After Fox News airs video of man shooting himself, will TV finally stop covering live car chases?
This is why I've never been a fan about TV stations covering car chases live.
As anchor Shepard Smith just explained on air, Fox News Channel was following a car chase live earlier today when the driver stopped the car, ran out and shot himself in the head. (image at right is not of the car chase which happened today.)
Despite airing footage on the chase on a five-second delay, the newschannel didn't cut away from the visuals until the man put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
"We really messed up," Smith told viewers after returning from a hastily-called commercial break. "We're all very sorry. That didn't belong on TV, We took every precaution we knew how to take and I personally apologize to you that it happened...That was wrong and that won't happen again on my watch."
An Arizona TV station says the man, who allegedly carjacked the vehicle and shot at police during the chase, died as a result of his injuries.
It's easy to understand why news outlets air such chases. Most often, they are exciting, real-life events which look like scenes from an action movie. The driver speeds along until he or she tries to jump out, and the police usually swoop in.
But in an uncontrolled situation with an unpredictable criminal, anything can happen. A pedestrian can walk unexpectedly into the street, a horrific crash could occur with another vehicle or something even worse.
Gawker has called such coverage "mayhem porn," for the fact that the potential for mayhem is the only reason people watch the chases. In a weird way, I think people watch because mayhem is possible, but don't want to see it actually happen -- in the same way you watch a man walk a dangerous high wire but aren't really rooting for him to fall off.
Speaking of, Gawker and BuzzFeed have both been criticized for publishing stories on the mistake which includes clips of the shooting. I think that's a slightly different case; unless the clips start playing immediately, people have a choice about watching the video. And the only reason the video is on their site, is because Fox's action to air the footage made it newsworthy.
Still, I'm linking to a YouTube video of the clip, giving my readers access to clip if they like, but not actually featuring the footage myself. I think that's the best way to balance news access and purience.
I hope this inspires Fox to avoid providing such coverage in the future. Such chases have little impact for a national audience, beyond the thrill of seeing a chase on air.
And we just saw what can happened when the worst comes to pass.
Click here for a YouTube video of the chase if you feel compelled to watch it.