On Friday, September 28, Fox News viewers got a lot more than they bargained for as they watched footage of carjacker Jordon Romero lead police on a wild chase near Phoenix, Arizona. At one point in the chase, Romero pulled over, exited his car, walked down a dirt path… and shot himself in the head. Fox News had the footage on a five-second delay so they could cut away in case anything bad happened, but in this case, producers didn’t cut away in time, and presumably, millions of people saw a man take his own life. More details here.
When Fox News returned after a break, anchor Shepard Smith issued an apology.
This isn’t the first time that gruesome, violent footage has made it into a primetime news broadcast. And given how TV news often focuses on airing action-packed footage — e.g., car chases, stand-offs — when it can, this likely won’t be the last time. As a culture, we love car chases, stand-offs, and other similar events. They keep us on the edge of our seats. They’re thrilling and exciting, almost like watching a movie. For TV stations, that attention means huge ratings, which turns into big bucks.
But what happens when the station’s producers don’t cut away in time, and we’re allowed to see something truly ugly, like a man committing suicide? Will such an event cause us to question our fascination with such action-packed footage? Will it cause TV news to second-guess their willingness to cut to something that may or may not be newsworthy, simply because it will garner more ratings? I admit, I’m skeptical of that happening any time soon, but one can hope.