Jeremy Truitt

An attempt to understand the world of current events, finance and the economy on a level that allows me to teach it. I'm a journalist. Oh and the occasional post about family, life and kids!

Ratings Porn: Fox News Accidentally Airs Live Suicide

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Photo courtesy of Fox News

During the September 28th edition of “Studio B With Shepard Smith,” Fox News decided to cover a live car chase in Arizona. Narrated by Shepard, the incident ended in about the worst way possible. The suspect put a gun to his head and killed himself on live TV. Ouch. BIG ouch.

I mean let’s keep it real. We love drama. We all foam at the mouth over action and explosions and scary movies that make our hair stand up. We’ve all seen high-speed pursuits through the streets of L.A. Hell I LOVE the show Cops. I love seeing cool shit get blown up in elaborate James Bond sort-of ways. I also love the news and the responsibility journalism in a society. Therein lies the problem.

I can’t be the only one who disagrees with airing this kind of useless content which is totally devoid of any newsworthy material. I don’t understand how a national news station airing to a national audience rationalizes a car chase in Arizona as having any newsworthy bearing. Oh wait…they DON’T think it has national bearing. It’s invigorating and stimulating and drives up ratings. Duh! Naturally being a profit-driven organization (as they all are, I’m not simply calling out Fox News) they saw fit to air a car chase. A car chase that they damn well knew had the potential to end violently or tragically.

In their defense, they did use a 5 second delay just in case something tragic happened. I can get on board with that. However according to their Executive Vice President of news “severe human error” occurred. He also added this: “We took every precaution to avoid any such live incident.”

I call bullshit. That’s a cute way to say “we totally screwed the pooch on this one but instead of just apologizing we have to follow the traditional American business model and highlight our success while not admitting a damn thing.”

Took every precaution? Hmm. CNN didn’t air it. MSNBC didn’t air it. Hell even HLN didn’t air it, and they’ll air about anything for ratings as long as ole’ Nancy Grace can get ahold of it. Could that have been the missing link in the “every precaution” statement? HOW ABOUT NOT SENSATIONALIZING NEWS? How about ignoring garbage that doesn’t have any place on national TV outside of the “wow” factor?

Again, I’m not calling out Fox News. They have built a massive organization, they have solid anchors and are a dominant force in the business. This type of “accident” however really pisses me off. What if my kids had been watching with me? Is an apology enough when I have to explain to my children what just happened?

I think Poynter’s analysis of the issue hits the proverbial nail on the head:

“This is the ethical problem: a car chase contains a high potential for mayhem, without any inherent news value otherwise. It is simply mayhem porn. And it will always be impossible to predict when something awful and wretched and bloody will happen in one of these situations. And therefore, by running these things on live TV, a news network is running the risk that something like this will happen. The only solution is not to run car chases on live TV, despite the public appetite for them.”

In the spirit of honesty, Shepard Smith offered what I believe was a sincere apology. You can view that here: Shepard Smith apologizes following on-air suicide. I happen to like Shep. I really do, and he really admitted the mistake and owned up to it immediately after the commercial break. Maybe his bosses can take the cue?

As the dust settles, I understand there may be a need to run this type of story live in specific circumstances. If it’s a local story and developments are transpiring all while it’s during rush hour? Okay maybe the local station should get the word out. Understandable.

The problem is Fox News aired this for the sake of ratings, for the sake of excitement and without any regard for human life. That’s where they screwed up.

Another great quote from the Poynter article to finalize:

“Finally, let’s remember these are humans involved, struggling with their lives as we transform them into “stories.” Think of a police officer’s family that might be watching. Think of the suspect’s family. They are humans, they are not ratings points.”

Of course I’m not posting the actual video of the suicide, but you can use YouTube to find it should you choose.

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11 comments on “Ratings Porn: Fox News Accidentally Airs Live Suicide

  1. bravesmartbold
    September 30, 2012

    I absolutely love your “Hmm. CNN didn’t air it” paragraph. Thank you for taking the time to write about this.

  2. Life With The Top Down
    September 30, 2012

    They are so desperate.

  3. williamw60640
    September 30, 2012

    I SO agree with your viewpoint, and I appreciate Poynter’s analysis. Thanks for standing up and shouting ‘foul’ when mass media failed to meet what should be an obligation to inform without sensationalizing the reality of human frailities.
    Congrats on being FP!

  4. TJ Johnston
    October 1, 2012

    Thank goodness we’re not living in the world of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. Oh, wait …

  5. Landry
    October 1, 2012

    yeah I never did like fox news. I feel they also “report” bs ‘news’.
    the rare times I stumble upon it, they’re always fooling around on air when they should be giving me news, weather and traffic reports!

    • Jeremy Truitt
      October 1, 2012

      Haha well I understand your frustration. It’s a fact that the mainstream media is a slave to advertisers so ratings rule the world oftentimes. I will say though that it’s important to watch all news outlets so you get a really well-rounded idea of the various ideological perspectives.

      • Landry
        October 1, 2012

        yess. definitely agree. but fox is definitely not a news source. haha

  6. realityTVfreak
    October 3, 2012

    I get my news from “E News” on entertainment network.

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2012 by in News and tagged , , , , , .
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