In the Loop

We MIGHT be accosting your children between 2 and 4:30 pm in a silver Ford Explorer. Or not.

Posted at 12:00 PM on April 22, 2009 by Jeff Horwich (7 Comments)

(Creative Commons photo via mstephens7)
So what exactly happened with the Fox 9 pedophile-mobile?

No sooner had the parents of Edina, Minnesota clutched their young ones to their breasts to protect them from -- journalists! -- than we're told the whole idea was never really a serious one from the start. (As of today, then, it's safe to assume anyone who does ask a child for directions in Edina is a genuine pedophile.)

After school officials communicated last night that the story concept had been called off, KMSP Fox 9 posted this statement on its web site:

For the past week, FOX 9 News has discussed several ways to drive home the importance of teaching children to be safe around strangers. FOX 9 News informed Edina police about the possibility of pursuing an investigative report on how youngsters responded when asked directions from strangers, and that parental permission would be obtained before talking to any children. Edina police erroneously alerted the school system that the station was going ahead with the story. After being contacted by FOX 9 and told otherwise, the Edina public schools sent a second e-mail to parents saying that no such story was being planned.

KMSP is referring all questions on this to a national Fox spokeswoman in New York. However, a Question Referred is not a Question Answered. All the questions I asked her were met with "it's all in the statement" and "you'll have to ask the police about that" and "yes, that's how you spell it but no, you can't use my name." You gotta love media spokespeople who won't speak on the record.

Truth is, it's not all in the statement. Here are the questions that could still use an answer:

* If this was only a "possibility" and actually "no such story was being planned," how did the Edina police wind up with a concrete window of Tuesday afternoon "between 2 and 4:30" to communicate with the school? Did the police make it up?

* Did the police also conjure up the possible vehicle, a "2004 silver Ford Explorer or Expedition"? (These quotes are from the original principal's email to parents.) That's a lot of detail for a story that was never more than a gleam in an editor's eye.

* How in the world would this concept work if you're obtaining parents' permission before asking their children for directions? Either there's a little historical revision happening here, or this story was going to be much more boring than it appears at first blush. ("Tonight at 10: Our Action I-Team interviews children about what it's like to give directions to people.")

* WHAT were you thinking? Really -- what were you thinking? No, I mean it: What were you thinking?

It's entirely possible, as Fox suggests, that someone at the Edina police department totally shanked this one. I put a call to Edina Police Spokeswoman Molly Anderson about two hours ago (and followed up with another message 30 minutes ago) to ask what happened. No word.

One plausible scenario: Fox called up the police just to float the idea and see if they'd be supportive, or if they might interfere. And the police "erroneously" informed the school that the whole operation was green-lighted. (Better safe than sorry?)

But then there are those details -- specific time window, make of car, intention to "ask children for directions" (a phrase which was conveyed in quotes, suggesting it was a concrete part of Fox 9's description of the story)....

I'll update this post if and when I hear from the police. UPDATE 4:00 PM: Police called me back. See new post.

Meantime, any thoughts from out there? Any Edina parents had to talk this through with your kids? How'd it go?

Comments (7)

"What were you thinking?"

Ratings, ratings, ratings.

Posted by bsimon | April 22, 2009 12:24 PM

manufactured fear = ratings, right? Technically, quality programming would also = ratings, but... Yeah, what WERE they thinking?

Posted by Caitlin | April 22, 2009 12:53 PM

Old News ... Dateline's Wild Bill has already been doing like and similar (and yes, with parental permission in advance) not to mention either KARE or WCCO did something similar in parking lots (again - with advanced parental permission).

No outrage for the children, no cries of exploitation for financial gain, no gnashing of teeth and beating of chests - quite the opposite actually.

However, the keywords "Fox affiliate" and "Edina" always seem to garner such reactions. Now if we changed those to maybe "ABC affiliate" and "North Minneapolis" would there be a different reaction?

Posted by Jim | April 22, 2009 2:25 PM

Fox-9 News: The bottom-feeders of newscasting.

Posted by Scott | April 22, 2009 3:34 PM

It sounds like the Edina Police dropped the ball big time on this one. Not sure why everyone is ripping on FOX for looking into doing a story that could save lives. Traumatic for the kid? Please! What a cop out!

Posted by Roger Dorn | April 22, 2009 3:41 PM

Fox-9 News is awful while the other local news shows are just terrible. Watch PBS (BBC or Jim Lehrer) or Charlie Rose for good content.

Jim: Fascinating comment re. "ABC affiliate" and "North Minneapolis." I'd like to believe that the reaction would be the same but I'm not sure I do.

Posted by Jake | April 22, 2009 4:15 PM

Fox-9 is such a tabloid station, I am not surprised they proposed a story like this. Although I think it would probably work fine, (getting parental permission probably included "please dont tip off the kids, we want to see how good a job you think you've done re: talking to strangers"), maybe they should have thought better of this, esp since there was some sort of attempted abduction in Edina already.

Posted by BP | April 22, 2009 4:38 PM

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