After Milking Island Park Lurker Controversy For Clicks Fargo Forum Editor Questions Outrage

Fargo Forum

On Thursday night I spoke by phone to Kirk Ludwig and he told me I had made his mother cry. He was referring to a television segment I had with Chris Berg this last week in which I defended him. He said his mother was happy because I was the only one defending him even as he found his job in jeopardy and his private life put into turmoil.

Ludwig is the man who became the subject of social media outrage when images of him taking pictures in Fargo’s Island Park were posted on Facebook by a man named Jed Felix who claimed Ludwig was behaving suspiciously and threatened, per his post, to break Ludwig’s camera. Felix’s post was ultimately shared thousands of times with commenters calling Ludwig a pervert, and some advocating for his arrest and even his physical harm.

Everyone, it seemed, was ready to conclude based on really no evidence at all that Ludwig was a potentially dangerous predator. The Fargo Police Department banned Ludwig from park property, and the local media – including the Fargo Forum – milked the story for as much social media juice as they could get.

Which is why this column from Forum publisher Matthew Von Pinnon is a craven piece of hypocrisy. In it Von Pinnon tries to take the high road on the Ludwig affair. “Decision to ban photographer should concern all of us,” reads his headline.

Von Pinnon is right. We should all be concerned that Ludwig got banned from public property for doing no more than taking pictures. We should also be downright frightened by the social media lynch mob which formed targeting Ludwig.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Von Pinnon’s ex post facto sanctimony is a little hard to take given that his newspaper was happily fanning the flames of this controversy for a week[/mks_pullquote]

But Von Pinnon’s ex post facto sanctimony is a little hard to take given that his newspaper was happily fanning the flames of this controversy for a week, spending almost zero time questioning the city’s authority to ban Ludwig and absolutely no effort to cool the social media outrage.

The one story the Forum published focusing on the legality of Ludwig’s ban was a roundup of comments from city officials telling us that of course they are in the right (I mention the story in this post). Not one person with a dissenting viewpoint was quoted.

Because journalism.

Had the Forum, through its reporting and editorial voice, exercised some skepticism about the situation early on I’d have a different opinion of Von Pinnon’s column. But after a week of letting Ludwig twist in the wind Von Pinnon’s words come off as self-serving.

“As an employee of FCC, it’s all about shock value now,” a Forum Communications newspaper employee, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told me back in April when the controversy was the Forum listing lawmakers who voted against controversial gay rights legislation in a front page wanted poster. “They want TMZ style clicks. That’s what’s gonna pay the bills in the future, and what’s worse is they’re probably right.”

Von Pinnon, when asked about those comments, refuted them but I think they’re proving accurate in light of the fiasco surrounding Ludwig.

Instead of driving for the truth, and questioning authority, the Forum opted coverage aimed at maximizing clicks and social media shares.

Only now that the buzz around the story has faded does Von Pinnon feel the need to maybe acknowledge that Ludwig was being unfairly attacked.

That’s too little, too late.