CNN coverage of man who set himself on fire shows challenges of live news

CNN coverage of man who set himself on fire shows challenges of live news

Until at least Friday, cable news coverage of a former president’s first criminal trial carried a hint of disappointment.

As the proceedings unfolded slowly and aridly in a Lower Manhattan courtroom, closed to their cameras, the networks were only able to offer their usual interviews with experts and analysts, punctuated by the images and sounds of their exterior cameras on site.

That all changed Friday when a Florida man, Max Azzarello, set himself on fire near the courthouse, immediately highlighting the promise and dangers of live cable news, especially for the channel who invented the genre, CNN.

Legal analyst and network anchor Laura Coates was in the middle of a live interview with a jury selection expert when Mr. Azzarello began tossing a batch of conspiracy pamphlets into the air and then storming off. sprayed with an accelerant and set himself on fire.

Ms. Coates broke off a conversation about sequestration rules to dramatically express what was happening nearby.

“An active shooter, an active shooter is in the park outside the field,” she shouted excitedly, and wrongly, before quickly realizing what she was witnessing: “We have a man, he set himself on fire, a man put up a coat of arms himself outside the courthouse right now.

With that, the CNN screen filled with the blazing image of Mr. Azzarello on a park bench, completely engulfed, and Ms. Coates continued with a rapid recitation of the action on the radio: “We’re watching several fires break out. around his body,” she said. “There is chaos occurring. People are wondering right now if people are in danger,” then he adds, “We can smell the air, I can feel the burning of some kind of flesh, I can feel the burning of some kind of agent used. »

While other networks at the scene covered the incident, CNN’s coverage was the most dramatic and graphic. (Fox News quickly cut to footage of the fire as it became clear what was happening, with lead correspondent Eric Shawn telling viewers, “We apologize for showing this.”)

There was no doubt that it was a great moment for Ms. Coatesformer voting rights lawyer at the Department of Justice, who is now CNN’s chief legal analyst and 11 p.m. show anchor.

“CNN’s Laura Coates is drawing praise for her ‘breathtaking’ coverage of the Trump trial,” the Daily Beast reported, as various journalists and influencers on the social media platforms X and Threads said Ms. Coates deserved praise. awards, a raise and an even higher profile on CNN.

But there was also criticism of Ms. Coates’ erroneous initial report of an “active shooter” and CNN’s split-second decision to show graphic footage of the self-immolation live.

“Mistakes are being made in chaotic and shocking circumstances,” podcaster, commentator and former cable news host Keith Olbermann wrote in a critical article about ‘a suicide attempt’.

The incident recalled other times when cable news channels had to make split-second decisions about what to show during news events featuring graphic and disturbing images – perhaps being specifically immediately after the September 11 attacks, which took place just a few blocks from where Ms. . Coates was standing.

Indeed, shortly after his report, CNN standards officials issued new guidelines warning producers against rebroadcasting live footage.

The network declined to comment. An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were concerns that rebroadcasting the video would encourage copycats, but stressed that the channel must make such decisions every day, including in its coverage of the war in Gaza.

In this case, however, the action was unexpected and unusually close — so close that a CNN satellite truck operator was among the first on the scene, along with police, to offer to use his fire extinguisher.

In his Friday evening show, Ms Coates said she initially thought Mr. Azzarello was an “active shooter” because of “the times we live in.” At the time, she was “shocked,” she said, noting that she came to CNN as a legal expert, not a typical journalist with on-the-ground experience. “My mouth has told about my eyes,” she said, “but my eyes… I wish I could not see them; my nose wants to smell it, my heart breaks for this man and his family.

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Mattie B. Jiménez

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