All in the family: except that WFAA8 didn't mention it in coverage of the "Plano 3"
07/10/09 07:06 PM
By ED BARK
WFAA8's substantial coverage of three Plano youths who have become overnight celebrities in Ireland so far is missing at least one relevant fact. The group's spokesman, 21-year-old Colin Zwirko, is the son of WFAA8's Walt Zwirko, a 25-year employee who produces and hosts the weekly Computer Corner segments on the station's newscasts and wfaa.com.
WFAA8 news director Michael Valentine, informed of the omission Friday, said it was an error in judgment.
"We should have said it was his son," Valentine acknowledged. "I don't know why we didn't. I don't have a better explanation, other than we screwed up. It's our policy to disclose that information."
Valentine also noted that "Walt is not an employee of mine. But it doesn't matter. We still screwed up."
Walt Zwirko is, however, pictured as part of the station's "News Team" on wfaa.com.
Colin Zwirko and friends Gavin Sides and Ben Whitehurst had landed at Dublin Airport earlier this month to begin a backpack trip through Western Europe. Instead they were held in a detention cell because they supposedly lacked proper documentation on where they planned to stay in Dublin and how they were paying their expenses.
The trio then were forced to take a Delta flight back home at a price of $1,900 each, according to reports by WFAA8 and The Dallas Morning News, who remain synergistic partners despite the split of Dallas-based owner Belo into two "separate" entities. Young Zwirko and his two friends since have been offered an all expenses paid trip back to Ireland by one of the country's hotel chains.
"The 'Plano 3' (as they have been dubbed in the Irish media) have received requests for interviews and audio diaries and a radio advertising campaign will be run in their honor," WFAA8 reported on its Web site.
Colin Zwirko, who contended that he and his friends were "treated like criminals," made a video of their experiences that ran in part during WFAA8 newscasts. But the station never mentioned the other WFAA8 connection.
Questions about Colin Zwirko's possible ties to WFAA8 were emailed to unclebarky.com by a reader. A commenter on dallasnews.com also raised the issue, with Dallas Morning News reporter Theodore Kim responding, "Good/perceptive question. The answer is yes. He is the son of Walt. In fact, it was WFAA that first reported the story. We followed up on it and then it went viral, so to speak."
WFAA8 in the past has identified relationships of news subjects to station staffers, most notably late last year during a murder investigation in which sports anchor Dale Hansen's son, Eric, was questioned for informational purposes.
Eric Hansen was never a suspect in the death of Dallas realtor Jeanmarie Tolle and her two sons, but had been dating her for the past few months. Both The Dallas Morning News and WFAA8 reporter Jonathan Betz identified him as Hansen's son in separate reports.
There's another irony in The Dallas Morning News' reporting on the "Plano 3." As Kim noted on the newspaper's web site, "our own Matthew Haag continues his relentless coverage" of the story.
Haag, who covers Plano schools for the paper, is the son of the late Marty Haag, who led WFAA8 to national prominence and local ratings dominance during his long tenure as the station's news director.