Unaired Suicide is Painless

I’ve seen a lot of vehemently negative reaction to Fox News’ live airing of a suicide on Friday, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why.

What are people angry about here? Why should a news channel be required to cut away from a live event if it somehow becomes too newsworthy?

As far as I can tell, people don’t seem to be concerned about the privacy of the man who shot himself, nor should they be. There is no expectation of privacy when you lead the police on a chase and then shoot yourself in a public place.

People’s outrage seems to be focused on their own right not to have to see anything too disturbing. My understanding of the thinking here is that it’s perfectly OK for a station to show the police chasing a violent criminal as long as everyone walks away from that chase more or less unscathed, because the chase itself qualifies as news; but any negative aftermath might be too much for people too handle, and thus the station has a responsibility to cut away if the actual outcome doesn’t match the expected one.

What a chilling misdefinition of “news” that is. The whole idea behind news reporting is to keep people informed of the facts that affect their world, with as few filters as possible between the raw information and the public. In this case, though, Fox News is being vilified for not adding a layer of filter to its coverage. Nobody could reasonably argue that Fox should have kept the suicide a secret; rather, people apparently wanted Fox to tell them about the death rather than just showing the thing as it happened.

Is that really what we want? Are we really OK with sacrificing our ability to observe events first-hand in favor of never having to see anything too ugly? How can we be so willing – so eager – to abdicate our right to bear witness to the world around us?

This is the kind of willful ignorance that keeps us from understanding the true horrors of war, the kind of societal coddling that just begs powerful institutions to conduct their business in smoke-filled rooms. If we hadn’t seen the Rodney King video, what would have stopped the LA police from claiming they’d been framed? If we hadn’t seen photos of the horrors our bombs visited on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how would we understand just how loathe we should be to ever use those weapons again?

Obviously Friday’s incident doesn’t rise to that level of importance, but once we demand a 5-second delay on all broadcasts then we’re saying that we don’t want to have to see anything too unpleasant. Well, tough. The world is often unpleasant, and surely we are unfit to govern ourselves if we demand to be sheltered from that fact by a third party. For all the complaining we all hear about the biases in “the media,” in this case the gripe is that “the media” should have shielded us rather than informed us.

Fox News actually felt the need to apologize for not adequately keeping people in the dark on this one, and that is downright terrifying. We should demand more access, not less.

3 thoughts on “Unaired Suicide is Painless

  1. I think I understand what you are saying here, in that people shouldn’t be afforded the thrill of the chase without having to confront the tragedy of the suicide. But I, for one, prefer not to see it. ( I also prefer that my young children not see it.) Then again, I’m sensitive. Twenty years ago I saw video of Jewish people being assassinated and I have been haunted by these images ever since – as I should be. Seeing the coffins of soldiers or their war-mangled bodies may persuade the viewer away from war but I suspect the same doesn’t work for suicide. He may have no expectation of privacy but that doesn’t mean we can’t afford him it. People’s tragedy becoming borderline entertainment just doesn’t seem like a good thing.

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