A case called “Franklin”: Musings on the media


On 4th November, 1988, the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union in Omaha, Nebraska was shut down by the National Credit Union Administration and the FBI. Its manager, Lawrence E. King, Jr., was found to have embezzled millions of dollars from its funds. Curious about the vast sums of money plundered, the Nebraska Legislature’s Franklin Committee began investigating King’s establishment. Its members soon found themselves in an investigative realm much darker than financial crime.

Committee investigators interviewed several teenagers who claimed that they were victims of an interstate paedophile network in which King was a ringleader. They gave horrific details of sexual abuse at the hands of wealthy people at parties both in Nebraska and in other American states. The investigators were convinced that they had unearthed a genuine nightmare, but a year after the Franklin Committee’s formation, a local grand jury stated that the allegations were a “carefully crafted hoax.”

Various people involved in the case, however, have voiced firm opinions that the allegations were genuine and that the press aided a cover-up by demolishing the teenagers’ credibility.

A British television crew flew to Nebraska in 1993 to film a documentary dealing with the child abuse allegations for broadcast on the Discovery Channel, titled Conspiracy of Silence. The producer of the documentary, Tim Tate, told the University Observer that Discovery withdrew their support for the film shortly before its broadcast date and it was not shown on television.

In a rough cut of Conspiracy of Silence, which can be found on YouTube, the head of Nebraska’s Foster Care Review Board claims that a major Nebraska broadsheet newspaper neglected to find corroborative information and instead portrayed the victims as unreliable. A lead Franklin Committee investigator also claims that the press damaged the accusers’ credibility. John DeCamp, a lawyer for three of these accusers, emphatically states to the filmmakers that the media and law enforcement were manipulated for political reasons.

Nick Gray, the director of Conspiracy of Silence, gave his thoughts on the story to the University Observer. According to Mr. Gray, the Franklin case went to “the highest levels of the Republican Party, as John DeCamp postulates.”

Mr. Gray also said that he received an anonymous phone call during filming, warning him and his crew to be careful; “He just said, ‘You’ve got to be very careful… make sure that you keep the film safe because you may be followed and people know you’re here.’”

In his book on the Franklin case, journalist Nick Bryant writes that the media was part and parcel of a cover-up along with law enforcement:

“…the perception of reality intended for public consumption was basically a byproduct of the media, and the imperceptible reality generating that perception was primarily law enforcement- the wizard behind the curtain.”

Speaking to this newspaper, Bryant also stressed that the Franklin story should not be written off as a far-fetched “conspiracy theory”, saying that “when things come up that cause too much dissonance or aren’t congruent with people’s beliefs, people automatically default to ‘conspiracy theory’.”

Conspiracy of Silence producer Tim Tate also highlighted the Franklin case to the University Observer as a prime example of how the media can be manipulated.

“I think the moral that people should be drawing from it is that law enforcement failed, and the system failed these young people in Nebraska, but also that journalism, the media, failed. It was the first clear example to me that the media was changing, that the purpose we had was no longer primary. I think that is worthy of attention, because it’s not too late to reverse that.”