Are the terrible things we say online only terrible in repetition?

October 18, 2012

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“You know, you wait for the end of these things, and then you worry about how they may end,” said FOX News' Shepard Smith as the network chose to air a clip of a carjacker committing suicide by shooting himself in the head. Smith quickly apologized for the choice, saying, "And we really messed up. And we're all very sorry. That didn't belong on TV."

The incident inspired writer Scott Smith. At a special Paper Machete at the Green Mill, he mused: "Maybe, in an unexpected way, there isn’t any harm in Gawker or Buzzfeed airing a clip of a guy killing himself when in our current media landscape these incidents aren't really worth the import they’re given. They only seem that way because they're everywhere now. Something isn’t just said, it’s retweeted, maybe hundreds of times, and that amplification gives it an undeserved status as a topic worth discussing. And then a week later we wonder why we were so mad."

Read an excerpt or listen below:

Does it seem weird to anyone else that we’re no longer talking about how the highest-rated cable news channel in America broadcast a live suicide?

(It gets funnier, don't worry.)

I know, it happened over two weeks ago and with the speed at which news operates it’s like I’m pestering you about something that happened during the Taft administration. And sure, it seems like it was an honest mistake but where was . . . the processing? The part where we as a society collectively feel remorse for something like this that happens and examine How We Got Here, that part was just . . . missing. It was as if we got really sh**canned the night before but we’re somehow able to get up the next morning and run a triathalon. All of the whippets but none of the headache. Whatever concerns we might have had about how our insatiable thirst for destructive acts led us  even inadvertently — to witness a live suicide were gone once the next episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo aired. (Because if that’s not a show about people killing themselves  albeit very, very slowly — I don’t know what is.)

I had my thinking on this retroactively confirmed when I went back and read a post Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote about how terrible it was that Fox News was running live car chases in the first place, and how they were “mayhem porn” and what did they expect would happen? Of course, all of this would have had more impact if Gawker hadn’t posted the unedited suicide clip itself some 45 minutes before. As the Big Dog says, it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did. Nolan’s justification for airing the clip was as follows “When we heard that Fox News had aired a suicide, what was the first thing we all did? Search on the internet for the clip. The clip is news.”

I invite all of you to review your own Internet search history to determine what you think of as news.

(You thought about it, didn't you?)

Gawker’s misunderstanding is really very simple: The news is not that this suicide happened — as Gawker pointed out, an unhappy ending to a car chase is almost the point of airing it in the first place. No, the news is the context in which it occurred. But that’s the part of this story that’s missing on Gawker, Buzzfeed and almost everywhere else that posted just the clip under the guise of news. What made the clip newsworthy wasn’t the event itself but that it violated a standard Fox News had set (which, I know,"Fox has standards,” LOL!).

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