Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Local News Stations

I thought I saw someone get killed last night on TV.  Not fake, CSI: Miami killed.  I'm talking real, end of life killed.  And it all happened live on KCAL 9 News. 

If you've lived in Los Angeles for any period of time, you've probably seen a local news channel interrupt programming to broadcast a car chase.  Some drunken idiot or car thief hops in a late model Toyota Camry and thinks he/she can outrun a police helicopter and 10 CHP officers.  Flying shotgun are the news copters to follow every mile and every minute of the pursuit.  The broadcasts of these chases offer sensational action, real-life drama and should cease immediately.

Last night a DUI suspect sped out through Pasadena, Duarte and beyond for 45 minutes.  At one point, the driver even stopped to argue with the cops before taking off again.  About 10 minutes later, the driver shot past a stoplight and T-boned a car sending both of them 30 feet or so past the intersection.  The impact crushed the driver's side of innocent person's car creating something that looked like a croissant with wheels.  It was horrific.

I'm relieved to say the AP reported the innocent woman is hospitalized with moderate injuries. I only say relieved because I was certain she was killed.  The news anchors did nothing to quell these fears as they reported the driver was non-responsive.  The network simply replayed the chase again and again (save the exact moment of impact) until they left for reruns of Entourage.

But the question I have is, "Are these broadcasts necessary?"  Is there news value here?  I'm certain the answer is "No."  It's a ratings grab disguised as a public service.  The perpetrator, had he not hit another car, would likely be considered a low-level criminal.  He'd get charged for a series of traffic violations, DUI, resisting or other things.  So in the scope of newsworthy criminality, he's about as interesting as a shoplifter with a faster getaway device.  The only news and likely significant legal breach happens at the moment of impact.  And if a horrific outcome is the only thing that justifies the broadcast, well, isn't that the dumbest thing you've ever heard?

I'll admit I've watched my fair share of chases.  To me it always felt like a video game but with better graphics.  But after what transpired last evening, I'll never watch another.  Honestly I'm ashamed that I ever watched them before.  I also hope the networks reconsider their editorial position because these chases are not news, it's infotainment with real consequences.  They have no place on TV.

Here's an editorial idea these networks should consider with events like this - it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.


Anonymous said...

I agree. I saw the same coverage and thought KCBS's was a little more thoughtful, especially when the driver initially stopped and the cameraman pulled back as if they knew something bad was going to happen when the police approached the car. However when the coverage switched over to KCAL if was if the anchors were routing for something exciting to talk about.

Anonymous said...

The Eagles' song from the the 1970's, "Dirty Laundry," says it all.

Anonymous said...

So true. I'm from San Diego and sometime around 10 years ago, my sister was watching one of these chases on live television. My bedroom was adjacent to the living room, so even though I wasn't watching the chase, I clearly heard her reaction to it.

The guy who was being chased by police stopped on the Coronado bridge and blew his brains out with a shotgun, which needless to say, shocked her pretty badly. I haven't really been a fan of watching live chases since.

Anonymous said...

I remember that too! I grew up in Orange County and witnessed that when I was in elementary school. Everyone freaked out, they even sent crisis counselors to my school incase kids needed to talk to someone.

Anonymous said...

Just this morning there was a televised police chase. I had never seen one before (except for OJ) Chicago does not air them ever. The stolen cab nicked a school bus and smashed into a light pole. All of this before 7:00 am. Must be a slow news day.

Anonymous said...

I'm horrified that the police followed the driver for miles without attempting to stop him. He ran through about 10 red lights before he finally hit an innocent person. It's the police's responsibility to stop chases BEFORE that happens.

Anonymous said...

Local L.A. news stations are pathetic, broadcasting chases for no true news purpose and constantly leading off their nightly reports with one death or tragedy after another. I counted seven straight death stories on one of them once and I now don't turn on the news until at least 20 after the hour in order to miss this mindless nonsense. And don't get me started on their sensationalistic sweeps stunts. The quote about TV being a sword rusting it is scabbard during a battle for life has never been more true.

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