Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Undisclosed Amount of Cash

Why is the booty from a bank robbery always described as “an undisclosed amount of cash?” Surely, the bank knows exactly how much cash was stolen. But the FBI apparently doesn’t want us to know.

A newspaper reporter I knew worked in a medium-sized town in northern Indiana. As a reporter, he felt an obligation – a burning obsession, really – to get all salient facts into the story. He wanted to know, among many other things, how much money was stolen. It drove him to distraction when the authorities (whom he naturally mistrusted anyway) wouldn’t tell him. This gnawed at him for some years until he finally decided to just make it up. Ethics aside, it worked brilliantly.

His story would be a straight ahead factual account but for one detail.

Late Monday evening, a tall man in an orange hunting vest walked into the First Regional Bank branch on 33rd Avenue and handed the teller a note. The type-written note said he had a hand grenade and would use it unless the teller emptied the cash drawer. She did and the robber ran to a waiting motorcycle, with which he made his getaway. The robber made off with approximately $5,780.00 in cash and coins. No one was injured and the money was found in a pillow case stuffed into a culvert near where the suspect
was apprehended.

Police captain John Ettinger said “Officers were able to intercept the suspect just a few miles away in River Ridge Park. He did not resist. We are thankful that the teller and customers remained calm and officers acted quickly.” Police and the FBI are continuing their investigation. No weapon has been found.

The suspect will be arraigned in federal district court Friday.

An altogether routine story. Except that the amount of stolen money is entirely fictional. My reporter friend did this repeatedly. If the FBI complained to the paper, the intrepid reporter would say he got the figure from a confidential source. The FBI had a Hobson’s choice: Give the paper the correct number or remain silent. They chose the latter, allowing our reporter to have the last word.

I am not defending the reporter – it’s probably a journalistic no-no to, you know, make stuff up. But I think it’s funny that he could stick it to the FBI. I mean, it was the FBI, the FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover! They did not like the press, and I’m sure this particular reporter made ‘em crazy.

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