Causing Trauma on Live TV; NBC Makes a Child Cry

A New Low on Live TV

It’s not permissible for any adult to make a child cry — anywhere, and especially not by a professional team of journalists on live, network television and stay on the shot, continuing the interview even as the guest breaks down.

Shame on the TODAY show. Shame on the hosts, the field producers, and the control room because they should have known better.

NBC’s TODAY Show interviewed a survivor of yesterday’s shooting at a Florida high school beginning by asking the condition of her best friend who was shot next to her.
The young woman, just a junior of perhaps 15 or 16 years, softly answered, “she didn’t make it.”

As any one would, her lips quivered. Her eyes watered. She wiped her face with the sleeve of he sweatshirt.

Yet NBC chose to stay on a single picture of her for an interminable several seconds before going to double boxes showing the hosts in Korea along side the student as she broke down and tried to regain composure.

Rather than simply end the interview, NBC chose to continue. It felt more exploitative than journalistic inquiry.

Rather than say, “we’ll be back in a moment” with the decency to allow her to recover her composure, NBC stayed on their shot to continue the interview. Whether the young girl wanted to stay or go, as a child she was given no choice, the adults offered her no option.

Would it have been reasonable for her to know she had a choice?
Would it be defensible for the network to say, “well, she could have asked to end it?”

To her credit, the young woman did recover but had to do so before millions of the audience.
To her credit, the young woman was an eye witness who had valuable insight to share. And she did.

It’s just not to NBC’s credit that it risked causing her trauma and embarrassment in order to save their interview. They continued the interview while professing “their sorrow for her loss,” but the fact is, they continued.

An unanswered question? Why didn’t the producer in Florida tell the control room and anchors in New York NOT to ask about her friend, that “the friend had died.”

Or worse, did they know and chose to ask the question? Whenever I produced network live shots, and I was responsible for hundreds over 30+ years, I made it my responsibility to tell the program when/if there were ‘hot buttons’ to be aware of, mindful for, and how to handle lest we trespass over someone’s emotional line.

An unanswered question? Was there any consideration of changing the program as it played across other time zones? A thought that perhaps if this was a bit raw when aired live in the East, it ought to be edited or deleted or framed with a new introduction before it played in the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones?
And for any who might say this is fair game, that “we need to see the faces of victims” and “understand the horror of a school shooting, in order to appreciate the damage.” Phooey.

There is never an excuse for professional journalists to add to a victim’s pain.

There is never a sufficient apology for “not knowing” what someone is about to say, especially on live TV.
There is a higher duty for all professional journalists to make their coverage as immersive as possible, but always within the boundaries of human decency.

Sadly it seems that NBC’s TODAY show plumbed new depths of what appears to be exploitative television.

 

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Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

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