Media Coverage of Missing Missouri Boys

The following is a transcription of the January 20, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.



KEVIN SCHROEDER, WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI SHERIFF: To get started, you know, one of the important things in this investigation has been participation of the public, and obviously the media. And we could probably talk the rest of the afternoon or spend the rest of the afternoon thanking people.


BURNS: That was one week ago in Missouri. By the end of this week, the parents of kidnapped boys Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby had both appeared on "Oprah" and found themselves on the cover of this week's "People" magazine.

Jane, back to the comment about the media. Are there thanks due, as was just said, to the media or anything about the way they covered this story, the two missing boys?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the fact that they were rescued and helped by a 15-year-old and the police officer is more relevant. I don't understand what is causing us to have this story be covered endlessly on the cover of "People" magazine, also the questions that were asked by Bill O'Reilly and others, Why didn't this kid run away?...

BURNS: That's why we're covering it so much in part.

HALL: Well, because people don't understand about what sexual predators do. So I don't understand why it's getting this coverage. I don't think we need to thank the media today.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, look, it is every parent's worst nightmare, your own child being kidnapped on the way to school on those few minutes, few hours when they're out from under your roof, this is a scary thing and nothing wrong with covering this.

But on the other side, it is still bizarre to me why the parents of these kids who possibly may have been sexually molested would go on a popular television show like Oprah Winfrey with their child and talk about it. -- I don't get that!

BURNS: Jim, I think in this culture people almost feel it's beyond an honor to go on "Oprah" if something awful has happened in your life. It's a societal responsibility.


Seriously. Something terrible happened, there's a lot of coverage, you go on "Oprah" and explain it.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Eric, obviously you're correct.

It used to be that if you had a bad incident happen to you, including an allegation of sexual molestation. And it's so hard to keep the two elements separate. The tragedy of this case and the perhaps horrible fate that these children and other children faced at this guy's hands and then the absurdity of going on "Oprah" to volunteer it.

You're sitting there with your own kid and saying, I'm not sure it even happened, but let me speak for my child and say he was most likely sexually molested by this guy. That's a violation of defendant's rights, that's a violation of your own child's rights. And it's just an absurd exposition...

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: May I disagree? May I disagree?

These parents clearly love their child. The Hornbecks had actually discussed and formed a foundation to help missing children. They went on "Oprah" because they knew they would reach an audience of millions if not tens of millions of women and that they were going to get out the message about watching your children and advising your children.

So I think that they saw themselves not as getting — exploiting their child. They saw themselves as getting media attention for a very serious issue.

THOMAS: The hubris of this is somehow that parents don't know that they ought to look after their children until "Oprah" tells them. What kind of society are we living in that doesn't understand this?

HALL: Well, to be fair to her and to the parents, they didn't volunteer. In fact, she asked them. And she has made them --

BURNS: Well!


No, but there's a difference. And to be fair. And she has made tracking sexual predators a cause.

GABLER: Exactly.

HALL: So that I don't think this — but I'm just questioning what we're all questioning, is if you think this happened to your child, would you go on "Oprah" five minutes after it happened? It does feel as if -- I agree with Eric's theory, I agree with Eric's theory more...

GABLER: It might prevent someone else from getting kidnapped.

HALL: But can you wait five minutes.

GABLER: If you waited five minutes it wouldn't be hot.

To me, as a media issue, the most interesting issue to me is the enormous amount of speculation. I mean, this is a case that invites speculation and we get an awful lot of it.

BURNS: Speculation, again, particularly about why the boy did not run away.

GABLER: Exactly. But there's a vast difference between psychologists and psychiatrists speculating even on cable television, and pundits speculating, which is one of the reasons why Bill O'Reilly got into trouble, having no expertise whatsoever, saying that the boy probably enjoyed this lifestyle. That's irresponsible and it's uninformed.

PINKERTON: All the more reason to wait for a criminal adjudication of this trial.

BURNS: Prior, Jim, prior to media exposure.

PINKERTON: Exactly. But Eric is absolutely right. There's no question the parents were forced by Oprah Winfrey to go on her show.

BURNS: Cal, do you have a final word for us?

THOMAS: I will say to Oprah's defense, she did have a psychiatrist on there who told a compelling story -- He had been captured by some guy but he got away and he took 50 years before he went public with it because he said he was embarrassed about the whole incident.

GABLER: Look at the attention it got. That's all I have to say. I rest my case for the parents.

BURNS: I know that's all you have to say.


BURNS: I didn't know you had something to say. It's time for another break...

For more information and exclusive content related to "FOX News Watch" go to

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2006 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (, which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.