PBS used stock fireworks footage for Monday night’s Fourth of July “live” broadcast. The weather in Washington, D.C., was “cloudy and misty,” according to The Washington Post, so PBS took it upon themselves to show old fireworks footage from previous years during their broadcast of A Capitol Fourth. Unfortunately, viewers took notice and were not happy about PBS’ decision to splice stock video into this year’s free annual fireworks display. The fireworks spectacular was to be held between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial near the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C.
A Capitol Fourth celebrates Independence Day every July 4 and is broadcast live on PBS, NPR, and the American Forces Network for people who can’t watch the fireworks display in person. This year, weather in Washington, D.C., was foggy, misty, and cloudy, so more local residents decided to catch the show live on PBS. However, many viewers in the Washington, D.C., area quickly noticed the footage on PBS showed fireworks bursting in a clear sky and immediately wondered what was up.
Feeling a bit duped, hundreds of viewers called out PBS for “faking” the “live” Fourth of July broadcast. Twitter and Facebook lit up with complaints from unhappy viewers, saying there’s no way the PBS fireworks display could be live because a lot of the footage was in clear weather. Anyone watching A Capitol Fourth live would have seen the fireworks fade into dense clouds, rather than clear air. Social media pages for the annual Washington, D.C., fireworks show was immediately pummeled as PBS viewers vented about being sheltered from the disappointment of a rainy Fourth of July, as noted by ABC News on Tuesday.
PBS proudly advertised for days that TV viewers could watch A Capitol Fourth live on Monday, July 4, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET. Following this year’s concert performances on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, the fireworks display lit up the skies over Washington, D.C., behind a cloudy backdrop, and PBS promised that viewers would be “front and center” for the greatest display of fireworks anywhere in the nation. NPR reports that PBS did actually show live footage of the performers, as well as the audience, but most of the fireworks display shown by PBS was actually pulled from the archives.
Most of the second half of PBS’ live fireworks broadcast was of A Capitol Fourth displays from previous years. PBS only admitted to this after people started commenting heavily on social media, saying there’s glorious, clear sky, and the construction scaffolding on the Capitol Building is missing in some of the footage. Around 10 p.m. ET, PBS finally took to Twitter and admitted that their “live” show was actually a mix of the “best fireworks” from this year and years past. According to PBS, it was the “patriotic thing to do,” considering the weather conditions in Washington on Monday night.
Some viewers watching both the fireworks in person and on PBS immediately noticed the discrepancy and said that PBS should have at least let viewers know that some of the footage was pre-recorded. Twitter users started using the hashtag #Fake4th to point out that something was “off” with the footage that PBS aired, while other viewers actually defended PBS for using fake footage, saying they enjoyed the show, and there would have also been complaints if PBS would have aired nothing but clouds.
PBS did publish a public apology on Twitter in response to the backlash from viewers.
A spokeswoman for A Capitol Fourth confirmed that producers did decide to pull together a mix of clips to make the best television show for viewers because the weather was so overcast. The spokeswoman went on to say that this is the first time producers have had to take such measures in the 30 years PBS has been airing the fireworks display live.
[Photo by U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons]