The new general manager of KCBS-TV Channel 2 said Wednesday that his station erred during its 11 p.m. newscast Tuesday by broadcasting graphic footage of a San Bernardino doughnut shop owner being shot and killed.
"It was a mistake. It was a screw-up. And I'm not happy about it at all," said Bill Applegate, who took over the station late last month.
Applegate, a former Channel 2 reporter who most recently had been general manager of the CBS-owned station in Chicago, said a key item on his agenda is to clean up KCBS' "Action News" broadcasts, which were criticized for tabloid tactics under the guidance of former news director John Lippman, who was fired April 30.
Applegate said that when he was hired, he delivered a strong message to his news department: "I don't want the newscasts to dwell as heavily as they appear to have on crime and violence. There has to be balance in a newscast. I think, without being too critical of my employees, maybe the newscasts in the past have had an over-abundance of crime news."
Footage of Sunday's shooting, taken by a store surveillance camera, was made available through the police to news stations throughout the city on Tuesday. On KCBS' 5 p.m. newscast, the footage was shown until the killing.
"Appropriately, because we don't have a news director, the assistant news director brought (the footage) to me," Applegate said. "I said, 'No, you can't run that. I don't care what we ran in the past. We're not going to run video of someone who has been shot.'
"What you do, you freeze the picture at the point where the guy turns around, but you don't see him point the gun or shoot anyone. That's how it aired on the early newscast. Somehow, that instruction, which came directly from me, was not conveyed from the early producers to the late producers. So I was sitting there last night watching this thing, and I almost fell out of my chair."
Applegate planned to meet with his 11 p.m. news staff when they arrived Wednesday afternoon to discuss the matter. To show his regret over the error, Applegate phoned Michael Jackson's KABC-AM talk show Wednesday morning to apologize to angry viewers who were calling in.
Until a new news director can be named, Applegate will continue to oversee KCBS' newscasts.
"It was certainly not deliberate," Applegate reiterated. "I have no intention, as long as I'm GM of this station, to put video like that on the air. It was a big screw-up."
At KNBC, Vice President of News Mark Hoffman said his station showed the footage leading up to the shooting, but froze it just before the victim was shot. They then picked up the footage following the shooting when the victim unsuccessfully tried to get to the phone to call for help.
"We did not show it all. There was no reason to show it all. It makes a sensational story even more sensational, and it winds up being gratuitous," Hoffman said.
KCOP-TV Channel 13 showed the footage in its entirety on its 10 p.m. news, preceded by a warning to viewers about its graphic nature. News director Jeff Wald defended the decision, saying that while the footage "makes you sick," it wasn't as bloody as many other things he'd seen on television and served to give viewers a better sense of a crime that he said is happening all too often in Southern California.
Wald also said that because the footage clearly showed the gunman, it might send a deterrent message to other criminals, making clear the fact that their picture is being taken in such circumstances, lessening the chances of them getting away with their wrongdoing.