If, after their botched “coverage” of the Timmothy Pitzen “story,” the media still wonders why they’re generally loathed, utterly untrusted, and the term “fake news” has caught on, then they’re even worse than the people they cover.
For background purposes, six-year-old Timmothy Pitzen’s mentally ill mother checked him out of his Aurora, Illinois, elementary school in May of 2011 to take a road trip to a zoo and a Wisconsin Dells water park. Three days later, her body was discovered in a Rockford, Illinois, hotel room with a suicide note declaring, “You’ll never find him.”
Fast forward to 2019 and a man who claimed he was 13-year-old Tim Pitzen was found wandering around a Newport, Kentucky, neighborhood alleging he escaped from his most recent abductors who’d been holding him at a nearby Red Roof Inn. The pretender added he’d been “traded” to a series of kidnappers, the latest of whom were two bodybuilders, one tattooed with snake and the other with a spiderweb.
As it turns out, the imposter is a 23-year-old career criminal who’d just been released from prison and, as the woman who spotted him surmised, he was probably trying to steal a car. A DNA test left no doubt.
I’m no rocket scientist, but it didn’t take a genius to determine this was a hoax. And the fact the press – including the Tribune, Beacon-News, Courier-News, Sun-Times and Daily Herald – fell for it hook, line and sinker, is so far beyond disheartening, it’s hard to describe.
All it would’ve taken is the kind of minimal ethical backbone that required a minimal amount of due diligence – or simply waiting a few days – before running the story. But no! It fell in their laps, they knew it would get a ton of hits, and all those editors and reporters desperately wanted to believe it was true.
C’mon! Somebody who ostensibly just escaped from his abductors runs all the way from Ohio to Kentucky – across a rather large bridge, mind you – and only admits who he is when confronted by the police?
Every other victim who’s managed to evade similar circumstances ran to the nearest neighbor or the very first person they saw for help.
Then, to be able to come up with a vivid description of the two men, exactly what they were wearing, all the details about their Ford Explorer, including the “yellow transfer paint,” but he didn’t know the location of the Red Roof Inn where he was being held?
And when was the last time you heard of a same-sex couple – and bodybuilders, no less – abducting or holding a child – in a hotel after six years? That doesn’t begin to match any kind of reality.
Trust me! I understand that we all wanted to hold out hope this for this purported miracle. Hope is what makes us uniquely human. Everyone in Aurora wanted that fairytale ending. I did, too! But the press, and especially newspapers, aren’t supposed to be this susceptible to wishful thinking.
And now that their massive ethical and journalistic lapse has been exposed, the media is doubling down with a bizarre righteous indignation. “How dare that man cause these families such pain.” If the press didn’t cover this hoax, how would they know? Law enforcement wasn’t going to spill the beans until they had hard evidence.
He clearly didn’t look like a 13-year-old boy.
Though there’s no proof of what I’m about to hypothesize, deep down, we all know what really happened.
The Pitzens were in the middle of an acrimonious divorce and Tim’s mother was so terrified her mental illness meant the judge would strip her of custody of her son, she took him for a final vacation, murdered him, and took her own life. That’s why the suicide note read, “You’ll never find him.”
And we probably never will.
This sad scenario would be almost humorous if it wasn’t for the unconscionable and utterly unnecessary gut-wrenching pain the press just inflicted on the Pitzen family. This actually was the most abhorrent kind of “fake news.”
As my late mother would’ve said, “There’s gotta be a special place in hell for all those editors and reporters.”