Children See Father's Suicide on Fox News
PHOENIX (CN) - Fox News' broadcast of a man's suicide left his three young children with post-traumatic stress disorder, their mother claims in court.
Angela Rodriguez sued News Corp., Fox Entertainment Group and Fox News Network, in Maricopa County Court.
She claims that after Fox showed the suicide on "Studio B with Shepard Smith," her children found it on YouTube and now are so depressed they can't even go to school.
"Studio B" broadcast parts of an 80-mile car chase involving the children's father, JoDon Romero, in and around Phoenix on Sept. 28, 2012.
When Romero jumped out of the car and began running through the desert with a gun, "Studio B's host, Shepard Smith, began saying over and over to 'get off,' meaning to turn off the broadcast so as to not broadcast the events that were about to happen," the complaint states. Romero shot himself in the head.
"This suicide was broadcast live nationally," the complaint states. "Because Fox News did not delay the broadcast by even a few seconds - despite Shepard Smith's pleas to stop the broadcast - every person in the country watching the program saw the driver shoot himself in the head.
"Notably, the local Fox affiliate, from whom 'Studio B' was receiving its live feed, was utilizing a several-second delay, Thus, viewers in the Phoenix area who were watching the incident unfold on the local Fox station (rather than on the Fox News national network) did not see the suicide, as the several-second delay enabled the local technicians to prevent the broadcast of the suicide."
News of the suicide spread through the children's school, and "generated considerable buzz among the students at the school, particularly with respect to the two older boys," Rodriguez says.
When her two older children got home from school, they found a clip of the broadcast on YouTube, and "(a)s they watched, they realized in horror that they were watching their father."
Rodriguez says her two older children "have been, and continue to be, severely traumatized as a result of being exposed to the video of their own father killing himself on live television."
Neither child has returned to school since Romero's death, and a psychologist said the two "described approximately equivalent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that included flashbacks, repeated thoughts and feelings associated with viewing the video of their father shooting himself in the head, re-experiencing trauma, sleep disturbance, and intrusive thoughts.'"
Smith apologized on the air for showing the suicide, Rodriguez says in the complaint.
"Following the suicide, 'Studio B' went to an abrupt commercial break. Returning from the commercial break, Shepard Smith stated: 'Well, some 'splaining to do. While we were taping that car chase and showing it to you live, when the guy pulled over and got out of the vehicle, we went on delay. So that's why I didn't talk for about 10 seconds. We created a five-second delay, as if you were to bleep back your DVR five seconds; that's what we did with the picture we were showing you, so that we would see in the studio what was happening five seconds before you did so that if anything went horribly wrong, we'd be able to cut away from it without subjecting you to it. And we really messed up. And we're all very sorry. That didn't belong on TV. We took every precaution we knew how to take to keep from being on TV and I personally apologize to you that happened. 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. And that won't happen again on my watch and I'm sorry. We'll update you on what happened with that guy and how that went down tonight on The Fox Report. I'm sorry.'"
A Fox senior vice president for news, also apologized: "'We took every precaution to avoid any such live incident by putting the helicopter pictures on a five-second delay. Unfortunately, this mistake was the result of a severe human error and we apologize for what views ultimately saw on the screen,'" Senior VP Michael Clemente said, according to the complaint.
Rodriguez seeks compensatory and punitive damages for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Rodriguez and her children are represented by Joel Robbins with Robbins and Curtin.