The midafternoon report by correspondent Mike Tobin, which also found its way onto Foxnews.com, was potentially dangerous, given the elevated tensions in Baltimore’s Sandtown section, where protests and looting erupted in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
Tobin’s report caused about 30 minutes of unease in Baltimore before Fox anchor Shepard Smith went on-air to correct the story and apologize for the incorrect information. His apology followed a statement from Baltimore police that there had been no shooting.
Live news reports often have errors, and Tobin’s is merely the latest in a long series of them. Yet few recent reports have had as much potential as Tobin’s to stir a violent reaction, considering it came amid more than a week of protests about alleged police misconduct.
Bystanders near Pennsylvania and North avenues shot cellphone footage of a man lying on the sidewalk surrounded by an apparently agitated crowd around 2:45 p.m. As police quickly moved to surround the scene, some in the crowd began to shout that the unidentified man had been shot in the back by officers.
Tobin was on the air moments later reporting that “a guy running from cops” had been shot. “As he was running away, an officer drew his weapon and fired,” said Tobin, who reported seeing a revolver lying on the ground next to the man.
Tobin said he was sitting in a car about 40 feet from the incident and was preparing for a later live report. He said on-air that he “never saw the individual do anything aggressive” and that he counted one gunshot. He also said he saw an officer draw his weapon.
Fox aired footage of the man on a stretcher as he was loaded into an ambulance.
Smith began to back way from Tobin’s initial live report after 3 p.m., although he inaccurately reported, “According to our team there . . . an officer shot that man you see there on the stretcher. We are hearing conflicted reports on local scanners there. It’s very early, and Fox News cannot confirm exactly what happened.”
He later explained further and apologized.
“As it turned out, nobody was shot,” Smith said. “The latest information from police is a man was approached, and the man ran from police while carrying a weapon. As the man ran, the man fell or his weapon dropped or something that’s still in the investigative process. A gun went off. Police say the gun that went off was the gun that was being carried by the man who was running. . . . The man who was being pursued and presumably had the weapon has been taken to a hospital out of an abundance of caution. And police tell us that there are no shooting victims. For the errors we made here, we are deeply sorry.”
In a follow-up report at 5:15, Tobin acknowledged that his live report was inaccurate, but he said, under the circumstances, “I would be hard-pressed not to arrive at the same conclusion [of a police shooting], given all the events that transpired” in rapid succession.