Channel 12 News has changed its story about the vandalism of a Confederate memorial at the State Capitol following a New Times article that raised questions about the station's report.
The station, (KPNX-TV), also removed video from its August 17 story about the vandalism that claimed its reporter and videographer saw the vandal leaving the scene when they showed up. The Facebook site of the reporter, Bryan West, has been taken down, too.
(UPDATE: Channel 12 later put the video back up on its site. Also, on or about Monday, August 28, West's Facebook site was restored.)
In the (formerly) deleted video, which originally aired the night of August 17, anchor Tram Mai repeated West's claim that when West and a cameraman "pulled up to the State Capitol, they watched a man quickly leave with spray paint, then noticed the monument had been vandalized."
West made similar claims about the vandal leaving as they rolled up in his live, early-morning broadcast on August 17, and also on his Facebook site.
As New Times reported, surveillance video obtained from the Arizona Department of Administration shows that the vandalism suspect and the news team arrived at roughly the same time, at about 4:40 a.m. It showed the vandal was near West's news van before he began spray-painting the monument, that the van's headlights illuminated the memorial during the whole incident, and that the suspect casually walked back toward the van when he was finished.
The Facebook site, Bryan West 12 News, remained inoperable as of Friday afternoon.
Dean Ditmer, the station's general manager and president, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Ditmer's statement to New Times and the revised Channel 12 article still don't quite square up with the surveillance images.
"Our crew could not see the vandalism from their vantage point," Ditmer said on Wednesday. "As surveillance video shows, the vandalism took place on the other side of the monument and their view was obstructed. When our reporter realized what was happening, he immediately contacted the authorities and gave a description of the suspect."
In fact, the surveillance video shows that the van was parked near the monument, and that the view was not exactly "obstructed." The suspect was in the dark for much of his act, but on several occasions he was lit up by the headlights as he worked.
The suspect walked into and toward the van's headlights when he was finished four minutes later, seemingly unconcerned about the news van's presence. Then, a minute and a half later, the Channel 12 cameraman walked from the van to the monument and set up a tripod.
Not long after, as the now-deleted videos showed, West gave his live report to TV viewers, saying: "We showed up to this monument originally doing a story about the controversy, and taking these down, we've seen it happen all across the nation. And this is what we found. We found that this monument has been vandalized. Actually, when we showed up, there was a man that was on a bicycle that took off from the scene. That's why we were talking with police just a couple moments ago."
The revised Channel 12 article begins by stating, "As our 12 News crew was preparing a live report from the State Capitol, a person vandalized a nearby Confederate monument."
It's unclear why West's Facebook site was deleted, or whether he deleted it himself. West could not be reached on Friday afternoon.
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Mike Broomhead, host of a morning show on KFYI radio (550 AM), discussed the New Times story and surveillance videos on air Thursday and Friday, noting in an online article that, "Only after the news crew shows up and shines their headlights at the Confederate memorial does [the suspect] approach and deface it. Something is very wrong here!"
Also of note, Channel 3 (KTVK-TV) and Channel 5 (KPHO-TV) published the surveillance video on AZFamily.com last week, but edited out key scenes of the suspect's arrival and departure. AZFamily also cut out the part near the end of the video where West and the cameraman show up, and the report failed to explain to viewers that the source of the light on the memorial is a news van's headlights.
The 911 call that West made about the vandalism has not been released by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Nor has DPS released any reports yet about the incident; a spokesman said the crime is still being investigated.