During "Studio B with Shepard Smith," Fox News was airing a car chase on a 5-second delay, but that was not enough to prevent the program from showing the suspect shoot himself during the broadcast.
Poynter faculty member Al Tompkins, who has covered suicides and car chases, says by email, "There is simply no excuse for this. It is sensationalism to carry it in the first place. Whatever local reasons there might be to carry it do not apply to a national audience. And yet this happens time and again and has for more than a decade and a half. Each time, TV stations apologize while enjoying a temporary ratings bump."
Smith apologized immediately on air Friday. Michael Clemente, Fox's executive vice president for news, issued a statement:
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.
While Fox aired the video unintentionally, BuzzFeed and Gawker both published the video online.
A word on our decision to run the Fox News clip: some Gawker staffers were against publishing the clip. My position was that it is clearly news, and that we should run it on that basis. When we heard that Fox News had aired a suicide, what was the first thing we all did? Search on the internet for the clip. The clip is news. It is unpleasant, but it is news. You may legitimately decide to watch it or not, but it is news.
Making an editorial decision on how to cover a sensitive, tragic news event like this is never an easy one. But it is, indeed, a news event, and we are a news organization. We posted both an edited version and the full version and we respect our readers' judgment.
Julie Moos (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications (2006-2009); Managing Editor of Poynter Online and Publications Manager (2004-2006); and News Editor of Poynter Online (2002-2004). Before joining Poynter in 2002, Julie worked for seven years at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., doing newscast graphics, producing, writing and finally as Managing Editor of WRAL.com. You can reach Julie by phone at 727-553-4336 or by email. You can also follow Julie on Twitter.