The Fox News Channel was at the center of controversy Friday when the network accidentally broadcast live video of a man shooting himself in the head.
Fox News anchor Shepard Smith apologized to his audience when the program returned from a commercial break, but the old debate about whether networks should televise police chases live had already been stirred up again.
“We really messed up,” Smith told viewers during the apology, which you can watch below. “That won’t happen again on my watch, and I’m sorry.”
The police chase took place in Arizona. Multiple news outlets reported the hot pursuit began when police were contacted about a carjacking. The New York Times reported Fox had been following the chase on and off throughout the day, with the culminating event taking place in the afternoon.
“Looks like he’s a little disoriented or something,” Smith said after the man left his vehicle and ran down a path. “Get off, get off, get off, get off it,” he said to producers with increasing urgency as the man pulled a gun out of his pocket.
Smith has developed a reputation for covering car chases with a certain level of vigor, something that’s made him a target for critics in the past. Normally, news stations that cover live chases do so with a five- or 10-second delay to make sure nothing too disturbing is broadcast.
“Some explaining to do: while we were taking that car chase and showing it to you live, when the guy pulled over and got out of the video, we went on delay. So that’s why I didn't talk for about ten 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 if anything went horribly wrong, we’d be able to cut away from it without subjecting you to it,” Smith said.
“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 happened,” Smith said.
“Sometimes we see a lot of things we don't let get to you because it is not time-appropriate, it is insensitive, it is just wrong. And that was wrong. And that won't happen again on my watch. And I'm sorry. We will update you on what happened with that guy and how that went down tonight on the Fox Report. I’m sorry," he concluded before changing the subject.
Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly accepted Smith’s apology, but wondered about the purpose of the live airing of a car chase or hostage situation. “It was the correct way for the public face of a news broadcast to address his audience, with frankness and humility,” Tucker wrote. “But it also raises the question once again: Why should news outlets on any network air live car chases?”
Politico published a statement from Fox apologizing for the “human error.”