Fox News Channel is very good at giving its viewers precisely what they want, and Friday’s chase — which resulted in an Arizona carjacking suspect shooting himself in the head, committing suicide on live TV — was no different.
Fox issued the obligatory apology, but in this instance, the channel merely got burned in the silly game of tastelessness roulette that many broadcasters play — especially in local news — when it comes to following live events that are titillating, to be sure, but have virtually no news value.
As many might recall, KTLA and KNBC-TV in Los Angeles experienced almost the exact same scenario in 1998, and the former compounded the problem by cutting away from animated children’s shows to document the moment. Plenty of variations on that have happened in the intervening years. (Truth be told, I was actually surprised to see my byline on the Los Angeles Times story about it, having not remembered being the one tasked with reporting on it. How time flies when you’re chronicling the excesses of TV news.)
Let’s face it, nobody watches a high-speed chase eager to see a happy outcome. And it has been demonstrated in L.A. time and again stations that return to regular news or programming during such coverage almost invariably lose audience, as viewers go surfing to find whatever channel happens to be sticking with it.
The fact there are a lot of sick bastards out there in TV land shouldn’t really come as a newsflash to anybody, especially news outlets who spend half their time chasing stories on TMZ.
My only quibble with Fox News is the self-flagellation. Because the truth is once you commit to leaping to cover these sorts of shiny objects, it’s only a matter of time before your luck runs out. It’s the ultimate game of bad-taste chicken, dictated entirely by how fast your producers are on the delay button. Play it long enough, and sooner or later you’re going to go off a cliff.
Frankly, I’d be happier if Fox improved on its problem with statistics. That, at least, is an easily correctable error, if an equally unforced one.