In my 23 years in journalism, I've never seen a self-proclaimed "news organization" do anything so obscene, despicable, and shameful. I'm not referring to Fox News. No, I'm talking about Buzzfeed.com.
On Friday, Buzzfeed editors intentionally showed a TV suicide, seizing on an inadvertent mistake made by Fox News. As most news consumers have heard by now, and as we discussed on my weekend radio show "Take Action News" (podcast here), Fox was covering a police chase in Arizona and continued showing the live aerial video feed as the driver left the vehicle, put a gun to his head, and pulled the trigger. Just before the suicide, anchor Sheperd Smith yelled at his producers to drop the video feed and "get off it, get off it." They didn't. Then, Fox News abruptly cut to a commercial.
When Fox News returned from the commercial, Smith apologized profusely. "We really messed up and we're all very sorry," he said. "Sometimes we see a lot of things that we don't let get to you, because it's not time appropriate, it's insensitive, it's just wrong. And that was wrong."
I've anchored my share of live coverage over the years, including car chases. At MSNBC, I often prayed the "delay switch" would actually work as promised. And, I frequently wondered what I would do or say if a violent and graphic incident accidentally aired on my broadcast.
Sheperd Smith handled his show's mistake as well as any broadcaster could. He underscored, dramatically, that airing the suicide was inadvertent and unintentional. Furthermore, colleagues at Fox News tell me a producer at the channel is out of a job for failing to prevent the indecent video from leaving the control room.
The remorse and shame at Fox News, an organization not exactly known for apologies, stands in sharp contrast with the self-proclaimed "mainstream news organization" known as Buzzfeed.com. Just minutes after the Fox News mistake, Buzzfeed took the suicide video and posted it unedited on its website. That's right -- whereas Fox inadvertently allowed the video on TV, Buzzfeed, deliberately and intentionally featured the suicide.
I reached out to Buzzfeed executives for an explanation. A spokesperson responded with a written statement that said, "Making an editorial decision on how to cover a sensitive, tragic news event like this is never an easy one. But it is, indeed, a news event and we are a news organization."
Buzzfeed is a "news organization?" Huh?
Seriously, is this what our American society has become -- a place where you can be a "news organization" even if you have no standards, no sense of basic decency, and no mission other than to maximize your web site traffic?
Most of us entered journalism and joined "news organizations" because we care about the greater good. We strive to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Exploiting the most troubled in our midst and serving them up as a type of pornography for the masses -- all to make a buck -- is not what we stand for.
Buzzfeed's abhorrent actions, however, underscore that all of us who care about basic media decency can no longer stay silent. Doing nothing is now unacceptable. Because if just one self-proclaimed "news organization" is allowed to profit by taking take our society to a new low, others will surely follow suit.
So, I urge all media consumers to take action and boycott Buzzfeed.com. In the name of basic human dignity, never visit that website again. Furthermore, join me in asking Buzzfeed advertisers, including General Electric, to pull their banner ads and disassociate their products from the Buzzfeed brand. I'll do my part by leveraging a connection I made years ago at NBC News with GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt. In the days ahead, I'll remind him why his company shouldn't go near the trash that is Buzzfeed.
Finally, I ask all Americans who object to the increasing coarseness of our society to stay vigilant. Showing a suicide video, on any media platform, is despicable and wrong. It's time for all of us to take a stand.
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