Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stay Away...This Will Hurt Someone

On January 22, 1987, convicted Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert "Budd" Dwyer called a press conference in his office. With his sentencing already scheduled for the following day, the press that arrived assumed that Budd would be resigning his post. At the commencement of the conference, Budd was profusely sweating and seemed extremely agitated and nervous. He did not read his entire prepared statement, stopping at the last page before calling on his staffers to hand out three envelopes. A fourth he kept for himself. The three envelopes he handed out were later revealed to contain a note to his wife, his organ donor card and a letter to the newly inaugurated governor.

From the fourth envelope Dwyer withdrew a .357 Magnum revolver and requested that those who would be offended should leave the room. Against the protestations and cries of the onlookers, Budd placed the barrel of the revolver into his mouth and fired a single shot. He slumped to the floor, his eyes glazing over and rivers of blood streamed from his nose and mouth. Of the six cameras present, five focused on the actions of one of his aides who stepped forward asking for a little decorum from the people present. The sixth zoomed in on Budd, continuing to roll as the life faded away from him.

In the aftermath it was determined that the reason for Dwyer's suicide was to insure that his $1.3 million pension would go to his family. After sentencing he would have been immediately removed from his post and the pension would have been lost. His actions have become a favored topic of professors in the study of journalism ethics, weighing the psychological impact of an event on viewers against the competition of other news outlets.

Though a famous case, Dwyer was not the first person to commit suicide on television. On July 15, 1974, Christine Chubbuck, during a taping of the Sarasota morning show "Suncoast Digest" encountered a technical glitch. Christine shrugged off the difficulties and stated, "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: an attempted suicide". She then pulled a gun from a bag and shot herself behind the right ear. Her actions were part of the impetus for the film "Network".

Footage of Dwyer's suicide has become a favorite in "shockumentaries" as well as the internet. He made his mark on American pop culture that day. That he chose to do it in front of a press corps only cemented this.

The band Filter wrote a song called "Hey Man, Nice Shot" specifically about this event. It has been used in countless movie soundtracks.

Ministry used a clip of the suicide in their 1992 song "Just One Fix".

Faith No More and Marilyn Manson have also used footage of this event in their songs. (The World is Yours and Get Your Gunn, respectively.)

A short clip from this is also shown during a montage in Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine".

I have decided not to include a link to the video itself, so as to prevent accidental clicking by those who do not wish to view it. If you would like a link, let me know and I can provide it.

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2 comments:

CW Fisher said...

E.,

What a great post! Beautifully written. I remember this story. Thanks for not including the video. I followed one of your links kind of half hoping I'd see it, and half hoping I wouldn't. You made the right decision!

E said...

Thank you immensely for the kind words. This incident has been a topic of immense interest for me over the years for a multitude of reasons. I did labor long and hard about including the video. It is, after all, an historical document and an interesting view into just how destructive the world of politics can be. But, ultimately, common sense won out. I don't want people to be afraid of the links in my articles, and that would run the risk of putting some people off.

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