Going to an unscheduled commercial break, Shepard come back on the air with a heartfelt apology.
Here is his statement:
“Well, I’ve got some explaining to do. While we were taking that car chase and showing it to you live, when the guy pulled over and got out of the vehicle, we went on delay. So that’s why I didn’t talk for about 10 seconds. We created a five-second delay, as if you were to bleep back your DVR five seconds, that’s what we did with the picture we were showing you, so we would see in the studio what was happening five seconds before you did, so that if anything went horribly wrong, we’d be able to cut away from it without subjecting you to it. And we really messed up. And we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV. We took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV. And I personally apologize to you that that happened.
"Sometimes we see a lot of things that we don’t let get to you – because it’s not time appropriate, it’s insensitive, and it’s just wrong. And that was wrong. And that won’t happen again on my watch and I’m sorry. We’ll update you with what happened with that guy and how that went down tonight on the Fox Report. I’m sorry.”
I applaud Shepard for his apology.
But honestly, I’m guilty of getting sucked into watching car chases on live TV. I’m not sure why.
They typically end the same way. Either the driver pulls over and gives up or police lay spike strips in the road causing a tire to blow which forces the driver into submission.
However what happened Friday afternoon was unlike any live car chase broadcast on national television. I suspect newsrooms across the nation will reevaluate how it covers such happenings.
Have local and cable news outlets turned broadcasting car chases into sporting events?
Let’s take a closer look.
Can’t we liken car-chase-watching similar to hockey fans hungry to see a fight break out on the ice or NASCAR fans excited by a car wreck on the oval track?
I can only imagine the pain family members of the driver must feel. His darkest hour broadcast for all to see. It’s now gone viral on YouTube.
Witnessing this scene had a significant impact on at least this news consumer, yet hearing Shepard’s apology was even more profound.
“It’s insensitive, and it’s just wrong. And that was wrong. And that won’t happen again on my watch and I’m sorry.”
May those words haunt every news director seeking to increase ratings by making news into sport.
Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com, OxfordFamily.com and a media consultant to a number of political and cause oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, a regular contributor for ReligionToday.com, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected] or Facebook.com/russjones.
Publication date: October 3, 2012