Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shooting the shooting

So yesterday, Fox News apparently broadcast a live suicide during the course of covering a car chase. It's sad that the man felt a need to kill himself. And I thought Shepard Smith handled it well in the immediate aftermath.

But I think if anything, Fox should apologize for covering the chase live. Things like that generally aren't the province of national cable news, where it smacks of sensationalism. At best, it should have been a story after the fact, when the details of the chase and its perpetrator, as well as its relevance, are known. This would also allow the network to alert sensitive viewers to the content of the story.

Which is another thing. Smith said the problem was that Fox didn't delay its live coverage properly. They should apologize for that too; in my opinion, there's no proper way to delay live coverage. Live events should bring with them the understanding that anything could happen. I'm hardly a crass sensationalist, but I object to the idea of censoring news as it happens. I understand sensitivity concerns, but that's no more reason for censorship than unpopular views.

The solution is simple enough: if networks focus less on cheap exploitation, the less likely they are to slam into outcomes such as this. R. Budd Dwyer moments are rare, but high-speed car chases tend to have bad endings. No one — journalist or viewer — should be surprised when an event ends as it might.

There's also the question of how graphic news coverage should be, with its balance between exploitation and keeping people in the dark. But that's another discussion entirely.

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