The Washington Post noticed recently that Fox News, alone among the cable news channels, seems to have a keen interest in covering live car chases. It’s something they might be reconsidering after what happened this afternoon. After an hour-long police chase in the Phoenix area, a carjacking suspect fled into a field, pulled out a gun, and shot himself in the head, live on-camera. Anchor Shep Smith urged his producers to “get off, get off, get off, get off,” and then they cut to commercial.
Smith profusely apologized shortly thereafter:
While we were taking that car chase and showing it to you live, uh, 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 that we would see in the studio 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 insensitve, 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 on what happened with that guy and how that went down tonight on “The Fox Report.” I’m sorry.
So, what went wrong? Should Fox have used a longer tape delay? Should they have been covering the chase at all? These are questions that we assume the network will grapple with. We’ve asked for comment but haven’t heard back at this time.
While we’re on the subject of media ethics, Buzzfeed and Mediaite invited a discussion of how the incident should be covered when they quickly posted the video to their respective websites. Opportunistic attempt to reap page views from a man’s gruesome death? Or a newsworthy event that deserves full, unvarnished coverage? A sampling of reactions from Twitter.