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Live video of man who set himself on fire outside court proves challenging for news organizations

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Live video of man who set himself on fire outside court proves challenging for news organizations
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Live video of man who set himself on fire outside court proves challenging for news organizations

2024-04-21 10:24 Last Updated At:10:30

NEW YORK (AP) — Video cameras stationed outside the Manhattan courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial caught the gruesome scene Friday of a man who lit himself on fire and the aftermath as authorities tried to rescue him.

CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC were all on the air with reporters talking about the seating of a jury when the incident happened and other news agencies, including The Associated Press, were livestreaming from outside the courthouse. The man, who distributed pamphlets before dousing himself in an accelerant and setting himself on fire, was taken to a hospital where he later died.

The incident tested how quickly the networks could react, and how they decided what would be too disturbing for their viewers to see.

With narration from Laura Coates, CNN had the most extensive view of the scene. Coates, who at first incorrectly said it was a shooting situation, then narrated as the man was visible onscreen, enveloped in flames.

“You can smell burning flesh,” Coates, an anchor and CNN's chief legal analyst, said as she stood at the scene with reporter Evan Perez.

The camera switched back and forth between Coates and what was happening in the park. Five minutes after the incident started, CNN posted the onscreen message “Warning: Graphic Content.”

Coates later said she couldn’t “overstate the emotional response of watching a human being engulfed in flames and to watch his body be lifted into a gurney.” She described it as an “emotional and unbelievably disturbing moment here.”

Fox's cameras caught the scene briefly as reporter Eric Shawn talked, then the network switched to a courtroom sketch of Trump on trial.

“We deeply apologize for what has happened,” Shawn said.

On MSNBC, reporter Yasmin Vossoughian narrated the scene. The network showed smoke in the park, but no picture where the body was visible.

“I could see the outline of his body inside the flames,” Vossoughian said, “which was so terrifying to see. As he went to the ground his knees hit the ground first.”

The AP had a camera with an unnarrated live shot stationed outside the courthouse, shown on YouTube and APNews.com. The cameras caught an extensive view, with the man lighting himself afire and later writhing on the ground before a police officer tried to douse the flames with a jacket.

The AP later removed its live feed from its YouTube channel and replaced it with a new one because of the graphic nature of the content.

The news agency distributed carefully edited clips to its video clients — not showing the moment the man lit himself on fire, for example, said executive producer Tom Williams.

Julien Gorbach, a University of Hawaii at Manoa associate professor of journalism, said news organizations didn't face much of a dilemma about whether to show the footage because there was little for the public to gain by seeing images of a man lighting himself on fire.

The episode highlights how fast information travels and the importance of critical thinking, Gorbach said.

“It outpaces our ability to a) sort out the facts, and b) do the kind of methodical, critical thinking that we need to do so that we understand the truth of what actually this incident was all about,” Gorbach said.

The location of the incident may have prompted some to think the self-immolation was related to the trial.

Gorbach, who was listening to MSNBC on satellite radio when it happened, said the coverage he heard was careful to question whether there was any connection to the trial. It also raised the possibility the man may have wanted to get media attention.

News organizations can't suppress the news just so the public doesn't get confused, he said. Word would get out regardless as non-journalists post accounts online.

“So it’s really a test of us as a public,” he said.

Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this report.

In this image taken from video, bystanders react after witnessing a man who lit himself on fire was extinguished, Friday, April 19, 2024, in a park outside Manhattan criminal court in New York. Emergency crews rushed away a person on a stretcher after the fire was extinguished outside the courthouse where jury selection was taking place in former President Donald Trump's hush money criminal case. (AP Photo)

In this image taken from video, bystanders react after witnessing a man who lit himself on fire was extinguished, Friday, April 19, 2024, in a park outside Manhattan criminal court in New York. Emergency crews rushed away a person on a stretcher after the fire was extinguished outside the courthouse where jury selection was taking place in former President Donald Trump's hush money criminal case. (AP Photo)

New York Police officers inspect a backpack left at the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court, Friday, April 19, 2024, in New York. Emergency crews rushed away a person on a stretcher after fire was extinguished outside the Manhattan courthouse where jury selection was taking place in former President Donald Trump's hush money criminal case. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New York Police officers inspect a backpack left at the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court, Friday, April 19, 2024, in New York. Emergency crews rushed away a person on a stretcher after fire was extinguished outside the Manhattan courthouse where jury selection was taking place in former President Donald Trump's hush money criminal case. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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Australia and New Zealand begin evacuating nationals from unrest in New Caledonia

2024-05-21 16:06 Last Updated At:16:10

NEWCASTLE, Australia (AP) — Australia and New Zealand sent airplanes to New Caledonia on Tuesday to begin bringing home stranded citizens from the violence-wracked French South Pacific territory.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two flights to evacuate citizens from the archipelago, where indigenous people have long sought independence from France.

Hours later, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules touched down in Noumea, the capital. The plane can carry 124 passengers, according to the Defense Department.

“We continue to work on further flights,” Wong wrote on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said 300 Australians were in New Caledonia. It did not immediately confirm whether the Australian-organized flights would also evacuate other stranded foreign nationals, believed to number in the thousands.

New Zealand's government also announced that it had sent a plane to New Caledonia to begin evacuating about 50 of its citizens.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days — and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said. “In cooperation with France and Australia, we are working on subsequent flights in coming days.”

Noumea’s international airport remains closed to commercial flights. Its reopening will be reassessed on Thursday.

At least six people have died and hundreds more have been injured since violence erupted last week in New Caledonia following controversial electoral reforms passed in Paris.

About 270 suspected rioters have been arrested as of Tuesday, and a 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew is in effect for the archipelago of about 270,000 people, which is a popular tourist destination with its idyllic beaches and climate.

France has sent in over a thousand security personnel, with hundreds more due to arrive Tuesday, to try to quell the unrest and restore control.

Armed clashes, looting, arson and other violence turned parts of Noumea into no-go zones. Columns of smoke billowed into the sky, hulks of burned cars littered roads, businesses and shops were ransacked and buildings became smoking ruins.

There have been decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks who are seeking independence and descendants of colonizers who want to remain part of France.

The unrest erupted May 13 as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French Constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists. The National Assembly in Paris approved a bill that would, among other changes, allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize Kanaks who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

A RNZAF Hercules C-130 takes off from Whenuapai airbase near Auckland, New Zealand, bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, on a mercy mission to rescue stranded New Zealand tourists, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The Australian and New Zealand governments say they are sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-scorched New Caledonia. (Michael Craig/NZ Herald via AP)

A RNZAF Hercules C-130 takes off from Whenuapai airbase near Auckland, New Zealand, bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, on a mercy mission to rescue stranded New Zealand tourists, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The Australian and New Zealand governments say they are sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-scorched New Caledonia. (Michael Craig/NZ Herald via AP)

Burnt cars are lined up after unrest that erupted following protests over voting reforms in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job)

Burnt cars are lined up after unrest that erupted following protests over voting reforms in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job)

A RNZAF Hercules C-130 takes off from Whenuapai airbase near Auckland, New Zealand, bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, on a mercy mission to rescue stranded New Zealand tourists, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The Australian and New Zealand governments say they are sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-scorched New Caledonia. (Michael Craig/NZ Herald via AP)

A RNZAF Hercules C-130 takes off from Whenuapai airbase near Auckland, New Zealand, bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, on a mercy mission to rescue stranded New Zealand tourists, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The Australian and New Zealand governments say they are sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-scorched New Caledonia. (Michael Craig/NZ Herald via AP)

France's President Emmanuel Macron, 2nd right, chairs a security and defence council at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, May 20, 2024. French security forces are working to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French Pacific archipelago where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (Benoit Tessier, Pool via AP)

France's President Emmanuel Macron, 2nd right, chairs a security and defence council at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, May 20, 2024. French security forces are working to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French Pacific archipelago where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (Benoit Tessier, Pool via AP)

FILE - This handout photo provided by the French Army shows security force embarking a plane to New Caledonia at the Istres military base, southern France, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. Using backhoes to shove aside charred vehicles, French security forces worked Sunday, May 19, 2024, to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French South Pacific island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (Etat Major des Armees via AP, File)

FILE - This handout photo provided by the French Army shows security force embarking a plane to New Caledonia at the Istres military base, southern France, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. Using backhoes to shove aside charred vehicles, French security forces worked Sunday, May 19, 2024, to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French South Pacific island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (Etat Major des Armees via AP, File)

The French territory of New Caledonia has been rocked by deadly unrest, leading to a state of emergency imposed by Paris. (AP Graphic)

The French territory of New Caledonia has been rocked by deadly unrest, leading to a state of emergency imposed by Paris. (AP Graphic)

FILE - Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday May 15, 2024. Using backhoes to shove aside charred vehicles, French security forces worked Sunday, May 19, 2024, to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French South Pacific island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job, File)

FILE - Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday May 15, 2024. Using backhoes to shove aside charred vehicles, French security forces worked Sunday, May 19, 2024, to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French South Pacific island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job, File)

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