September 28, 2012

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.”

In a related follow-up, Tompkins reviews Smith’s love of car chases, the risks of police pursuit and questions to consider before going live.

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.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan explains:

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.

BuzzFeed also explained:

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.

Car chase ends when suspect kills himself on live TV

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. The program cut to commercial immediately after.

Storified by Julie Moos · Fri, Sep 28 2012 12:51:03

NOW LIVE: High speed pursuit suspect has exited the freeway, now on surface streets. [KSAZ] – Keys
NOW LIVE: Carjacking suspect has exited the road, now in a grassy area [KSAZ] – Keys
Woah.Matthew Keys
Holy crap. The suspect just killed himself on live TV.Michael van Poppel
Holy.Matthew Keys
Suspect who was being chased near Phoenix has shot himself in the head, live on TV.Michael van Poppel
WOW. Shep Smith just narrated the car chase suspect shooting himself in the head. ‘Get off it!’ he screamed, and cut to a commercial.HuffPost Media
We just watched a video feed of a live car chase. The suspect bailed and shot himself in the head. Fox carried it. Ouch.Angela Hursh
Cannot believe i just watched a live car chase for an hour and then all the sudden watched him shoot himself in the head.. CrazyTom Vear
@ChrisHansenNFL this guy jacked a car in Arizona. they were showing the chase then he pulled off the road and shot himself in the headTaylor Armosino
Epic. Car chase on #foxnews man kills himself liveMarvs96
Omg! Some guy just killed himself after running from car chase, FOX was rolling.Gina Hartsell
RT @KateNocera: RT @KateNocera: RT @mkady: And that’s why you shouldn’t show live police chase scenes.Tony Romm
Amen. RT @iamsakuma I’M NEVER WATCHING A CAR CHASE AGAINJana Kasperkevic
Thank you #FoxNews for showing a LIVE car chase where obviously a mentally unstable man gets out of the car and shoots himself in the head.Sabrina Guma
Wouldn’t it be the ultimate in ratings draw – a suicide after a car chase? @DavidBegnaud @ProducerMatthewJudith
I can’t believe Fox News just showed this guy from a police chase committing suicide!!!Donna Delise
Just saw a guy shoot himself after a chase on a live feed. Shows how careful you have to be with live television. Wow.Amanda Palumbo
Shepard Smith apologized to viewers as soon as the commercial ended. “We really messed up and we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV,” he said. “I personally apologize to you that that happened. … That was wrong, and that won’t happen again on my watch, and I’m sorry.”
Smith explained that video was tape delayed to give producers chance to stop airing before anything went wrong – but aired anyway.David Folkenflik
Fox News just showed the AZ car chase guy kill himself live and in living color. : WTFreddit: the front page of the internet
MasterDave comments on Well Reddit, I just saw someone commit suicide on live tv (fox news car chase near phoenix). What are your opinions on this? and Fox News was covering it live. Dude went off-r…
On days like this I wish NPR ran car chases. RT @davidfolkenflik: @jackshafer I’ll soldier on, thanks.Jack Shafer

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Julie Moos ( has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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