Whatever misgivings Chicago television stations may have had about airing the Laquan McDonald video vanished Tuesday as soon as they got their hands on it.
Minutes after its release by the city following a late afternoon news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, the eagerly anticipated but much dreaded video could be found everywhere — on TV newscasts, on media websites, across social media and even on a Chicago Police Department YouTube upload.
Credit ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 with prodding the police to release the video a day earlier than expected. A judge's ruling had given the city until Wednesday to make it public.
“Sources leaked a shorter version to ABC7 Chicago Eyewitness News on Tuesday morning, prompting Chicago police to move up the scheduled release,” the station reported on its website. “In light of public safety, ABC7 Chicago Eyewitness News did not air the video until it was officially released and opted only to show part of it during the early news shows. More of the video aired on ABC7 Eyewitness News at 10 p.m.”
Before showing the video, TV newscasts warned viewers about what were described as “graphic” and “disturbing” images of the 17-year-old African-American being shot 16 times by a white Chicago police officer, as recorded by a squad car dashcam in October 2014. The horrific images apparently weren't deemed too disturbing for the dinner hour.
Some stations showed less restraint than others. CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 at first aired “a portion of the video that is appropriate for television, showing the initial shot from Officer Jason Van Dyke." But halfway through its 6 p.m. newscast, CBS 2 was airing the moment of impact repetitively while the station’s freelance “legal analyst” and “security analyst” talked over it.
As expected, the most thoughtful perspective on the day’s events came from public television WTTW-Channel 11, where “Chicago Tonight” host Phil Ponce skillfully anchored a full hour on the indictment of Van Dyke for murder, the mayor’s news conference, the release of the video and the protests that followed. Exemplary work all around.