Christine Chubbuck (August 24, 1944 – July 15, 1974) was an American television news reporter who committed suicide during a live television broadcast.
Three weeks before her death, she had asked the station’s news director if she could do a news piece on suicide. After her suggestion was approved, she visited the local sheriff’s department to discuss with an officer methods of suicide. In the interview, an officer told her one of the most efficient ways was to use a .38 caliber revolver with wadcutter target bullets, and to shoot oneself in the back of the head rather than in the temple.
A week before her suicide she told Rob Smith, the night news editor, that she had bought a gun and joked about killing herself on air. Smith later told the Washington Post he had chided her for the comment.
On July 12, 1974, she had an argument with news director Mike Simmons after he cut one of her stories to cover a shoot-out instead. Robert Nelson, the station owner, had tried to convince staff to concentrate on “blood and guts”.
On the morning of July 15, 1974, Chubbuck confused co-workers by claiming she had to read a newscast to open her program, Suncoast Digest, something she had never done before. That morning’s talk show guest waited across the studio while she sat at the news anchor’s desk. During the first eight minutes of her program, Chubbuck covered three national news stories and then a local restaurant shooting from the previous day. The restaurant was the Beef and Bottle Restaurant at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport on U.S. 41. The film reel of the restaurant shooting had jammed and would not run, so Chubbuck shrugged it off and said on-camera, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” She drew the revolver and shot herself behind her right ear. Chubbuck fell forward violently and the technical director faded rapidly to black. Camera operator Jean Reed later recalled she thought it had been an elaborate prank and did not realize Chubbuck had actually shot herself until she saw Chubbuck’s twitching body.
The station quickly ran a standard public service announcement and then a movie. Some television viewers called the police, while others called the station to inquire if the shooting was staged.
After the shooting, news director Mike Simmons found the papers from which Chubbuck had been reading her newscast contained a complete script of her program, including not only the shooting, but also a third-person account to be read by whatever staff member took over the broadcast after the incident. He said her script called for her condition to be listed as “critical”.
Chubbuck was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, as her script had predicted; there, she was pronounced dead fourteen hours later. Upon receiving the news, a WXLT staffer released the information to other stations using Chubbuck’s script.
Whoah, that’s so shocking. Can’t imagine if I saw a local news reporter in my city do that. Of course they now have more of a time lapse while broadcasting.