Fox News on Friday aired an Arizona car chase suspect shooting himself in the head on live television.
The suspect had emerged from his car, ran down a dirt road and then put a gun to his head and fired. The network quickly cut away once the man crumpled to the ground, with anchor Shepard Smith shouting, “Get off it! Get off it!”
After returning from a commercial break, Smith apologized to the viewers, saying the network had gone into a five-second delay but failed to cut away in time.
“We really messed up and we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV, we took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV, and I personally apologize to you that that happened ,” he said. “That was wrong and that won’t happen again on my watch and I’m sorry.”
Prior to the shooting, Smith had been expressing his unease over how the situation might end.
“Well you know you wait for the end of these things and then you worry about how they may end. There’s no one else around him,” he said. “This makes me a little nervous, I gotta tell you.”
According to KSAZ-TV, the man was wanted for a suspected carjacking and had earlier fired shots at officers as they pursued him. His name and condition were not immediately released.
Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcasting and online at the Poynter Institute for journalism, told TheBlaze in an email there was “no excuse” for Fox to air what it did.
“These delay systems ultimately depend on humans to make them work,” Tompkins wrote. “There simply is no excuse for this kind of thing to happen over and over and over as it has for a decade and a half on TV stations across the country.”
He noted that California news stations, particularly in Los Angeles, “have the worst record but they are not alone.”
Smith’s full apology:
“Well, some explaining to do. While we were taking that car chase and showing it you to live, when the guy pulled over and got out of the vehicle we went on delay so that’s why I didn’t talk for about 10 seconds. We created a five-second delay as if you were to bleep back your DVR five seconds, that’s what we did with the picture we were showing you. So that we would see in the studio what was happening five seconds before you did so that if anything went horribly wrong we’d be able to cut away from it without subjecting you to it. And we really messed up and we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV, we took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV, and I personally apologize to you that that happened . Sometimes we see a lot of things that we don’t let get to you because it’s not time-appropriate, it’s insensitive, it’s just wrong. And that was wrong and that won’t happen again on my watch and I’m sorry.”
UPDATE: Fox News Executive Vice President for News Michael Clemente called it a “severe human error” in a statement released Friday night:
“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.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.