The headline “Fox broadcasts suicide” has been pinging around the web all afternoon, prompting a question in the blogosphere and among journalists as to whether or not the decision by several other outlets to post the upsetting live feed of the man taking his life after a chase was a newsworthy event or just disaster rubbernecking.
While Fox did indeed broadcast a live suicide today, it was clearly an inadvertent event and one that anchor at-the-time Shepard Smith attempted to prevent. Given the nature of the live news format that allowed Fox to inadvertently broadcast a suicide as it happened, these sorts of events will occur from time to time — but in the YouTube era, what happens next is a matter of ethical dispute for many in the media.
BuzzFeed immediately uploaded the “Fox broadcasts suicide” footage to YouTube, where the clip racked up scores of hits and many viewed the man’s death. Other outlets uploaded the moving clip of Smith apologizing in a heartfelt manner for the oversight, saying that the airing of such material won’t happen again “on my watch” and telling viewers that delays normally prevent such footage from airing.
Slate obtained a statement from BuzzFeed on Fox’s broadcast of the suicide and their subsequent decision to disseminate the footage across the web, and the site defended their decision to upload the clip. And whether or not you agree on the outcome, BuzzFeed does have a point that sites that report news are charged with accurately reporting, despite the fact that content may be upsetting to some viewers or readers:
“Making an editorial decision on how to cover a sensitive, tragic news event like this is never an easy one. But it is, indeed, a news event and we are a news organization. We posted both an edited version and the full version and we respect our readers’ judgment.”
Were you exposed to the “Fox broadcasts suicide” clip today, either live or on the web?