Posted at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2009
by Jeff Horwich
Perhaps this will be the last word on the Fox 9 Child-Abduction-Story-That-Never-Was-Or-Maybe-It-Almost-Was-Depending-On-Whom-You-Ask:
David Brauer at MinnPost has at last got a detailed response from Trish van Pilsim, the reporter who was working the aborted story.
And despite all the additional explanation, this remains a fundamental he-said-she-said between KMSP and the Edina police: The police say they were told the story was happening, and have the detailed logistical info to back that up; KMSP says they decided hours before that the story was a poor idea, and the police jumped the gun in telling schools it was happening. (There's also this weirdness over parental permission, which no one can quite wrap their heads around.)
There is one detail that deserves a correction: The simulated pedophile-mobile never actually hit the streets.
When I broke this story late on Monday, I relayed that as part of the best facts available at the time (conditioned with the word "evidently"). My apologies.
However, I will cite these additional, immutable facts:
* Upon receiving the tip at 5 pm, my first and immediate reaction was to call the assignment desk at KMSP. The guy who answered showed no surprise, and needed no additional detail, when I said I was calling about "concerns over a story you guys are working on in Edina this afternoon." He knew exactly what I was talking about, and said someone would get back to me.
* No one got back to me. I waited a half-hour before posting the basics (this is a blog, after all) and waited around another half-hour at the office.
* I checked my messages later from home. Nothing.
* That night, someone from Fox in New York City called my office phone and left a message with only a name and number. That spokeswoman turned out to be able to offer no additional statement -- or even permission to use her name -- yet told me that she was the only person from Fox who was authorized to offer any response. Nice.
* No one else from Fox or KMSP has yet bothered to contact me with details. (UPDATE: See below.) I'm glad Trish van Pilsim finally decided to engage David Brauer. But I'm little bugged by the fact that even though our blog broke the item, and contacted Fox's newsroom immediately, we were apparently not worth engaging with.
* Finally -- and this is important -- the Edina Police and schools conveyed to parents that that the operation had already begun. The original email from the principal to parents is time-stamped 2:41 pm -- 41 minutes after KMSP told the police it was planning to put the car on the street. In the midst of complete radio-silence from KMSP, it's generally safe to accept information from the police as true -- absent compelling evidence to the contrary.
My original blog post left a big, fat hole just begging for KMSP to explain what the heck was actually going on. If anyone should understand the importance of responding promptly to possible controversy, it should be a deadline-driven television newsroom that is on the other side of this stuff every day.
And, my final word for now: We gave KMSP a really fair treatment here. While I certainly think Brauer was well within his mandate as a blogger to express some degree of outrage at the idea, and there's no denying parents were outraged, my instinct was to pose it as a valid media ethics question. I never accused KMSP of anything other than having a provocative idea.
And whether the car actually hit the streets, whether police should have double-checked (???) that KMSP was actually going to do what they said they were going to do, the station most definitely had the idea: A detailed, planned out, (arguably) newsworthy and (definitely) controversial idea.
UPDATE 5:55 pm: Received a direct email from KMSP's Trish van Pilsim, reflecting the same info that prompted this post this morning:
I would like to correct several inaccuracies in your coverage of me in your web blog. Most importantly, at no time did I or any one from KMSP TV drive around Edina trying to ask children for directions as part of a story. The decision not to do anything of the sort was made after discussions with police and among staff hours before the Edina school district sent parents the incorrect information that we were driving through Edina neighborhoods attempting to talk to children.
"But I'm little bugged by the fact that even though our blog broke the item, and contacted Fox's newsroom immediately, we were apparently not worth engaging with."
You didn't rush out of the gate with a pitchfork, or rather... jump out of a van to ambush Trish. Next time remember the FoxNews maxim: First. Live. Loco.
And don't forget the beauty of blogging is that facts are irrelevant. Coming out with a false story will get hits. Correcting the error will get you even more. As for credibility... people will pat you on the ass for your ability to admit a lapse in professionalism, earning their respect and letting you sleep at night proud as a puppy.
Yeah... Blogging is a hollow profession. Long live blogging.
>"That spokeswoman turned out to be able to offer no additional statement -- or even permission to use her name"
Did you agree ahead of time not to use her name?
If not, you should have used her name. Anonymity shouldn't be assumed or granted after the fact.