"Dear News Media: Yesterday while jogging, I noticed a squirrel on my neighbor's lawn. I got to my driveway, and there he was again. I am positive he was plotting to bite my calf, leave me for dead and use my sneakers to make a vacation home. Please warn other citizens!"
That's about the caliber of the Facebook posts by moms convinced their kids were almost sex trafficked from the grocery. It's bad enough that these are shared thousands of times, but must the news media treat them as anything other than attention-starved fantasies?
Apparently yes, at least at WNDU-TV in Indiana, whose Jan. 22 online story I've annotated:
South Bend mom worried her child was almost abducted, police investigate
A worried South Bend mother thought two men might be trying to abduct her daughter at a local store. (Who cares? End of story.)
Police investigated it as a suspicious persons report. (Because it wasn't an attempted crime.)
Haley Craig says it happened at the T.J. Maxx inside Indian Ridge Plaza in Mishawaka. (What is "it"? Oh, right. Nothing. Slow news day in South Bend, Indiana.)
Her Facebook post has gone viral in the last 24 hours, urging parents to keep their children safe. (Even when they already are.) It reads:
"Was just at the T.J.Maxx in Mishawaka and there were men in there who attempted to steal Eva. I believe there were multiple men inside the store who were in on it together. (And I believe my goldfish is having an affair with my oven mitt.) I made a note of the details I could and left immediately. Police have been notified. KEEP YOUR BABIES CLOSE!!!!" (This is just like every attention-starved mom's post on Facebook. They replicate.)
NewsCenter 16's Travis Robinson spoke with the mother and police about what happened. (You forgot the word "didn't.")
Police can't confirm the mom's fears of an attempted abduction, but they say it's still a worrisome situation. (No, it's not.)
What Craig said she experienced inside of T.J. Maxx definitely sounds scary. A strange man comes up to her and starts bombarding her with questions. ("Definitely scary," indeed. Never have I been spoken to by a strange person, ever.)
"'What's the price of this? What's the price of this? What's the price of this? What's the price of this?' Trying to divert my attention away from my daughter, who, at that moment, had slipped away from my eyesight," Craig said. (Because the easiest way to snatch a child is in public, indoors, steps from her mom, who, distracted by questions about the price of Progresso lentil soup, doesn't notice that her child is being dragged screaming down the aisle, past the customers, cashiers and cameras, into a parking lot filled with people. And then it's off to sex traffic land.)
Looking around for her daughter, Craig worried she might be in danger. (And that worry, my friends, is enough to warrant an entire news story.)
"I saw another gentleman at the end of the aisle then approaching my daughter," Craig said. "They noticed I saw what was going on, I grabbed my daughter, they bolted." (Surely, they weren't approaching the food.)
Her thought was that these two men could have been trying to abduct her daughter. (Could you repeat this baseless assertion any more, WNDU?)
"I believe that they were possibly a team of human traffickers." (The money phrase! Keep saying it!)
It took this TV station 13 paragraphs before it reluctantly admitted that police don't really think a crime occurred.
Me, I spoke with David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, who said he had not heard of a single actual incident of a child's being snatched from a parent at a store for sex trafficking purposes.
But in the meantime, visitors to WNDU-TV's website read "abduct," "abduction," "human traffickers," "scary," "danger," "worrisome," "police," "steal Eva" and "KEEP YOUR BABIES CLOSE!" — all before the story got around to the point: that there was no story.
There was just a mom, a kid and a camera. That's all you need when you're peddling fear.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.