Two of JoDon Romero’s children have been unable to attend school, and another “experiences considerable emotional distress and trauma” since Fox News broadcast footage of their father committing suicide after a car chase last September. Their mother, Angela Rodriguez, filed a lawsuit against Fox seeking “compensatory and punitive damages for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress,” Jamie Ross reports.
According to Rodriguez’s complaint, the children watched the footage on YouTube.
Fox “aired something horrible,” Erik Wemple argues in The Washington Post, but that “doesn’t mean it should be liable for the emotional damage that it may have caused viewers.”
And this is where the doctrine of personal viewing responsibility enters the picture. Roger Ailes didn’t fly out to Arizona and force those children to pull up the Fox News video on YouTube. They did it for themselves. That’s not to minimize the trauma that they have undoubtedly suffer or to judge their actions; our sympathies go out to them. The complaint, however, makes perfectly clear that the boys searched the web with the intent of watching a suicide: “After school, the older boys went home and began looking for the suicide on the internet.”
A tricky question uncorked by the complaint relates to the roots of the children’s trauma. How much of it stemmed from the footage itself and how much stemmed from the mere fact that their father killed himself with a gun in the middle of the desert? Is that something that a civil proceeding could ever sort out?
Wemple notes that he personally hasn’t seen a car chase broadcast on Fox since the incident, and the network didn’t reply to his query on that point. After the incident, Poynter’s Al Tompkins wondered whether Fox anchor Shepherd Smith’s “long love affair with car chases” would end. He offered some advice to journalists considering whether to broadcast such events: “Let’s remember these are humans involved, struggling with their lives as we transform them into ‘stories.’”
Here’s Tompkins speaking about covering suicide:
Related: Why Did Jodon Romero Kill Himself On Live Television? (BuzzFeed)