Fox News aired the suicide of a man being chased by police in Arizona. Afterward, anchor Shepard Smith apologized to viewers for allowing that to be broadcast. “We really messed up,” said Smith.
Fox had spent a chunk of Friday afternoon showing live footage of a crime suspect fleeing in a car being followed by police. During the time Shepard’s show went on the air, the man got out of the car, began running in a haphazard manner, then pulled out a gun and seemed to shoot himself in the head. As this was broadcast, Smith could be heard shouting to the control room, “Get off it! Get off it!” That is, stop showing this.
Afterward, Smith issued a detailed explanation of how the network maintains a five-second delay during breaking-news events, and that this footage should not have been shown. His apology was heartfelt and sincere, tinged with understandable anger over the incident and taking full responsibility as anchor. It was the correct way for the public face of a news broadcast to address his audience, with frankness and humility:
But it also raises the question once again: Why should news outlets on any network air live car chases? Post-O.J. Simpson, they’ve become staples on both cable and, sometimes, network news. But what news value does it bring to anyone?
In a statement, Michael Clemente, Executive Vice President for Fox News, wrote: “We took every precaution to avoid any such live incident by putting the helicopter pictures on a five second delay. Unfortunately, this mistake was the result of a severe human error and we apologize for what viewers ultimately saw on the screen.”
I’m not going to post what Fox inadvertantly aired; this being the internet, you’ll find it if you want to. But Smith’s apology was significant, and, more broadly, if it makes news organizations question airing live car chases, this terrible situation will have served some small media purpose.