In a scene eerily reminiscent of the 1976 movie, Network, Fox News today focused its fair-and-balanced cameras on a troubled man as he blew his brains out.
I was having lunch with a couple of friends in a pizza joint that had televisions blaring from both walls. Each of the televisions was tuned to the local Fox station, a standard indignity in the Scorpion State, especially in those areas that are in the vicinity of a military base. Suddenly one of my friends took her focus off of me and looked up at the television. "Oh, my God!" she said. "It's a car chase in Phoenix!" All eating and idle chit-chat ceased as everyone in the restaurant focused on the real life drama that was unfolding on the boob tube.
Fox had a helicopter in the air following a car that was racing along Interstate 10 west of Phoenix - heading toward California. The network reported that it had been car-jacked earlier in Phoenix. They didn't know whether there were any hijack victims in the vehicle or not. We watched the drama unfold for ten minutes or so until it was time to go back to work.
Later I learned that the car-jacker had pulled off of the Interstate, gotten out of the stolen car, and shot himself in the head - on live television.
It turns out that Fox News was carrying the feed out of Phoenix live, and Fox broadcaster, Shephard Smith was giving a play-by-play of the chase. When Smith realized that the guy was about to shoot himself, he tried to get the network to break away from its coverage - but was unable to make that happen. The broadcaster apologized profusely to his afternoon audience of 1.8 million people saying "We really messed up and we're all really sorry" - and promising that such an event would never occur again on his watch.
Reports that Wendi Murdoch threatened to cut the balls off of any man who reached for the dump switch in order to cut away from the suicide appear to just be rude speculation.
Reports that the 1.8 million people who were sitting at home on a weekday afternoon watching Fox News are actually part of the 47% who don't pay taxes and feel entitled to government handouts are also just rude speculation.
Shep Smith has the integrity to know that even news is subject to the bounds of human decency, but I suspect that some of his on-air colleagues from Fox probably regard today's tragedy as great journalism - a public view of the point where hard news and reality television intersect.
It was a story made to be shown on Fox!