Fox News devoted a fair amount of time this afternoon to broadcasting live footage of a car chase in the Arizona desert. At one point, Fox anchor Shepard Smith expressed dismay with a director’s decision to cut away in mid-chase from the Dodge car speeding down a highway. “If it were up to me, we’d stay with this,” he told his viewers.
After some less-exciting news coverage and a commercial break, Fox returned to covering the car chase, as the vehicle turned onto a dirt road. It then stopped, and the motorist got out of the car. He began running and looked desperate and disoriented.
He stopped near some brush. There, he pulled to his head what appeared to be a gun. Smith began yelling to his director: “Get off it, get off it.”
I looked away, but Twitter described to me what had happened:
@ProducerMatthew: FOX News goes into commercial after car chase suspect shoots himself on television.
After that commercial break, Smith addressed the matter with grace and class, saying that the network had “some explaining to do” :
When the guy pulled over and got out of the vehicle, we were on delay . . . [so that] we would see in the studio what was happening and we’d be able to cut away from it without subjecting you to it. We took every precaution. . . . I personally apologize to you that that happened. It’s not time-appropriate, it’s insensitive, it was just wrong and that won’t happen again on my watch.
Presumably Smith will now temper his enthusiasm for covering car chases, as will the rest of the network and, for that matter, the rest of the country. That includes yours truly.
Fox now has the depressing task of scrutinizing what went wrong. The review will inevitably target a key moment in the network’s coverage: After the Dodge came to a stop along an unpaved path in the desert, the driver got out of the car, looking a bit distressed. He appeared to be gathering something in the car and seemed rushed. Smith showed an immediate grasp of the situation, saying something to the effect that he didn’t like what he was seeing, that he was nervous about this.
Whether conscious or not, Fox made a decision right there. To keep the camera on this clearly unstable motorist after he’d taken to running along an unpaved path with what appeared to be a gun in his hand was to invite exactly what Fox served to its viewers. Fox viewers have heard one good explanation and apology. More of that is needed.
UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): Representatives for CNN and MSNBC say their networks didn’t come near to airing this car chase.