TV & Showbiz

Cowardly Coverage?

Last Updated on December 9, 2019

If you watched the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby on NBC this past Saturday, you likely did not see the shocking aftermath of the race, when three-year-old filly Eight Belles collapsed just past the finish line, the ankles of both front legs broken.

At one point, the network replayed footage from a blimp, but did not take close-up shots.

Sally Jenkins, sports columnist at the Washington Post, called NBC’s decision to cut away from the horse lying on the ground “cowardlike:”

“The camera cut away from her, but it should have stayed on her. Eight Belles had run herself half to death yesterday, and now the vets were finishing the job as she lay on her side, her beautiful figure a black hump on the track.”

She goes on to point out that twice since 2006, horses have gone down on live television with “catastrophic injuries.” “Horses are being over-bred and over raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them,” she said.

But it wasn’t that NBC wasn’t aware of the unfolding tragedy. As USA Today sports columnist Michael Hiestand pointed out, “NBC’s production truck had close-ups of the injured filly it could have chosen to show.” It didn’t, and that, Hiestand says, was the right call to have made.

NBC Sports producer Sam Flood described what he saw on the monitors inside the production truck:

“She was writhing. It was gruesome. I elected not to go to it for the simple reason it’s not something I’d like my wife or children at home to see.”

It is ironic that anyone is angry at NBC for making a judgment call that erred on the side of decency in not showing “gruesome” footage. How many times a day do people argue that the networks go entirely too far, showing footage that is anything but appropriate? And I’m not talking about prime time dramas like Desperate Housewives: producers of news get the same complaints routinely.

Not so ironically, the complaint about the lack of coverage appears part of a bigger agenda to skewer the horse racing industry, whether it deserves it or not, and there are serious reasons to ask why these animals are getting fatal injuries. But if you want the graphic images of a suffering animal shown because “we need a hard look at the real cost to the horses, no matter how upsetting and painful it is to see,” one has every right to question how completely unbiased you are.

As someone who works in the media, I find it sad that this producer, who seemingly took action for what seems to be the right reason, is coming under fire for not doing what gets complained about constantly.

Your turn: Should NBC have shown Eight Belles’ final agonizing moments have been broadcast? Or was cutting away the right thing to do for decency’s sake?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

5 Comments

  • I’m glad they chose to cut away from her. I didn’t need to see what was going on as we were told about it soon after. I certainly wouldn’t want any young children to have to watch that sort of thing.
    It is sad enough without the video footage.

  • Unfortunately, YouTube does have the aerial footage of the actual fall.

    But I see no need to link to it here; those gawkers who feel the need to watch it shall have to find it without my help.

  • I think they did the right thing in not showing it. I don’t have an elaborate theory of media coverage concerning these situations, and I don’t think there’s an absolute “right” or “wrong” here. In my opinion, however, there was no need to show it. We know what happened. The accounts of the accident tell the story sufficiently.

    Anyone who says (as in your example) “we need a hard look at the real cost to the horses, no matter how upsetting and painful it is to see,” is simply playing on people’s emotions in an effort to further their agenda. And I say that as someone who is conflicted over this event: I like watching the horses run, but I do question whether this is, when all is said and done, a humane “sport.”

    I’ll wrap up with this: The horse suffered and at the very least there’s a small amount of dignity in her death, since it wasn’t shown and there aren’t (to my knowledge) videos being spread all over the Internet showing her last agonizing moments, feeding the gawkers’ appetite for viewing the misery of another living being.

  • I’m glad they didn’t show it. I found a still photo on CNN soon after the race that was incredibly shocking–it must have been taken just as both ankles went and she was starting to tip forward. That was enough for me. What a horrifying way to end a race.

    On the other hand, I agree that these animals and other animals who ‘perform’ are being overbred. But then, I don’t have millions invested in them or their ‘futures.’

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