Missing girls case tests role of journalists in crime investigation

Star Tribune blogger Michael Brodkorb, who has publicized the case of two missing Lakeville girls over the last few years, has written a stunning post today explaining why he, a political insider, was so interested in the whereabouts of Samantha and Gianna Rucki, who were found two weeks ago, nearly three years after running away following a custody battle between their parents.

In his post, Brodkorb raises ethical questions about a Twin Cities television station, which conducted an interview with the missing children a month after they disappeared.

In working on a story involving missing children, I believe the media should not compromise or hinder an investigation by law enforcement.

I also strongly believe the media should assist law enforcement in providing information through appropriate channels. This respects the authority of law enforcement without compromising the independent role of the media.

Over the summer, my sources provided information that led me to a location near where the girls were found less than two weeks ago. I’m convinced that if I had knocked on one too many doors, I might have made it more difficult for law enforcement to find Samantha and Gianna.

If FOX 9 had cooperated with law enforcement in 2013, it’s possible Samantha and Gianna would have been reunited with their family much sooner. In any case, I feel it was is inappropriate to interview these minors without the consent of their legal guardian. The fact that FOX 9 interviewed Samantha and Gianna while they were missing needs to be explored and openly discussed.

In the 2013 Fox 9 interview, the girls said they ran away because they didn’t want to live with their father.

Their mother was arrested last month in Florida. The girls were hidden at a horse ranch in Herman, Minn. This week a judge ordered them into a program to help them reunite with their father.

How much should journalists work with law enforcement? There’s a legitimate argument that if sources believe journalists are an extension of law enforcement, they would be unwilling to come forward. Presumably, the interview with the girls was conducted at a secret location and the reporter didn’t know their actual whereabouts at the time of it. But I don’t know that that’s the case.

At the same time, however, they were — and are — children. Missing children, and — for all anybody knows — exploited children, which makes the ethical question much different than the amount of secrecy journalists grant to sources.

Fox 9 has not yet responded to a request for comment on Brodkorb’s accusations. I’ll update this post when it does.