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FBI to Newspapers: Watch Television

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FBI to Newspapers: Watch Television

Article excerpt

FBI to newspapers: Watch television

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a message for reporters seeking information on its list of the 10 most wanted fugitives: Watch television.

The Los Angeles Daily News disclosed the FBI's policy of disclosing additions to the list exclusively on the television programs America's Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries.

Daily News reporter Tori Richards stumbled onto the procedure while working on a story about a murder suspect who was supposed to join the list.

An FBI spokeswoman refused to say whether the suspect was joining the list until an announcement that Friday on America's Most Wanted.

"The day you guys can deliver up to 60 million households, we'll work exclusively with you," FBI spokeswoman Karen Gardner was quoted as saying in a Daily News story that was picked up by the Associated Press and newspapers around the country. "It's the most efficient way."

The FBI says it uses the shows to reach instantaneously as big an audience as possible, thereby catching fugitives off-guard.

"The element of surprise is exactly how we capture them," said Swanson Carter, chief of special productions at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. "We go where we think we have the best shot."

Carter denied the policy was an exclusivity agreement but admitted the agency routinely told the programs in advance about additions to the 10 most wanted list, while putting an embargo on the announcements to other media until after the programs are broadcast.

"We reserve the right to say when the information is going to be made public," he told E&P. "The intent is not to slight anyone. The entire object is to capture fugitives."

It is hard to argue with the results. He said 17 FBI fugitives have been captured "as a direct result of these shows" since 1988.

Newspaper folks saw the situation differently.

"It's clearly an absurd policy, and that makes it a good story," said Ron Kaye, assistant managing editor-metro a the Daily News. "There could be people walking the streets for days before the FBI puts them on the 10 most wanted list via television."

"It seems plain foolish to me," said David Lawrence, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and publisher of the Miami Herald. "If the FBI is interested in reaching every one in America, they are certainly not going to reach them through two pretty sensational tv programs. …

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