Mediaite founder Dan Abrams had a heated back-and-forth on Thursday with CNN’s Brianna Keilar over A&E’s decision to cancel Live PD.
The show, hosted by Abrams, was cancelled on Wednesday as other police docuseries were also ceased in light of the continued protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd. In their interview, Keilar asked about Live PD cameras filming an incident in Texas last year in which Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old black man, died after being stunned by police despite cries that he could not breathe.
A&E said the fatal encounter was recorded by Live PD cameras, but did not air it due to show policy against broadcasting a death. A&E also said they did not keep the footage after the investigation into Ambler’s death was closed.
Abrams began by offering his frustration over the Live PD’s cancellation, saying “I thought there was a way to have a national discussion on this show about policing.” He also emphasized the “huge difference” between Live PD and the “crazy” highlight reels aired on shows like Cops.
When Keilar asked “why was the video in the Javier Ambler case destroyed,” Abrams explained that “the policy at Live PD had long been we keep tapes, we keep video for a few weeks and then we don’t retain it any longer.”
“Why? Because we feared that we were going to be used by law enforcement as a video repository. As a place to go and grab videos to prosecute citizens with,” he said. “We didn’t want to be that, so there was a policy in place as to how and when to get rid of videos so that we wouldn’t serve in that role.”
“The reverse is true here,” Keilar countered. “Destroying the video actually protected the police.” Abrams agreed that “it would have been better to be able to still have it,” but “the video was retained for three months per the request of Williamson County. They said they were investigating it. They asked Live PD to hold onto it while that happened. They did that and then informed Live PD the investigation was over. That was a year ago.”
“Looking back on it, do I wish that Live PD retained it? Yeah. Do I wish there’s more exceptions to the rule that was in place? Yeah. But the policy was in place for exactly the opposite reason that many people are suggesting now,” Abrams said.
When Keilar asked if Live PD ever considered having policy exceptions for certain incidents like that of Ambler, Abrams answered “There should have been.”
“Unfortunately there had been a number of videos that Live PD has had where people have died and typically don’t show people dying on the air. That’s another question that we could have re-evaluated,” Abrams said. “The point is that the motivation here wasn’t wasn’t a negative one. It wasn’t to try to hide things. It was to try to avoid becoming an arm of law enforcement as we were there following them. I think if the show stayed on the air, we were talking about changing the policies.
The former Live PD host’s signal cut out as he discussed the show’s internal discussions, but when he returned after a break, Keilar asked about innocent people who have felt uncomfortable after being featured on the show.
“That’s what happens in the news business in general,” Abrams answered, adding “Live PD isn’t a news show,” but Keilar interrupted to say “It’s not a news show. It’s an entertainment program.”
“It may be, but the reasoning is still the same,” Abrams said. “People are sometimes brought into situations that they don’t want to be involved in because of certain things that happen.”
“These are people who are not arrested. These are people who are innocent,” Keilar said.
Abrams went further stating that people are sometimes arrested despite being innocent, and while he acknowledged some people might not be happy being filmed, he defended the show’s measures to protect peoples’ privacy:
Great lengths were (taken)…to try to protect the privacy of individuals… I know you don’t like the comparison, but in the news business, when you are on a public street, they can film you there. And that’s the same thing that would happen with us.
“Dan, you know the news business. That is not the news business,” Keilar said. That prompted Abrams to defend the news elements of his show and say that “I think it’s unfairly dismissive to simply say it’s an entertainment show, because this is real life.”
“These are real police officers and these are real people involved,” he said. “And we took all of that incredibly seriously.”
Keilar then accused Abrams of “hanging your hat” on A&E’s policy of not airing the Ambler footage.
It’s horrible to have policies but that’s the way you try to keep a show like this within certain parameters… Again, I just told you that I think in retrospect we should have shown that, but this idea that a documentary would be totally different, in documentaries every day they show certain portions, clip it and put it together. We do that far less. We are actually just riding along with them at times. We weren’t live when this happened. We weren’t on the air when this happened. We didn’t decide while we were on the air not to go to this. Again, I think even on tape it would have been better now in retrospect to have shown the events leading up to it but that is not a fair, in my view, indictment of Live PD as a whole.
The talk went on with Abrams expressing his opinion that the show’s cancellation had more to do with the national movement against police programming, even though the Ambler case was a factor in that. Keilar eventually moved of that to get Abrams’ reaction to the Ambler family’s sadness that the tape no longer exists.
Abrams referred to his piece for this site where he expressed his heartbreak that he cannot do more to help them. He also reminded people that there is still body cam footage from the arrest, and the entire incident should prompt more questions for the investigators who handled the case.
“That doesn’t show the whole story,” Keilar said of the show. “By your own admission there are things that are not shown and communicated on the program.”
The pair went back and forth over the concept, with Abrams pointing out that news shows and documentaries make editorial decisions all the time about what to air. Abrams added that the show had to comply with standards and practices in order to bring a greater level of transparency on police work.
Immediately after the interview, Keilar spoke to actor Sean Penn, who called Abrams a “used car salesman.” When reached for comment, Abrams who once wrote about Penn here at Mediaite, responded:
Based on the number of times he has been arrested, I can understand why Sean Penn would have resentment against anything related to law enforcement. I didn’t see the segment but I hope he promoted his terrific novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.
Watch above, via CNN.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]