When you lure people into doing something in order to prosecute them, it's called entrapment. Unless you work for NBC 5 in Chicago - then it's called good TV.
Paula Faris is a sports reporter for WMAQ, the Peacock affiliate in Chi-town.
In advance of the Flyers' heartstopping 5-3 win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Friday night, Faris decided to find out whether Philadelphia's fans - on NBCChicago.com, she said they're "known to be ruthless" - are "rude" or just "passionate."
Rather than put together a straight or objective piece, Faris went the unfair and unbalanced route and tried to get a rise out of Philadelphians. The other day, with a camera trailing her, Faris walked around the city wearing a red Blackhawks jersey to see how the locals would react. (Even worse, it was a personalized sweater with her name peeling off the back.) Faris periodically stopped random natives to discuss the finer points of Hawks hockey and Chicago - then waited for someone to flip out.
"What do you really think about the Blackhawks?" she asked one man.
"I don't like them," he said.
Whoa, step back, Paula. Philadelphians are clearly untamed mutants. You wouldn't want to get mauled or lose a limb.
Faris said she wasn't trying to pick a fight. That's interesting. When most people on the street left her alone and didn't say anything cruel or crude, Faris went to Pat's Steaks and asked some Flyers fans, "You guys want to stir it up?" (You can watch the video online: tinyurl.com/farisphilly). Shy of dropping the gloves and cross-checking someone into the ketchup dispenser, she couldn't have done a better job attempting to instigate an argument.
The guys behind the counter at Pat's said they hate Chicago but offered to serve Faris anyway. They're sweet that way - though one of them made an odd joke about chopping her up in the meat grinder and putting her on the menu. (They do cheesesteaks at Pat's, not comedy.) After that, everyone made nice and Faris joined the Pat's employees at the grill and helped fill a few orders for the lunch crowd.
It's a good thing she didn't go to Geno's. Joey Vento dislikes outsiders. He might have told her to speak Philly or something, and then Faris would have undoubtedly popped up on the Nightly News With Brian Williams to offer a breaking report about the crazed xenophobes who run Philly's lawless streets.
At first, I thought Faris must have been forced to do the piece against her will after ticking off the station manager or maybe a powerful producer. It had to be some sort of punishment. Who would volunteer for a lame, uncreative assignment designed to antagonize complete strangers in the interest of cheap ratings?
"It was my idea," Faris said.
Did you know she has "several Emmys"? Says so right on her official station bio. Apparently anyone can win one of those awards these days.
Faris wasn't the only media member who went after Philly this week. Dan McNeil, a radio host in Chicago, recently wrote a column for the Tribune about attending a Stanley Cup game at the Wachovia Center. In the story, McNeil called Flyers fans "low rent" - then he described one local woman as "220 unattractive pounds, but with a neatly trimmed beard" and added "if you're considering opening a Lane Bryant store, this is as good a place as any." Classy.
But back to Faris: Her piece on Philly fans reminded me of that infamous special Geraldo did on Al Capone's vault - the one that was empty when he opened it.
Despite the great amount of energy and effort Faris put into tweaking Philadelphians, despite the hype and the transparent attempt to bait people into behaving badly on camera, no one got out of line, and she ended up with a whole lot of nothing. Faris said there was some heckling and cursing that didn't make it into her story because she works for a "family station," but that was about it.
"I think something might have happened if I was a man," Faris said.
How disappointing. Maybe the next time Chicago and Philly battle for a championship, NBC 5 can dispatch a male reporter to spit on someone's steak Italian at Tony Luke's. That ought to get the reaction the station clearly craves.
In fairness, Faris' package wasn't all bad. She made at least one good point. At the beginning of her piece, with Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" playing low in the background, Faris looked into the camera and said, "This could be the stupidest thing I've ever done."
I don't know her, but it sounded right.