News You Aren’t Supposed To See

Eric Nusbaum reflects on the car chase suicide that Fox News accidentally broadcast on Friday. He argues that "the promise of a grisly or dramatic ending is what gives the police pursuit its power":

What I learned working in TV news: nothing lasts. When 10:59 becomes 11 p.m., and the programming changes to sitcom reruns, the events of the previous hour stop mattering. The anchors go home. The reporters and photographers out in the field pack up their gear and call it a night. Follow-up is inherently challenging. TV news broadcasts are not poems written with the vague hope that they might just maybe possibly ring through the subconscious of all humankind for all eternity. They are constructed with the more attainable goal of preventing us from changing the channel. If afterward, all the information disappears from our heads, that’s OK. If the stories seep together in our memories, that’s OK too. Momentum is crucial. The next shot, the next sentence, the next segment is always more important than the last.

The things we do remember from television news are often the things that aren’t supposed to be on television at all.

Somebody slips up and curses on the air. Or the broadcast is able to shift into present tense: instead of telling you something compelling that happened, the news is able to show you something compelling that is happening—and happening means a better product. It nearly always means better ratings. If the happening is good enough, it breaks into the confines of regularly scheduled programming.

Police pursuits are everything regularly scheduled programming cannot be, and everything other media cannot capture. They are unpredictable and dynamic and, if you have a helicopter, relatively easy to cover. They are visual phenomena that require very little in the way of in-depth research and context —things that news broadcasts are often criticized for not having enough of. And when they end, they end. A police pursuit is a star that burns itself out.

If you care to see the scene that Shep refers to, go here.