Wednesday afternoon in this Valley of ours, a snuff flick was broadcast live on TV and online.
What was the oddest thing about this lethal moment, when a 25-year-old murder and carjacking suspect was put down by police or committed suicide in real time, with tens of thousands of bloodthirsty voyeurs enjoying the moment on screens across the metro area?
That no one seemed to question whether a man’s death should be broadcast at all.
Maybe it’s a quaint thought nowadays – that perhaps viewers should be shielded from certain kinds of gore and death – but there was a time when such questions would have occasioned at least a remark or two in our homes and newsrooms.
Now? A “viewer discretion advised” graphic seems to suffice. Meanwhile, the anchorbots who recite teleprompters for a living toss around hyperbole like methheads looking for spare change.
From ABC 15: “A wild chase! With a deadly ending! But this also had a deadly start! A total of six different scenes all believed to be connected!”
Wednesday’s action began in Ahwatukee near 48th Street and Elliot Road, with a murder initially linked to drug activity. The ensuing police chase took Phoenix cops and the suspect all around the northwest Valley, first in a white pickup truck and later, in a moment that must have had TV news producers orgasmic with joy, in a gleaming yellow Corvette.
How exciting was this midafternoon interruption to regular programming?
A Fox 10 reporter tweeted: “I was so busy actually covering a police chase that I forgot to tweet about covering said police chase. :-/ #PhoenixChase #Pursuit.”
And so we were deprived of a moment worthy of Cronkite and Murrow.
One reason such chases draw so much coverage has to do with adrenalin, which drives virtually every decision about local TV news.
Most stories that matter – how government spends our tax dollars, how laws impact our lives, how institutions shape our culture and economy – pack all the excitement of a bank statement.
But high-stakes “cops and robbers”? Through Valley neighborhoods? With a yellow sports car and SWAT guys with rifles? Scramble the news choppers.
Which, by the way, marks another reason car chases attract such coverage. TV stations have tons of money invested in helicopters. Car chases, more interesting visually than hovering over rush hour traffic jams, function as a return on investment.
The coup de grace? Car chases give those who bring us so-called “breaking news” the opportunity to adopt one of their preferred guises – the protector, the concerned community sentinel delivering us from the dangers of the big, bad streets.
As in, “you’ll want to stay away from the intersection of North Valley and Dove Valley Parkways right now, where a high-speed chase is coming to a deadly conclusion.”
As if we might be both driving and watching TV simultaneously.
Which half the people in Arizona might actually be doing, judging by their driving.
The folks at Fox 10 reposted the two-and-a-half-hour deadly chase on their Facebook page, in case you missed the fun the first time. The livestream momentarily freezes at the moment of truth.
The reporter’s narration at the climax, with the helicopter cam zooming in: “I want to thank all the thousands of you watching on Facebook Live as well as YouTube. I want to give a shout out to one of our viewers … (who) tweeted me ‘Thank you for the incredible job to all those involved. This ended right before the suspect got to my neighborhood.’”
Then the only understatement all broadcast-long: “It doesn’t end well for the suspect.”
It didn’t end well for any of us. But snuff flicks never do.
– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Reach him at email@example.com.