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O'Reilly Press Club Castigates.

A panel at a recent Press Club forum on journalistic ethics in reporting the Shawn Hornbeck/Ben Ownby kidnappings and rescue agreed on one thing: Bill O'Reilly hit a new low.

O'Reilly is the controversial commentator on Fox cable news. After the story broke that the boys were found in the Kirkwood home of Michael J. Devlin, there was speculation that Shawn never tried to escape during his four-year captivity because he identified with his captor--a reaction known as the Stockholm Syndrome.

But O'Reilly, on his conservative TV show, "The O'Reilly Factor," said he doubted that Shawn suffered from Stockholm Syndrome and that Shawn apparently enjoyed being with his captor and being away from school and his parents.

A storm of protest came down on O'Reilly and he got disinvited as keynote speaker for the annual meeting of The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children. The Lowe's chain pulled its ads from O'Reilly's show.

During the forum at Webster University, panelists gave general approval of the local coverage of the story, dubbed the Missouri Miracle. But when moderator Julius Hunter brought up O'Reilly's faux pas, one panelist, media lawyer Ben Lipman, called it "a stupid comment ... disgustingly insensitive."

"I find these comments so inane and reprehensible as to be almost beneath contempt," said panelist Charles Jaco, reporter for Fox Channel 2.

Another panelist was Gordon Ankney, a lawyer who represented student journalist Susannah Cahalan when a gag order was sought against her, following her jailhouse scoop interview of Devlin. Cahalan had been accused of misrepresenting herself as a friend of Devlin's, to get the only interview with him.

But Ankney said that Cahalan had first talked to Devlin's family and that she didn't want the jailers to make the decision on whether to let her see Devlin. "Devlin wanted just to talk to her," and she told him she was a free-lance reporter for the New York Post, Ankney said. Devlin even agreed to talk to her a second time.

"A lot of people (reporters) wished they could have done what she did," Ankney said. Cahalan has refused to be interviewed.

Jaco said the St. Louis media did not hound the Devlin family as would have been done if the story had broken in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. He said the family of Shawn was overcome with joy and even "giddy," making them susceptible to agreeing to go on the Oprah Winfrey show. There, it was first disclosed that Shawn had been sexually abused. Oprah's crew in Chicago put a gag on other media interviews with the families, Jaco said.

Might the reports of sexual abuse cause psychological damage to the boys, the panel was asked. "The psychological damage was already done," Jaco said. "They'll have problems the rest of their lives."

If Devlin goes to trial, rather than pleads guilty, TV courtroom coverage will be up to the judge. Pat Gauen, a Post-Dispatch editor on the panel, said that as a newsman he would favor TV coverage, but "as a human being I'd hate to see the boys have to publicly testify."
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Title Annotation:Bill O'Reilly
Author:Malone, Roy
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Previous Article:Those were the days ... at WESL.
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